Much Ado About Vocations
A reader writes:
How did you/do you discern a ‘vocation’ to writing alongside your primary marriage/motherhood vocation?
I love writing and I sometimes feel called to share more. Looking back, I should have listened to my college English 101 teacher and worked for a Writing/English degree. In the end I gave up a college degree for a husband and children (and have no regrets presently about it). I already write for CatholicMom.com and occasionally for my local Diocesan paper and I enjoy that.
I’m trying to figure out if I should seek out other places to publish because this is what God is asking of me or if it is just something I want to feed my ego.
A very reasonable question, but it kind of took me aback. I was reminded of the time my father was approached by one of the lectors in his parish. The fellow had a quibble with the new lectoring schedule. "I'm sure you prayed over this matter before you made the final draft," he said, "But wouldn't it be better if we did such-and-such . . . "
And my father wasn't sure how to tell him that -- no, he hadn't prayed over it. He had just used his brain and common sense, and made the best schedule he could; and, yes, he was wiling to make adjustments.
Of course, some life decisions are more important than how to arrange a lectoring schedule. But some of the same principles apply: while it's always right and good to pray over decisions we make, we can sometimes fall into the trap of giving them more spiritual weight than they deserve.
I very rarely ask myself, in so many words, "What is my vocation?" But this doesn't mean I'm not thinking about it constantly. I know that my first earthly obligation is to my marriage, because I've made actual vows about that! Any voluntary activity that interferes with my marriage has got to go.
Second is my obligation to my kids. I don't think of them in terms of a vocation, either: I just think, "Uh-oh, so-and-so is weepy lately -- gotta find out what the problem is there," or "This one has been keeping his temper so much better! I'll praise him when he gets home," or, "I've been too busy to do much religious education this month. Either I need to tighten up my schedule, or I need to find help somewhere," or "Bleah, the bathroom stinks. Should I discipline myself and clean it, or is it time to pass this lovely skill onto my children?"
In other words, my vocation as wife and mother and homemaker and writer is a constant work in progress -- and most of that work is pretty mundane. When things go wrong, or when things are hard (like when I'm working on a project that I've agreed to do because we'd like to purchase heating oil this winter) it's not necessarily a sign that I'm not following my vocation. Maybe it's just a sign that life is hard right now. Things don't always run smoothly when I'm following my vocation. But I check my priorities regularly, and make changes when I need to, if I can (and sometimes I can't).
So, I never did consciously discern a "secondary vocation" to write (even though I spend time writing most days!). I have always been writing something. It's something I'm good at, and I like it, so I do it. Sometimes I put a lot of effort into it, because we need the money or because there's something important that needs to be said. If it's making trouble and we can afford to ease up, I ease up. It's not really more complicated or profound than that.
I think most vocations are like this: something that changes and shifts, requiring more or less attention from you as life goes on. Living your vocation means answering the call that you're getting right now. Naturally, you take the future into account; but it's rare that vocations require making specific, lifelong vows! This is a feature, not a bug.
So, when we are faced with a decision, the best thing to do really is to pray -- specifically about the question at hand, but also just in general. But we shouldn't expect, most of the time, to get a specific answer in prayer. Prayer prepares us to figure out the answer, which we do using the mundane tools of common sense, alertness, and desire.
Yes, desire. Sometimes we (especially women) shy away from something because we enjoy it. We think that getting a kick out of something is a sign that it's selfish or unwholesome. But pleasure in good things is a gift from God -- something He offers us to help us stay on track (as long as we don't get too attached!).
The idea of a vocation is like the idea of a soul mate, and people who are searching can become so obsessed with finding the perfect match that they pass up on very real opportunities for love, happiness, and sanctification that are right in front of them. Following your vocation is not about finding the perfect hand-in-glove fit. It's about taking an honest and prayerful look at your current talents and obligations and opportunities, and being flexible. It's about preparing your heart through prayer, making a decision with your head, and then asking your heart, "So, whaddaya think?"
If it's helpful to call that process "discerning your vocation" -- if that language makes you take more responsibility for your decisions --then go for it. But if it makes you seize up with the grand implications of it all, then don't say "vocation." Just pray, be sensible, ask advice from people you trust, and do your best. That's the vocation that every single one of us has.