Are you struggling with your vocation out there? Are you struggling with finding a vocation? Which one is for you? Are you struggling with what you think might be your vocation? I have struggled with these questions too. I struggled for almost 10 years with my vocation question, and I beat my head against walls and asked, God: “Why don’t you hear me? Why aren’t you answering me? I’ve been praying for so long. What do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to be?” I just could not figure it out. And it was highly annoying.
And I think I took longer than most people perhaps, because I had a lot of guilt to figure out. I had a lot of bad lessons, a lot of mind games too. In large part, because my mother desired for me to become a priest and she was always trying to get me to become a priest, even though I never felt called to the priesthood. She would always say: “Oh Bryan, I think God might be calling you to the priesthood”, or “Hey Bryan, did you know if you become a priest, you’ll have people to cook and clean for you and you won’t have to really do any work?” And she would always try to guilt me into these things, and then I would feel totally guilty, and she would make it seem like If I didn’t do this, then I was disappointing God or I was being selfish or even that I couldn’t become Holy, which of course isn’t true. Look at the Holy Family, look at St. Francis of Assisi: There have been many Holy people who have not been priests. But the bottom line is she was guilting me so much, I thought it had to be God’s will. And so, I would wrestle with this, and I would wrestle with it for years.
And I didn’t really feel called to be a deacon or to be single either. I didn’t know if I was really called to marriage. And in hindsight, looking back, it was because everybody I knew had a terrible marriage or they were divorced. And so why would I want to be married and be miserable for the rest of my life? And I would come to find out that I was called to marriage, but I didn’t know it at the time because none of the three vocations, religious life, single life, or married life appealed to me. So, this was a struggle.
Can you relate? Can you relate with all these different voices playing in your head? How do we know it’s God? How do we know it’s the devil? How do we know it’s yourself?
You might be able to relate to this, but from the beginning, I really didn’t want to become a priest. Maybe some of you out there might feel called to be a priest, a nun, a brother, a deacon. But not me, and if you are like I was, you might feel like if you don’t do that, God’s going to smite you, and so you better do it. It was like the biggest fear, becoming a priest. What if God is calling me to be a priest? Oh no, I couldn’t be a priest for this and that reason. And I would try to make excuses and it was something that I had to wrestle with over time.
As I came closer to Jesus, I had to start praying about it more and being open more and saying: “God, I don’t really want to be a priest, but if you want me to be, I will be. God, if you really want me to be a brother or a deacon, and you’re calling me to a religious life in some way, it’s the last thing on Earth that I want to do, and I don’t feel called to it, but if you want me to, I’ll do it”. So, this was growth. I was on the right track. I was coming closer to God. I was also trying to say: “God, do you want me to be married?” And I would look for an answer in the Bible and I would just open it and say: “God speak to me”. Then I would point down at a passage, if it seemed to be pointing to marriage, maybe I was pointing to marriage, or if it was pointing to a religious life, I would point towards religious life! But it was still a struggle.
I talked to priests about this, and even one time I remember I was dating my girlfriend and I told the priest that I was scared and that I feel like God might be calling me to the priesthood and being the good priest he was, he said: “But don’t break up with your girlfriend just now! Make sure that God is really calling you. If you want to go away for a weekend and pray about it and do a discernment, you can do that. Do not jump hastily out of a relationship, just because you think God might be calling you.” And many times, fear clouds our judgment, many times worry clouds are judgment. Sometimes the devil clouds our judgment. He puts it in our minds saying that if you don’t become a priest or religious, you’re not going to be Holy or God is not going to love you. God is not going to accept you. The only way to really please God is to do the best, and that’s to become a priest. He puts these lies in our minds. Then it becomes like this guilt that if you don’t do something, you’re going to be in big trouble.
I have counseled so many people who are struggling with their vocation or who fear that God might be calling them to a religious vocation. They worry and they stress thinking: Why would God do this to me? I don’t want to. It is not what I want, etc. God wants to give you your heart’s desires, provided your desire is in line with his will and your desire is pure. Even more so, he wants to make us Holy and we have to trust, that whatever God wants for us is going to make us Holy, and it’s going to make us the most fulfilled and joyful that we can be on Earth. If we don’t do the vocation that God wants, even if we think we want the other one, we’re not going to be happy. We’re going to be miserable and it’s going to lead to a lot of crosses. Just ask people who have dated and married the wrong person and they spend the next 25 years in hell, and they would much rather be single again. They much would have rather done it the different way, but they didn’t, and they compromised. And you don’t want to compromise your vocation or be in a situation where you can’t think straight.
