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Embracing the Messy of Discernment: Four Things I’ve Learned

Written by Cate Broadbent

August 14, 2023

When the Villains are Beautiful

I was 31 years old and had just moved back home. I left my consecrated community and found myself starting over. Chatting with a younger friend after Mass one day, I told her that I was trying to figure out my calling. She responded innocently, “Weren’t you supposed to do that a long time ago?”

Yes, I suppose I was. And I did. At least I thought I did. But God’s ways are not our own. And my path was not like everyone else’s.

The road has been rocky. The Lord led me into and out of consecrated life. I discerned different religious orders. After moving back home, I started dating. Then I served as a foreign missionary. And eventually, God would lead me to my husband and the beautiful vocation of marriage. 

In my unconventional path, I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. If you and I, dear sister, were having coffee together and talking about vocational discernment, here are four things I would share with you.

The path can be messy

It was tempting to look at others and become jealous about how “easy” their discernment was. In my late 20s, I would look at religious sisters my age who had already made final vows. Why was it clear for them, while I was having so many doubts? 

My younger sister and several friends got married in their early-to-mid-20s. They had found their vocations and were having kids while I was still waffling and wondering if my discontentment was a temptation or a sign. 

It’s okay that my path didn’t look like everyone else’s. And I’m sure that even those who found their vocations early in adulthood would agree that it can be messy. Just because you’ve found your state in life doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing from there. We all have crosses. They just come in different forms.

Embrace the messiness. Find God in it. Because He is there. He’s not afraid of the mess, even if we are.

Our vocation isn’t a puzzle, and God isn’t a puzzle master

For many years I approached discernment as trying to “figure out” God’s plan for me. I read every book on the subject, I mulled it over in my head, and I talked with others about my questionings. I told the Lord, “Just show me what you want, and I’ll do it!

I assumed there was some piece of the puzzle I was missing, and when I found that, I would finally be content. 

What I neglected to see is that God works with us. Yes, He has beautiful plans for our lives, but we are part of those plans. Our hopes, desires, and even feelings are part of the equation. If I have an unfulfilled desire or am feeling that something is off in a particular circumstance, I can’t discount that. And the Lord doesn’t want me to. 

For years, I thought, “I’m feeling this, but I want to do the Lord’s will, so I’m just going to offer it up.” Yes, God’s will is going to require sacrifice, but it also brings contentment and joy. 

The Lord wants us to use our intellect and heart to make decisions. When the choice between two good things isn’t clear, He trusts us to choose one or the other. If we make a prayerful and informed choice (with whatever information we have at the time), we can’t go wrong. Let us take some comfort in that. 

We can’t thwart God’s plans

I recently read a quote that brought me a lot of consolation. It said something like, “When God made His plan for your life, He factored in your stupidity.” 

Silliness aside, there is some truth to this. I thought that I had to be perfect and make all the right choices in order to properly discern God’s will. I used to agonize over potential wrong turns I had made in discernment: if only I had taken more time here, if only I had considered that option, if only I hadn’t done that one thing. If only, if only, if only. A girl can drive herself crazy in that cycle of thought. 

Guess what! God knew I was going to jump into that community without considering other options. He knew I was going to date that person who wasn’t a good match. He knew I was going to make that job change impulsively. He knew, and He is not going to punish me for making what may have been a wrong turn. (Sometimes it’s really not clear if it was even a wrong turn.)

God works with our decisions. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have given us any decision-making power at all. 

So, sister, you haven’t messed up God’s plan for your life. If you could do that, He wouldn’t be God. He is in the business of taking our messy choices and making something beautiful out of them. I take much solace in that fact, and so can you.

Our vocation begins now

The last thing I would tell you over our cuppa caffeine is that wherever you find yourself in this journey, you are living your vocation now.

Even if your state-of-life vocation is unclear, your call to holiness is not. You are called by Our Lord to be His beloved, His bride. I used to think that meant I needed to be in a convent. How could I love God with my whole heart while living “in the world,” much less married to another human being?

The truth is, we are all called to a beloved relationship with the Bridegroom, whatever our state in life. And that begins here and now. We can get into heaven without ever taking religious vows or getting married, but we can’t without having loved God. 

I can’t promise you that just because you’re pursuing holiness, finding your state-of-life vocation will be easy. But I can say that nothing is lost. I was 39 when I got married. My husband was 44. Looking back, it’s easy to see that we needed those years before we met each other. While we sometimes wish we could have met in our 20s, there are a million reasons it might not have worked out even if we had. 

I’m grateful that we each had our journeys with the Lord. We sought our vocations and surrendered ourselves to His will. He prepared us for one another. I couldn’t be more grateful.

So, dear sister, if you’re finding yourself in the messy, uncertain, (seemingly) never-ending times of vocational discernment, I hope you will take these words to heart. Know that the path might be rocky, hilly, and winding, but God isn’t out to confuse you. He is journeying with you, sometimes telling you which turn to take, and other times asking you to choose. Wherever you find yourself, seek Him with your whole heart, and you can’t go wrong. 



 

Cate Broadbent lives in beautiful Colorado with her husband, Mike, whom she married in 2021. She enjoys creative projects and long bike rides. She works for Family Missions Company and recently opened an Etsy shop where she sells her original designs. She also blogs about life and ministry. You can connect with her on Instagram @girasolcreativedesign.

 

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