trust vocation discernment mary wisdom prayer catholic madison kearney

Nun or Wife: Career Counseling from Christ

Someone once told me that your vocation is the easiest way to receive God’s love. Discerning that vocation is all about discovering how God calls us each to use our individual gifts and talents for His glory. Discernment – listening to God’s calls in our lives – can help us make those hundreds of daily decisions, guide us towards a certain college or career, and lead us to the vocation of either married life or celibacy “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:12).

Discernment demands trust, as I learned when I began my own process. I knew that God desired my happiness, but I believed that discernment would be an act of submission in which I had no real say. After all, I wanted to get married but had never dated – did that mean that God wanted me to be a nun?

I struggled with the idea of giving up my dream, but I reasoned that if my vocation would lead me to Heaven, I had to follow it. It was then that I learned that a lack of trust wounds Him most, and that we console His heart with our trust when we praise Him.

Let Him Fill in the Blanks

The question of discernment dominated the fall of my senior year. My spiritual director emphasized the importance of discovering whether God called me to marriage and motherhood or whether He called me to a religious life. Thanks to a friend’s repeated invitations, I finally decided to go on a discernment retreat. Even as I packed, I was afraid of two possibilities: Either Christ wouldn’t tell me my vocation, or His will would be something I didn’t want to hear – that I was supposed to be a nun.

About fifty girls were met by dozens of smiling Dominican sisters who helped with our bags that weekend. Our first speaker was the vocation directress, a feisty Southern woman devoted to loving God. She pinpointed our prayer life when she said, “All we women do is talk, talk, talk . . . and we’re impatient. We come to God with our requests; then we tell Him how He’s going to answer them.” She challenged us that night to pose our vocational question to God, then “let Him fill in the blanks.” She invited us all to ask Our Lady for guidance, and gave us each an invocation from the Litany of Mary. Mine was “Mary, seat of Wisdom, pray for us.”

After dinner, the girls and sisters gathered in the chapel to say the Rosary before the exposed Host. The pure voices of over a hundred women joined in a beautiful melody. During the talk that followed, my heart grew anxious and troubled even as the priest told us that God was simple, straightforward, and wanted to tell us His will – but we had to trust Him. The priest said that the greatest way to offend God is to distrust Him. He promised, “God will not trick you.” Even at those words, I was still clutching my uncertainty and feeling too scared to give God my all. I managed one desperate prayer before going to Confession: “I’ll be a nun if You want me to!”

Not Going to Trick You

After Confession, my confessor asked if I was discerning. I said yes – then I confessed that I just didn’t know what God wanted. I remember that he smiled and assured me, “Oh, you’ll know.” I wasn’t convinced: “Will I?” With quiet conviction, he closed his eyes and answered, “Absolutely. Absolutely.” I left him, wanting to cry because I didn’t believe him. There was that distrust again. I knew I had to go to the chapel: Jesus and I needed to talk.

I knelt before Him and asked Him what His will was, and then I waited. He didn’t seem inclined to answer right away. As I knelt, marriage kept popping into my mind. I pushed the thought away, trying hard not to fill in the blank myself. My thoughts wandered back to that Marian invocation, and I began wondering what exactly wisdom was. I asked Christ but still heard silence. I decided to turn to Scripture for help. What better place to learn about wisdom than in the Old Testament’s Book of Wisdom? As I flipped the delicate pages, my eyes caught a line from Proverbs: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Hey, a reference to wisdom! That was helpful.

Who was this wise woman? I read further up – and froze. The passage was talking about a good wife. My thoughts started racing, but I commanded myself, “Don’t fill in the blank!” I continued turning pages, flipping right to the middle of Song of Songs (which is only the most romantic love poem ever). I read the poem’s refrain, “Stir not up nor awaken love until it please,” and it seemed to illuminate my life: Maybe I was called to marriage, but I couldn’t force or rush it. That interpretation was a nice reading, but was it mine or Christ’s? Then – gently – the silence broke with a whisper: “I am not going to trick you.”

Confirming His Will

Doubt assailed me the next morning when my prayer felt dry, and I thought I’d made it all up. Where was the love and certainty from last night? Then God confirmed my calling at breakfast when the vocation directress rose with her microphone and drawled, “I’m going to paint you two pictures, and your heart is going to respond to one. Your heart may yearn for an intimate circle consisting of a few people, a small circle where you hover over your brood. That’s marriage. And if that’s your vocation, great. Now when you get home, you go and you see which Catholic young men have signed up for Adoration, and you talk to them!”

I could’ve laughed and cried at this point, and I thanked God for confirming His will. She proceeded to describe the religious life and its more universal love that isn’t bound to a spouse and family, and I suddenly ceased to fear it. I saw that giving one’s life wholly and utterly to God in a life of celibacy is a beautiful calling.

In the end, I learned that discovering God’s will is all about trust. He listened to the desires in my heart and even gave me those desires, but I also think that He wanted me to trust Him by giving those desires back to Him and choosing His will. That complete trust only lasted for a second for me – when I told Him I’d be a nun – but that small opening of my heart to Him was all He needed. When that happened, I found that the dreams God gave me are part of my path to Him after all.

Author: Madison Kearney

Madison Kearney is a graduate of Hillsdale College and Franciscan University, and currently teaches in Phoenix. She enjoys sipping wine, reading T.S. Eliot, and watching desert sunsets with her fiancé.

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