Myth #6: A vocation is something that God imposes on me.
“The word of the LORD came to Jonah, son of Amittai: Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; for their wickedness has come before me. But Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish, away from the LORD. He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down in it to go with them to Tarshish, away from the LORD. The LORD, however, hurled a great wind upon the sea, and the storm was so great that the ship was about to break up.”
Jonah’s response is not an unusual one in human experience. We often resist God’s call. And that can lead to an understanding that God calls us away from ourselves, that His plans for us are in competition with our own plans for happiness and fulfillment.
The truth of the matter is that we are often running away from happiness and fulfillment, pursuing it in places where it doesn’t and can never exist: in selfishness, in greed, in momentary pleasures. While we are mired in sin and selfishness, God’s call to holiness and joy seems unattractive compared to the immediate gratification of what is before us.
But if we deny God’s call, we will never be happy.
That is because our souls long for God, and though, like Adam hiding in the garden, our fallen nature runs from God, the fulfillment of all that we are rests in Him.
In one of the most famous passages of Christian literature, St. Augustine declares:
“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being,
were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.”
God is not in competition with us.
As Augustine discovered, God is not something foreign, something outside us, but He dwells within us.
God speaks to us through our deepest desires.
Not our desire for dessert or for a new car or even for the first sign of spring in the midst of a Canadian winter. Deeper, much deeper than that. Those things without which we feel we would not be whole.
That is because God dwells in those desires.
We often fear to ask God honestly and with open hearts what He wills of us because we think that He will ask us to abandon our most cherished hopes and dreams.
What a joy and a relief when we discover that the very thing that we long to do with our lives is the very thing that God is calling us to do! And what freedom when we can stop hiding from God and His will and begin cooperating with Him!
In secular terms it is what I think people mean by “following your heart”.
How humbling it is as a Christian to learn how to follow God’s call from people who don’t even have a name for that Voice. All around us people who believe the world is random make sacrifices and take risks in order to “follow their hearts,” while I hesitate and prevaricate. “Are you sure, Lord? Maybe I’ll take some more time to think, say a few more prayers, wait for a clearer sign.”
But where did that desire come from in the first place?
Where could it come from except the hand of God? So, wait. God implants in me a specific desire unique to me as the best way that I can be happy, and if I choose a different route, I will always be less happy than I could be? That’s one way of putting it.
I can see why some people might think that’s unfair.
But such a view would depend on an assumption that the ability to choose our own happiness would lead to a greater chance of success. I prefer to see it as evidence of a love beyond my capacity to understand that the God who created the universe and all that is in it has also provided for my individual happiness.
As I quoted in part 1 of this series, Blessed John Henry Newman wrote in one of his meditations:
“God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. Thus God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him.”
So while vocation is not something that God imposes on - that is to say, places upon - us, it is something that He places within us. And He does it because He loves us.
This is the final part of this series on Vocation Myths. I hope you have found it helpful and that it has helped you sort through some of the conflicting beliefs and impressions about vocation and discernment.
I leave you with one last quote from Newman, which comes from the same meditation as the passage I quoted earlier. It is probably the most quoted passage of all his many writings. Print it out, pin it up where you can see it every day, and remember: you have a mission that is yours alone.
“I am created to do something or to be something for which no one else is created; I have a place in God's counsels, in God's world, which no one else has; whether I be rich or poor, despised or esteemed by man, God knows me and calls me by my name.
“God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his — if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.”