As I make my way back to the east coast from the great Pacific Northwest, I want to share my initial reflections of my retreat experience, as both participant and leader. Callings is a new retreat focused on young adults and our journeys of faith and life as we discern what it is God may be calling us to do in our lives. Now, it is impossible to figure this out in one weekend, but the point of emphasis for us was not that you should have all the answers by the end of your time with us, but rather, you will have been shown aspects of yourself that were lying in wait, ready for you to discover. From there the new tools you learn coupled with these discoveries will enable you to better communicate with and listen to God’s calling for your life.
For me, vocational discernment has been a vital part of my formation, mainly because it was a required piece of my vocational call to the priesthood. Discernment in a church setting is believed to mean that someone is interested in pursuing the ordained ministry, and for the most part, that is precisely what it has meant. This is not because discernment is only for those interested in a call to ordination, but rather, we as a church have only energized and promoted vocational discernment for those among us called to lead in an ordained capacity. This is unfortunate because it keeps a vital resource from those same people who could benefit from it. Vocational discernment is not just about whether or not you want to be a priest, it is discerning what God has called you to do in your life for the service and glory of God’s kingdom.
Callings presents one such chance to break out of this mold or assumption that discernment is only for the wanna-be clergy types. Through the sharing of our own personal stories, and the confidence to show the vulnerability that oftentimes we don’t know where God is calling us at this precise moment, each of the participants this weekend are leaving with a renewed sense that they are not alone in their journeys, their struggles, or their triumphs. There exists a wider community of people just like them that want to live a faithful life in a secular field, and want to do this through the utilization of the spiritual gifts that they have been given by God.
What further excites me about Callings, and the practice of vocational discernment in general, is that it doesn’t end. As we progress through our lives it is vital that we leave that open line of communication to God, because our calls can and do change. When we have the tools to be listening for this call, even though we may be caught off guard, we can proceed with the confidence that our support will come from God, and that God will be encouraging us every step of the way.
So where do we go from here?
For me, this weekend has meant a reaffirmation of my sense of call, and has filled me with a level of confidence that I am truly being prepared through seminary for ordained ministry. Now, I have the unenviable task of discerning where I am called to begin my new life in ordained ministry, I am excited for this next step, and while the final decision won’t come for another year (or so), I can begin to discern what I am seeking in a placement post-graduation.
For the participants of Callings, my hope is that this weekend has created for them a sense that they have the means necessary to discern their calling in life, and that they have the confidence to seek out further discernment both individually and with groups.
For the church, I hope that vocational discernment for the laity will become the norm rather than the exception. Seeing both how powerful discernment can be, and the hunger that our young adults (and “older” adults too) have for discernment, it is clear to me that this is a vital ministry that we must be offering. It is for the benefit of our church that we empower all people in the church with the ability to discern what God’s call for them is, because it is through this discernment that we can promote healthy, faith-filled lives that turn to God for answers, confident that these answers will come.
For you, seek out God’s call for you in your life. Seek out opportunities to discern what God has given you, and seek out those opportunities that offer you a chance to learn new skills, sharpen old skills, and be surprised by what you can learn from being in community, even if just for a weekend.