A Holy priest, Father Mike Scanlan once said: “If you are ever confused about your vocation, just focus on your first vocation, which is holiness and coming close to Jesus and loving him.” He said: “If you fulfill that, then everything else will fall into place because the closer you come to Jesus, the more light will be in your life. The more you will be able to hear him clearly, the more you will be able to discern more effectively.” So come close to Jesus instead of worrying all the time. Some people literally are worrywarts about their vocation. It’s like throwing rocks into the lake over and over again. They’re just chucking them in. Are you making the lake clear? Are you making it still? Can you see the bottom of it? No. You’re creating all these waves and ripples and it’s becoming unpeaceful and tumultuous. And we do that with our thoughts. Sometimes we worry so much, and we wonder why we can’t discern God’s will. It is because we never sit still in any kind of silence. Our waves are all over the place, and it’s not peaceful so we can’t hear God.
When we focus on our first vocation, it takes the focus off of that and it puts it on Jesus. And when we come close to Jesus, he’s going to help us. And even if he wants religious life for you, let’s just say, or maybe you don’t want to be married, but God wants you to be married, let’s just say, God’s going to give you the grace to desire it, and you can even pray that. That’s what I prayed: “God, if you want me to be a priest, give me the grace to desire it, I want to be able to see the beauty of both vocations, even if you’re not calling me to both”. And by the end, I can honestly tell you, I could see the beauty of the priesthood, the religious life, and the beauty of marriage and it is because God gave me that desire. So, if you’re struggling, ask God to give you the desire. Also remember, a wise priest once said: “Just because you feel called to it, it does not mean you actually are called to it.” This girl in our youth group told our priest: “I feel God might be calling me to be a nun”. He replied: “That does not mean that he is. He might be calling you to a closer relationship with him, and that might be the way he does it.” I know people who have gone into seminary for years and then they have come back out and God used that to bring them closer to him, to heal their lives, to make them more spiritual and to give them direction, but it wasn’t to fill that vocation ultimately.
So really, God is not a killjoy, and this is what I thought, and this is what the Devil makes you think many times, is that God is going to give you everything that you don’t want so that you can suffer and be miserable: If you don’t want to be a priest, well, that’s exactly what he’s going to make you. If you don’t want to be a missionary over in Africa, oh well, you better start walking because that’s what God wants you to do, and those are the lies of the devil which poison us against God. Here’s the thing, the Bible says that God desires our good. And he came to give us joy and to bring us joy abundantly. God wants you to be joyful, peaceful, and fulfilled in life. Maybe you don’t know what that vocation is, but you have to trust God, that’s what it is about.
Eventually I had to come to a place where I said: “God, I don’t want this, but you know what? I’m going to trust you and I’m going to try to be open to it as much as possible. I feel called to marriage. So, I’m going to become married. I’m going to date, but if you don’t want me to, close the doors. Make it obvious, put people in my life to turn me around and put me the other way.” And it was confusing because in the beginning of my journey, I was pretty much the only young person going to church daily. And so, people would come up to me and say things like: “You must be called to be a priest”, or: “God wants you to be a priest. God needs Holy priest.” People would put these guilt trips on you. They haven’t prayed for a single second about whether you should be a priest or not! They have not discerned it. They don’t know your life and they are poisoning your mind as well as the devil. Now, the only difference is these people mean well, but they have not discerned God’s will. They just see young people and assume about their vocations. Well, guess what People? Not everyone is called to be a priest. All of us are called to try to be Saints in the world. All of us are called to be lights in the world. We are called to be Holy. Here’s the thing: Everyone thinks a priest is supposed to be Holy, but the thing is, we’re ALL called to the heights of holiness. Not just priests, not just nuns who pray all day. We are all called to the heights of holiness, and we need great examples of that in the real world too.
