Isn’t there a sense of liberation when we finally know what we want to do with our life? This is one of the feelings that a person experiences at a heart-felt level, as well as others, such as joy, anticipation, peace and excitement. This liberation frees us to begin the needed steps to realize our dreams, our life’s purpose.
Often, as a vocation director I’m asked the questions, “How do you know if you are called to be a sister, to religious life? How do you know if it is right for you?” These are very good questions. Any person who seriously wants to know the answers will need to spend time looking at it in various ways and allowing God to be part of the conversation. This is known as discernment.
When the thought of becoming a sister first arises within us, or when someone invites us to consider being a sister, there could be a variety of initial reactions such as, “Who me? I’m not worthy. I couldn’t live that life. I’m not holy enough. I’m too adventurous. I thought I was going to get married and have a family.” It may even feel like a deer frozen in a car’s headlights. These thoughts and possible feelings of flight, dread fear and doubt are not foreign to many for whom this question is raised.
Yet, if the thought or invitation is there, maybe it’s God’s way of getting our attention and asking us to take a look at the possibility. Usually after the initial reaction, the question gets raised, “How open am I to considering the possibility of being a sister?” Openness is key – no matter what the ultimate decision is.
So, what can get in the way of openness and freedom? Holding onto anything too tightly—even good things—home, family, friends, work. It’s hard, but God may surprise you and what awaits is something new and wonderful. Clutter, noise and the busy-ness in our lives can also block us from being open—all the things we have to do and the constant sense of being “on call,” answering emails, messaging or streaming content on the internet. How liberating it is to have the stillness and quiet so necessary for discernment.
A good place to start is to talk with a vocation director in order to learn about sisters and their lives, about how to sift through one’s deepest desires and how to understand if God’s call is in concert with one’s deepest desires. It takes patience, time and trust in God—that God wants our happiness.
I frequently hear, “O I just need to figure out God’s will, God’s life plan for me.” Father Walter Cisnek SJ, a Jesuit from Pennsylvania, who lived and worked in Russia during WWII and saw God’s will in a more earthy way: “The plain and simple truth is that God’s will is what God actually wills to send us each day, in the circumstances, places, people and problems. The temptation is to look beyond these things, precisely because they are so constant, so petty, so humdrum and routine and seek to discover instead some other and nobler will of God that better fits our notion of what His will should be.”
Sister Anne Marie Mack, Country Leader at the time I was weighing ministry options after returning from several years in Ecuador, asked me, “What’s the worst that could happen?” after I shared a vision of working with women caught in poverty in West Baltimore. Having never done this before, I couldn’t guarantee success. “Failure,” I replied. Sr. Anne Marie then said, “If that’s the worst, then go for it.” She was right.
Almost 20 years later, this work of God continues to be a beacon of hope for women in West Baltimore.
Finding what gives deep joy, knowing what you are good at and what your skills and talents are, answering the question to whether your decision leads to serving others and what the greater need is, as well as other questions to guide your discernment, will help in understanding what you are called to do with your life.
For more information on discerning life’s choices and one’s vocation in life, contact Sr. Pat Dowling, vocation director for Sisters of Bon Secours. Also, consider attending a Come and See weekend to learn more about the life of a sister.