This topic has come up on Phatmass a few times recently so I wanted to write an extended post about it that I could use to share with people. If one has been discerning the religious life, it can be quite difficult and painful to discern that one is not called to that vocation. One ties so much of their life and almost their identity to their discernment that it is a painful process. But I truly believe that God calls some of us to discern the religious life, but not to enter. I can’t say I know His reasons, although for my personal journey I believe they are coming to light a little more as time passes. That being said, I do believe that God uses these experiences to bring us closer to Him and ultimately to a better and more fruitful understanding of our vocation (whatever that may be).
After discerning and finding a community I truly loved and believed I was called to, I realised I was not called to the religious life. It was incredibly painful, and I found myself falling into this thinking of “maybe in the future, just not now”. And, objectively, that is true. I don’t know what God might lead me to in the future. But thinking that way is not helpful, and it does speak to an ultimate lack of openness to other vocations. We can’t pin the way we think about vocations to “I might feel a different call in the future, God might call me to this thing that I want”. If you feel you are being called to a particular vocation, then that is what counts. Honestly, letting go of that attitude is the most helpful thing you can do. The “maybe in the future” just keeps you trapped in the pattern of thinking that leads to the hurt and the pain.
It’s been maybe seven or eight months and it does still hurt when I see someone say they’re entering somewhere or have found a community they’re seriously discerning with. The jealousy is still there, I haven’t completely let go yet. But it gets better. And over time, you start to begin to see why God led you down that path and what His purpose is. I’m still figuring some of that out, and I don’t think it’s the sort of thing where one has a sudden revelation. It’s a process, and healing from the hurt is part of it.
A lot of this applies to those who are still discerning the religious life. We are often not as open as we think we are. I posed the question to a friend recently, “if you are truly honest with yourself, if you heard God distinctly say right now ‘your vocation is not to the religious life’, what would your reaction be?” It’s very easy to piously say “I am open to wherever God calls me” but a lot of the time we want something so badly that isn’t true. Our own desires get in the way. For me that was definitely true, and I see it a lot in the way others who are discerning religious life talk. There is often talk of detaching from things in order to discern the religious life, but the biggest thing you have to detach from is in a way the religious life itself.
I know exactly what it’s like to want it so badly that it ends up clouding your ability to hear what God is actually saying. You need to be able to honestly say you would be okay if God led you somewhere else before you can really hear Him clearly – it’s very easy otherwise to mistake your own desires for God’s voice. For a long time, I clung to the idea that I was called to the religious life. I wanted it so badly that I wasn’t thinking about what God was calling me to, but my desires clouded my thinking and I convinced myself that I was hearing God’s voice rather than mine. And being really, truly open was hard. I spent a lot of time in Adoration in tears begging God for a calling to the religious life, but in the tears and the anger and the tantrum I finally became really open and could accept what God was really saying to me.
I think that one problem is that many discerners often lack understanding of and respect for the vocation of marriage. It’s common for marriage to be put down, so if one feels they are not called to the religious life but to marriage then it can be difficult. Marriage is almost taken for granted, and the depreciation of marriage in secular culture generally does come through sometimes even among Catholics. So ultimately I had to deepen my understanding of other vocations before I could gain that openness and that real appreciation for all vocations.
It can also be difficult to deal with the feeling of a sudden lack of direction. We gear everything we do so much to the assumption of entrance in a religious community and finding a community that when that is gone, there is a feeling of being lost. Suddenly we don’t have that and we often don’t know then where we’re going or what to do. We are suddenly in a whole new kind of discernment, one with a less obvious and immediate direction. It can take getting used to, and it can be scary. But the thing to keep in mind is that it’s okay. Some find they are not called to religious life through a calling to another vocation. Others have to discern more. But the thing to always remember is that God is there to guide you, whatever it is you go on to do.
This post may be somewhat disjointed, but I feel that these are things that needed to be said and very few people are willing to talk about. While it may be painful to go through, in the end we are being lead to our true vocation and to joy.