We are in the middle of Catholic Marriage Week, an important part of National Marriage Week! We will be publishing posts that celebrate the beauty of marriage from now until February 14th. Stay tuned!
Editor’s Note: Discerning your vocation is difficult because it often seems so ambiguous. How should we go about it? Do we just pray and hope we hear God’s answer? How do we know what God is telling us?
I asked Fr. Marion, a priest and Benedictine monk, for his advice on discernment several years ago as my spiritual director. He helped me discern God’s voice in my life at a time when I was dating someone and wondering if we should get married. I called him this year and asked if he had some general advice for anyone discerning marriage. He started by telling me his vocation story, and then he gave some tips on praying and discerning.
How I Knew I Was Supposed to Be a Monk
When I was ten or eleven, I told one of my friends that I wanted to be a priest when I grew up. I knew her dad was a minister, so I thought she would understand. But then after that, I didn’t know what to do with that desire, that thought, so I just pushed it aside. In college I lived a rather hedonistic lifestyle. I was still going to Mass out of habit, but that was it. One Friday night, I was sitting in a bar…and I saw things in a new way for a moment, I had some kind of objective or outsider insight and felt as if I was looking from the outside in.
I saw college students, in a typical college club scene, and there was no depth. Everything was surface level and empty. Nothing seemed to have real value. The moment unnerved me so much that I left the bar. I stayed in the next night, Saturday, and didn’t go out, as I was still shaken.
Next day at Mass, during the homily, I talked to God. I said, “why am I unhappy? Why am I so empty? I want to have meaning. I know what I need. I need a girlfriend. Put someone in my life so that I can be fulfilled.”
Then God responded, and it hurt. I heard “Why would I give you a girlfriend? You would just abuse a relationship just like you abuse everything else in your life. You would hurt her.” It stung, but I knew he was right. At that moment I broke and was never quite the same. I said, “Fine, you know what is best for me, I will do what you want me to do.” I was desperate, and wanted to be happy, and so I surrendered.
At first, I thought I would go to the local diocese. But, while saying a rosary before I called the diocese, I had a random thought (inspiration, really) that I should check out St. Benedict’s Abbey.
I did and the rest is history.
But Why A Monk? And Not a Diocesan Priest?
But, God has never told me why I am at the monastery and not a diocesan priest. It would be too easy if he told me that! At some point your vocation has to be an act of faith. God doesn’t spell every little detail out explicitly.
When I struggled with the transition to monastic life, and doubted whether I should stay, my spiritual director told me, “It’s ok if you don’t want to be here sometimes. That feeling is natural. But, you are not here to be perfectly comfortable all the time. You are here for a greater good, and it is not all about you. God has put this place here so you can get yourself and your other monks to Heaven.”You will not be 100% content in your vocation 24/7. But sometimes the right way is the hardest wayClick To Tweet
That is the beauty of our faith. No matter what, God will not withhold salvation from any person. You can find peace in the knowledge that whatever God is doing in your life, he wants your salvation. That is where you find joy. You find joy in the contemplation and completion of God’s plan for you.
How Do You Find God’s Plan For You?
Discernment is about two things. The first is timing. And the second is getting to know yourself.
Let’s talk about timing first. Timing is important to remember as our faith is centered around a concept called kairos. Kairos, simply put, is Greek for the right time, the appropriate moment. It is the point when everything comes together.
When the time had finally come, Christ broke into the world in a plan that only God the Father knew. I mean, the angels didn’t even know this was going to happen! Galatians 4:4 explains this moment of kairos: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption.”
The Timing is Wrong
What is a big reason we often sin? Wrong timing. We try to jump the gun on things, we try to take for ourselves something that hasn’t been given to us yet. We want to feel good right now, so we turn to alcohol or masturbation or overeating or binge watching television.
We want everyone to see that we are in the right immediately, so we gossip, or criticize, or antagonize. When we desire things and aren’t given them immediately (when we violate kairos, the appointed time) we sin.
Years after his birth, Jesus went about Jerusalem slowly unveiling his mission, preaching, teaching, and healing. He had to be sacrificed as the passover lamb, at a certain time. He had to be with certain people. Everything happened in the time it was supposed to. Remember in Mark when they ask him where he wants to fix the passover? He said, don’t worry, it will all be set up. And sure enough everything as ready.Live in gratitude, not grumpiness. Prayer will sustain you and keep you sane. #howtodiscernClick To Tweet
Now, Jesus let God give him the schedule. He took each step as it came. Learn from Him and live in gratitude, not grumpiness. Live ready to accept what comes your way without an expectation of what you deserve. Don’t lose heart. Prayer can sustain you as a single, and it is what keeps you sane.
1. Focus On What You Have, Not On What’s Missing
The loaves and fishes story teaches us to work with what we have. Three hundred days wages couldn’t have fed everyone. How in the world do you feed that many people? Well, the whole point of the story is that the apostles are worried about what they don’t have. Jesus says, bring me what you do have!Ask yourself today, what good things do I have in my life, and how can I build on them?Click To Tweet
Ask yourself this question: what do you have in your life (think of all the good things) and can you build on that? If you are always focused on what you don’t have, that is how you get discouraged and frustrated. You feel like you’re called to marriage. But, it isn’t working out because you haven’t found a spouse yet.
So, in that void, you may be tempted to give up on God’s hope or declaring that you must be worthless, or seek to remedy the emptiness with something else—an unchaste life, gambling, alcohol, laziness. Don’t do those things! Seek out what God’s will is instead!
Stop Defining Yourself By Your Singleness
We need to stop defining ourselves by whether or not we are married. We are so much more! Think about your relationships with others, with God. Learn a new hobby, or work out an issue with a family member or friend or coworker. You may not have a date, but you have a neighbor, a Mom or Dad, or someone who doesn’t have any friends.
Work with what you have been given. Don’t try to take what it isn’t time for. There is no problem in going out and having a good time with someone. Not every date you go on has to lead to marriage or engagement or even more dates. In fact getting to know someone is just as much about getting to know yourself as it is getting to know them. You discover who you are in Jesus Christ.
That leads us to the second important part of discernment:
2. In Order To Discern, You Must Know Yourself
In any relationship you need to consider, if you you learning more about yourself as you learn about the other person. You will also notice that in getting to know the other and yourself, you will see just how much sin has damaged you. This is important because the person you are called to marry is someone who is going to call all of that sin and ugliness out into the open. He or she needs to bring you to heaven!
Discerning in a relationship with someone is less about “who am I going to marry” and is more about “who will my spouse be marrying?!”Discernment is less about WHO should I marry... and more about who will MY SPOUSE be marrying?Click To Tweet
The process of discernment is slow. We can’t force it, as much as we would like to. God’s timing, that kairos that we talked about earlier is not always in conjunction with the timetable we would prefer. It also takes time to get to know ourselves.
In getting to know ourselves in relationships with others, specifically our brokenness, we will be ready and find it easy to identify our spouse when the time is right.
Discernment is a process, there is no easy shortcut or simple how-to manual. But, if you are patient and strive to know yourself better, if you choose to live each day gratefully, and give of yourself to those around you, and pray, pray every day!, you will hear God’s voice and be ready to respond to his call.