Rule # 1: Don’t Freak Out

by Sr. M. Karolyn, FSGM

So there you are, minding your own business, growing in your prayer life, falling in love with Jesus, and then it happens: He invites you to open yourself more fully to his call and explore priesthood or religious life.

As a vocation director, I frequently find myself on the receiving end of a phone call, email, or chance encounter at a high school, college, or youth ministry event where a young person is filled with anxiety about the future and the terrifying possibility that God might ask them to do something counter-cultural, something they never thought of before, and something he or she cannot imagine would ever fulfill the desires of his or her heart, namely, forgo the joys associated with the natural vocation of marriage and become a priest or a sister.

Rule number one: Don’t freak out.

Chill.  Relax. Keep calm.  Take a deep breath.  Be still.

Consider these truths for a moment.

The Father is good, he loves you, he is faithful, and he has a plan for you.

Jesus is your companion in this.  He is greatly pleased that you desire to spend time with him and may simply be inviting you to be open to a possibility different from your plans. God’s dream for you is that you would be fully alive and He promises to fulfill your deepest desires, which so often are masked by our expectations and chained by our fears.

It’s likely that you will not be getting married or entering seminary or religious life tomorrow.  Therefore a decision does not have to be made today.

Discernment is not a project that you have to complete.  It is a journey to be walked and a mystery to be lived.  Our concept of mystery is tainted by the secular understanding that we learned from Scooby Doo, that it has to be “figured out.”  But in the Catholic worldview, a mystery is not something to be solved, but to be lived.  If we begin to live this mystery and we live it with Jesus, it takes all of the pressure off.  He will lead and guide discernment one step at a time and then by taking each step, you gradually find yourself walking towards the permanent ‘yes’ and associated ‘nos’ that come with a vocation.

Sometimes people freak out in fear of how other people will respond.  For example, even if you are peaceful with the idea, perhaps your family or friends are not and that could complicate the matter.  Remember, it is God who calls (not your parish priest, not the church ladies, not your grandma) and his call always brings peace.  Even if other people freak out about the unknowns, you don’t have to have the same reaction.

A vocation is a gift to be received from the Father and a call that originates in God.  Say ‘yes’ to the invitation of today…and then tomorrow say yes to that invitation. Maybe somewhere down the line, you will find yourself living a vocation you had never thought about on your own and you will discover that the Father truly does know best.  Or maybe the Lord is asking you to simply explore and will confirm the initial desires of your heart after all.

Either way, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus who perfects our faith and let him lead you also to the perfection of love.  No matter your vocation, you are made to love and to make a gift of yourself.  He will show you the shape of that gift as you surrender your heart more fully to his love and grow in trust.

In moments of anxiety, I often sing the refrain Phillip Phillips penned several years ago:
“Settle down it will all be clear.  Don’t pay no mind to the demons they fill you with fear.  The trouble it might drag you down.  If you get lost you can always be found.  Just know you’re not alone. Cause I’m going to make this place your home.”

When we discover our vocation, we are truly home where perfect love casts out all fear and we are fully alive.

So don’t freak out.  Relax your way into trust.

Sr. Karolyn is the Vocation Director for the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr, St. George. To contact Sr. Karolyn, click here.