Do not say, “I am too young.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you. (Jeremiah 1:7-8)
Call and vocation language scares me. I’m only twenty-three years old and there’s something about answering God’s call, whatever it may be, that seems so permanent and absolute for a young person like myself. I have my whole life ahead of me and there will be plenty of time to find my vocation—but not today. God doesn’t call people of my age. I’m just too young. Luckily, the more I discern God’s active role in my life, the more I can tell that God is indeed calling me, but not to what I might have suspected.
I used to think that a vocation involved something like a career decision or simply the choice between married or religious life. I’ve learned that this understanding is far too narrow. While I have chosen to enter a religious congregation, I do not consider that to be my primary vocation. So what is the content of my call? God’s call for me is to live, to love, and to be. God calls me to live as fully as possible, to love as best I can, and to be all that I am capable of being. My decision to join a group of religious brothers and become a brother to the world is definitely a vocation, but it is meant to facilitate this deeper, underlying call to keep the memory of Jesus alive in my living, loving, and being.
The perhaps obvious (though unbiblical) metaphor for exploring God’s call is that of a telephone call. For many people, myself included, it is easy to ignore and not answer the ringing phone (no matter how annoying the ringtone). If it’s important, they’ll call back or leave a message. Maybe I’ll turn the phone off or put it on silent so as to not be disturbed. But God is more persistent than even the most committed telemarketer. There eventually comes a time when you have to answer that ringing phone. It’s the hardest part and it can be scary because you don’t know who is on the other line and what he or she wants. However, once you take the risk of answering the phone and saying “hello,” you can move from call and response to a conversation. I’ve spent much of my young life putting the call on hold, being stubborn, and making excuses about why I am too young or unworthy to take a call from God. Through programs like Catholics on Call, I’ve learned to gradually surrender however, and to answer the call to a fuller life. But it’s a process.
The call is really just the beginning. Having answered the call, you’ve only just begun the conversation. And the conversation is life. It is an ongoing, interactive back-and-forth with God as you grapple with the specifics of your call. Am I more able to live fully at this job or that one? Will doing this make me a more loving person? Does this choice allow me to be all that I can be? As I discern these questions in my own life on a daily basis, I’ve learned that listening is most essential. There is sometimes static on the other line and periods of disconnect when it is difficult to see where the Mystery we call God is leading us, but careful listening and attention to the tugging on our hearts can lead to moments of clarity. So while I once considered myself too young and unready to have any sort of call from God, I now see it all as much more of an ongoing process of evolution, maturation, and deepening in an underlying call to live, to love, and to be. It is a call which never ends and at twenty-three years old, I’ve only just begun. So sit down God, this call may take a while.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? (Mary Oliver, The Summer Day)