Following The Way
How important, really, is it for us to discern God's calling in our lives? Does it make a great and significant difference if I live as an attorney, an athlete, or a priest? How specific a call does the Lord intend for us and how are we to determine this?
These are difficult questions to answer. Some people (perhaps most) think of a "calling" in terms of an occupation, and surely this can be an important dimension. But to focus primarily or even exclusively on the occupational aspect of a calling can be dangerous, for who we are is a reality that runs far deeper than merely what we do for a living.
Who we are is not really an economic question at all, but rather a philosophical and theological one. We simply cannot understand ourselves in isolation apart from the drama of love and communion with our fellow human beings and, ultimately, God himself. John Donne was quite right and truly profound when he wrote this famous passage:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
To begin searching for an understanding of vocation and discernment, it is thus crucial to recognize that we never journey alone. The words of David, "I fear no evil, for You are with me" (Psalm 23:4) are echoes of the equally encouraging words in Deuteronomy: "It is the LORD who goes before you; he will be with you, he will not fail you or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed" (Deuteronomy 31:8). Both are precursors to Christ's words, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide" (John 15:16).
The glorious truth is that we do not walk along separate and isolated paths. Our paths in life are parallel, frequently intersecting with one another and never that far away from someone else's. We should try to recall along the way that others are journeying through the oftentimes dark and treacherous forest along with us, and that we are never really alone.
But along these paths, each person seeks to navigate as best he or she is able. No two paths are ever quite the same. Will skill and individual talent of themselves deliver us to our destination successfully? Surely not, for none of us have ever walked our path before! Each turn, each valley, each hill crest and rock and tree and ravine along the way carries with it a taste of the unknown. Obstacles arise in many forms, and happy is he who meets them with faith, determination, and the humility to trust in the One who indeed knows the way. As Tolkien tells us Bilbo's sound advice:
It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.
Though we often turn up our noses at the mere mention of the word, obedience is inevitably essential in authentic discernment of God's will for our lives. It should hardly be a shocking notion to us. In the end, loving obedience to the Author of the Great Story will not only ensure that we will indeed discover and take the right and proper path, but that we will be adequately equipped for the particular circumstances that will assuredly unfold along the way. God calls each person in a unique, unrepeatable way. We should obediently answer his call with openness, a spirit of adventure, and a willingness to follow him wherever he may lead us.