My husband was putting our toddler, Andrew, to bed when I heard him cry out, “Mama!” This was one of the few times that I had heard Andrew, the youngest of our three children, call my name. At three years old, his speech is delayed because he has Down syndrome. Before the words “Mama” and “Dada” rolled around, Andrew had mastered “Bubba” for his big brother, Alexander, “Baby” for his sister Abby and “Cheesus” for Jesus.
Hearing his sweet voice reminded me about the times in which the sweet voice of Jesus cried out for me when I entered the process of discernment. It took a long time for me to figure out what God was calling me to. I served in the U.S. Air Force, was an IT Project Manager and a middle school religion teacher before public speaking and writing fell into my lap. Teaching was one thing I said that I would never do. Yet, I was good at it, and my heart fell in love with it. I thought that I would teach middle school for a long time. But all of that came to an abrupt stop when Andrew was born. We welcomed our baby with joy, and Andrew has united our family in ways that we never thought possible. Yet, I mourned the loss of my teaching career.
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Over the last few years, I have learned what it really means to discern a vocation. It is common Catholic vernacular to use the word “discernment” when speaking about the ability to make good decisions. As Catholics, our discernment process should involve prayer, understanding and action. While the process of discernment is generally used during the natural changes in life — such as moving to a different state, starting a new career, getting married or hearing a call to religious life — discernment can also be used for smaller events — such as preparing for a big discussion with your boss or deciding whether or not to run a fundraiser at your child’s school. Discernment helps us to evaluate our dreams and, more importantly, God’s plans for our lives.
The dreams we have for our lives will shift over time. If we allow the dreams to blossom under God’s direction, then we will discover the realization of dreams bigger than we could ever imagine. But be aware, God will open doors that we never thought of. We might even be blind to them until the moment that God chooses to reveal his plan for our lives.
In the Gospel of Luke, two disciples were walking along the road to Emmaus. They encountered another man who talked to them about the life of Jesus of Nazareth and how he had been crucified just days before. At that time, the disciples were blind to the fact they were speaking to Jesus himself. After all, they didn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. Yet, there he was, in all his risen glory speaking to the two disciples. As the men drew near to the village, the disciples asked the other man to stay with them as the evening was drawing near. The men sat down to the evening meal: “While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?’” (Lk 24:30-32).
There are times that we may not realize that Christ is right beside us as we voyage through life. Yet, he is always there. When you realize this, your heart will burn with desire for him. You will never want Jesus to leave — and he never will. Jesus will lead you through a life filled with bountiful joy. He will lead you through your discernment process of prayer, understanding and action. You only need to ask him. Yes, Jesus will close the doors that he doesn’t want you to walk through; but he will open wide the doors that will lead you closer to him. Some of these doors will be unexpected and full of beautiful surprises.
When in the discernment process, it will be a challenge to mute the voice of despair. Fear and despair are the dark lies of Satan. However, it is the sweet voice of Jesus that will lead you through your discernment. His is the voice crying out for you. His is the voice of peace. His is the sweet voice of truth and love.