Human beings, as a species, are one of oversimplification. We look at complex things and want them to be simple, almost boring, because then they cannot challenge us. God the benevolent gift-giver is easy to handle; God the sustainor of all things who draws us utterly beyond our power to be most fully alive? Not so easy. We are equally guilty of simplifying vocation, or turning it into a moment and not longer a process. In another post I addressed the three stages of a vocation; here I am specifically interested in that point when the vocation is clear but is not manifest.
Think if you will of a young woman who has done good discernment and is aware she is called to the married life. She has been and is still being formed to be the best wife and mother she can be, but at this stage she is neither. And let us then add that there is no serious prospect at the moment. This is for many of you easy to imagine, either from primary or secondary experience.
The calling is clear: marriage (or, if you will, imagine the man called to priesthood who has ten thousand dollars of debt which he must pay off before a diocese will accept him). Yet it is equally clear the call cannot be embraced. This is perhaps the worst moment in a vocation. Unlike seminary or serious dating, there is no clear evidence that the calling is reaching fulfillment. One’s whole being cries out to enter into the life for which they are called, yet external elements force them to remain outside of it, to leave the heart restlessly desiring.
But we forget this step. Vocation is presented in two terms: discernment and fulfillment. This honestly painful middle ground is swept under the rug and there are no lifelines for those who must endure it for two, three, five, ten years. There is suffering in vocation, bracketing those moments of joy and being in turn bracketed by them. But like all suffering there is the chance to embrace it, to allow God to work through it and make us better. The challenge is, perhaps foremost in this case, to realize it is suffering allowed us by God.
We all suffer in pursuit of our vocation, but some more than others. It must be acknowledged and embraced. The suffering in our vocation is a fundamental part of our formation, a key tool in making us the men and women best suited to living a holy life in our calling. It is not arbitrary, and it is not easy. But it is good.