“What will I do with this one, precious life I have?” This seems to be the underlying question I hear from my younger clients as I see them for spiritual direction. As a Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity, I have an inclination to turn to St. Francis for some guidance, myself, as I assist others in navigating this path of choices in life. How did Francis come to understand God’s call, God’s will for his life? He prayed for guidance, he listened, he consulted with others and he was willing to grow in his understanding of God, of life and of his unique call and ministry.
I find some young adults begin to think seriously about their call to a lifestyle late in high school or early in college. Am I called to be single, married, a religious sister, brother or priest or a diocesan priest? Some put this discernment off for several years and concentrate on a career first, be it education, business, health care, or one of the myriad choices one has to make regarding how one will pay bills, serve others and find a certain joy in the workplace. It is easy to confuse a lifestyle and a career choice but they are radically different.
A lifestyle demands a life long commitment, an investment of love, a willingness to blend and negotiate with others, a fundamental focus of time, energy and talents. It is a basic way of seeing the world and finding a “fit” that brings joy and a sense of “being at home” in the world. It is often accompanied by vows to God in a community, vows to a diocesan bishop or vows to a spouse. In all cases a person opens to a vulnerability to others and trusts that their life is given over to a process greater than the self. The single life, too, has its own demands of time, energy and vulnerability where a person commits to caring for others in a unique way suited to their temperament. None of these lifestyles are successful if a person is self-centered and calculates “what’s in it for me?” The nature of a lifestyle is self-giving and other-centered. When questioned about discerning a lifestyle, I encourage the young adult to pray for guidance, listen to how God is speaking in their heart, consult with others and then take some action. Be willing to continue to clarify your calling as your prayer, your significant family members and friends continue to interact with you.
I hear comments that some young adults have prayed reverently and long, asking God for guidance, but to no avail. My response is: God speaks in your deepest heart and in those around you. God speaks to you through others, especially those with the wisdom of experience and true friends who will be candid with you about your temperament and gifts. God is not sending emails and text messages but is very present in your life. Ask for help from others to see how God is working and then listen carefully for a response. A lifestyle call may take some years to emerge so be patient and watchful. A mentor or spiritual director can be helpful in discerning a call to a lifestyle.
A career, on the other hand, is a particular way that people can express themselves in an ever-changing world. As a religious sister, I have had four careers and may have some more in the future. My siblings have both had several careers. As our world and culture change and develop, new careers open and people can find themselves in a position where their career is no longer viable. Some elements in choosing a career are the same as discerning a lifestyle. Consulting with trusted others is a must. They often have valuable information about your talents and gifts and may help to predict some challenges you will face.
Whenever you are making an important decision, whether it may be a lifestyle or a career, here are five important discernment guidelines my clients have found helpful:
- What makes you “deep down happy”? When does your “heart sing” with joy? Follow that intuition. God speaks through our deepest desires. God desires our happiness.
- What kind of support do you need to follow your dream? Where will you get that support? Can you ask for support if it is not forthcoming?
- How do you manage financially? It is not wise to attempt to enter any lifestyle carrying a lot of debt. What kinds of choices will you make to be financially sound?
- Realistically, what career choice will pay bills, offer you flexibility for your lifestyle options and motivate you to get up in the morning? Is the career you are pondering ethical? Will it make the world a better place? Do you have the physical, mental and emotional stamina required by this career? For example: if you plan to have children, will your career allow for spouse and family life? If you think you might be called to a religious life, will this career fit into that vocation?
- Are you able to share your thoughts, dreams, ideas, joys and challenges with others? All lifestyles and most careers demand this type of interaction. If you find this difficult, how can you develop these skills?
Whether you are discerning a lifestyle or a career, are you willing to pray, ask for guidance, consult with others and then take concrete steps, actions, to move toward your dreams? With one precious life to live, may you live it abundantly!