How Not to Discern Your Vocation

Much has been written by many more intelligent and saintly people than I about how to discern your vocation. It is not an easy subject to write about precisely because God works in each soul in a unique way. I think it might be helpful to give some handy tips about how not to discern your vocation. Just as virtue stands between the extremes of vices, and sometimes to really grasp where virtue lies it can help to look at the vices, so also does authentic vocational discernment stand between various extremes of inauthentic discernment. If you can grasp what phony discernment looks like, it may help you to see what real discernment is.  

Defense Mechanism Discernment: You say you’re discerning just to get the priest or nun or catechist to stop bugging you about it… but you know you’re going to get married. (Note: That’s a cop-out and doesn’t deserve the title of discernment.)

Pseudo-mystical Discernment: God truly exists and acts in this world, so He could just tell you your vocation if He really wanted. He could even appear to you, no problem! So you decide not to make a decision until He gives you some sort of mystical experience, or until you fall in love with someone…

Hedonist Discernment: You think you are called to the seminary or religious life, but your greatest worries are how good the food is, how comfortable the beds are, how long vacations are, how much free time you will have, etc.

Masochist Discernment: You are attracted to a community and feel at home and happy with the members. However, you are convinced that an authentic vocation should be about sacrifice and dying to yourself, so you conclude that God cannot be calling you to that community.  

Human Nature Discernment: You think you must have a vocation to marriage because you are very attracted to members of the other sex and have a deep desire to form a family. (Note: That is not discernment. That is human nature.)

Infinite Sign-Post Discernment: You have an intuition of what God wants of you, but before you make a step you ask God for one more sign… and then another… and then another one, just to be sure…

Nun-Run Discernment: You get in a van with your friends and start visiting convents, the more the better. Your friends are really discerning, but you join them just for the kick of it. In the words of one nun-runner, “Nuns for me are in the same category as puppies and babies. I see them and just say, ‘Awww!’” (Note: Nun-runs can lead to real vocations, but nun-runners should take care that their attitude be one of profound prayer and openness.)  

Love-Hate Discernment: You feel a strong attraction to the religious life or to a specific community, followed by a profound (and irrational) fear that overtakes you, so you run away, whether physically or emotionally. (Note: Sometimes the immediate reaction is to start dating and get married as soon as possible, just in case.)

Smarter Than God Discernment: You write a list of your desires and needs, talents and weaknesses, and compare and contrast it with a list of possible vocations. After assigning points to each, you use a mathematical equation to calculate the perfect vocation for you, and then you tell God. 

Broken Heart Discernment: The love of your life just broke up with you and you can’t imagine loving any other man, so you decide to lock yourself up in a monastery for the rest of your life. Another version is that you just lost your job (or can’t find a job) and don’t know what to do with yourself, so you decide to give yourself to God. (Note: In some cases, especially if the person has been fleeing the vocation for years, God may allow the person to fail miserably at life as a last resort to help him or her recognize the vocation.)

By Sr. Kristin Maria Tenreiro, S.H.M.