And even when I was dating my wife, and I think we were even engaged, I still had thoughts in my head like: I am selfish. I am doing the wrong thing. I am disappointing God. And I had this broken record player playing in my head, even though in some ways I had come to peace with it and I felt like I was called to marriage. It was still a tumultuous war battle sometimes in my head. And so, I said: “You know what? I’m going to go on a discernment weekend just to make sure. I don’t want to be doing my own thing. I don’t want to be selfish and ignoring God and be deceived. And so, I’m going to go on this weekend.” And on this weekend, as soon as I walked in, I got sick. I thought I was going to die. And I ended up not even being able to attend most of their retreat. I went to bed so sick that night. I don’t know if I had the flu or something worse, but I couldn’t even get out of bed Friday night and all day Saturday, I felt like I was going to die!
I was reading the materials about what does it mean to be a priest? And it would ask: “Do you desire to bring the sacraments to people?” No. “Do you desire to be a missionary and teach people the word?” Yes. “Do you desire to celebrate the mass above all things?” No. “Do you desire to go visit people in the hospitals and in prison?” No. I would go down the checklist and most of the things that the priesthood involves, I did not feel called to. So, the authors of these articles were saying that God gives you natural talents, how can you use those? The only thing I would want to do as a priest is preach. I don’t need to be a priest to do that. But most of the other things I didn’t feel called to do.
By the end of the weekend, Sunday came around, it was the end, and there was only one talk left. I hadn’t even attended the retreat yet. And the priest walks in all snarky and he says: “Are you going to decide to get out of bed and attend the retreat with us?” And I said: “I’m kind of sick, but I’m feeling a lot better today. So, I’ll come to the last talk Father.” So, I did. And the whole last talk was about how you don’t need to be a priest or religious to be Holy and to serve God. In fact, the Holy family, he said, was the Holiest family on Earth and they were not religious. He said: “If God is calling you to be married, but you become a priest because you think that’s the highest vocation, which objectively it is, it is not for you. And you are not going to serve God well and you are probably going to probably be unholy. Just because the priesthood is objectively Holy doesn’t mean that’s the most objectively Holy vocation is for you, brother.”
The holiest people, like St. Francis, was never a priest. We can give ourselves to God in other ways and as a married man, I can say it is much more difficult with kids, with duties, with all this other stuff. It is more difficult to be Holy, to sit down, to be contemplative and to find God on a deeper level. It is easier, much easier in religious life because you give up all of the things of the world that distract you. But that does not mean that you can’t be Holy. If God is calling you to marriage, he’s going to provide the means to do so, and you should not feel any guilt about that. You should run to it. You should look forward to it, and you should read every book possible on it. In fact, you should read the book, Introduction to The Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales, because it is written for lay people on how to become Holy. Carry it with you, follow every word of it, and you will be Holy.
But the bottom line is if you want to love God, then trust him. Don’t buy the lies that he’s going to just purposely try to make you miserable and do everything you don’t want to do, just because he’s that vindictive kind of a God. I’ve come to learn: He’s not. I’ve had several powerful healing experiences, where it taught me the love of God as a Father, as a Lover. He knows my heart. He loves my heart. He wants what is best for me. In all those years of agonizing torture, of people telling me I was going to be a priest, it wasn’t for me.
And in fact, when I left that last talk and went into the Eucharistic adoration chapel, and I just felt all of these demons leave, literally just leave me. And I felt like peace beyond all understanding, and God was telling me it’s going to be okay. And I just knew at that moment that I was not called to that. God gave me a very powerful confirmation through peace. These strongholds that were torturing me all this time were released and God came into my life. I had peace beyond all understanding, every minute of every day for three straight weeks. All those obsessive, tormenting thoughts that I had, I didn’t have them again. And so, God has led me despite all the tortures. This is why I like to talk to people about vocations because I hated the torture and I know so many people are tortured. And if you are one of those people, I hope this article has started to help you in your journey, and I hope you know that God is not against you. He’s for you. He loves you. He wants you to be happy. More so, he wants you to be Holy and you need to trust him and come closer to him because when you do that, then you will do whatever he wants, and you will want to do whatever he wants.
The Saints jumped: “Whatever you want. God is my ultimate delight”. The saints loved God so much. Anything and everything he asked, they did. I pray that we can get to that point too, but it won’t come unless we’re doing serious hours of adoration, we’re praying, reading the scriptures, doing spiritual discernment, and even getting spiritual direction.
There it is. That’s my story. I hope that it has helped you in some way and I hope that you will share it with other people who might be struggling with this as well.