When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples he said to them, “…as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15). As such, to be a Christian is to be a servant to others; it is a commandment of Jesus. But not everyone is called to serve in the same way. We are all given different gifts to put at the service of God’s kingdom. How, then, do we know how God is calling each one of us to serve?
Discerning God’s call to anything in our lives can be challenging, and perhaps you are wondering how you can give of yourself in service – be it locally once a week or perhaps in a long-term program, like FrancisCorps. Maybe you are even discerning life-long ways of service. Whatever the case may be, here are some tips for hearing God’s call in your life.
Pray. Speak to God in prayer, making known your desire to serve and asking God to show you the way. The answer may not come immediately, but there are many ways God speaks to us. Sometimes in prayer God clearly places a desire in our heart for that which also serves the needs in our world.
Read the Scriptures. People often say that they don’t know what God is saying to them, but we have the gift of God’s Word here in Sacred Scripture. The Gospels are alive with passages of Jesus modeling ways in which to help and heal others. St. Paul speaks eloquently in 1 Corinthians 12 about the variety of gifts and how they are all at the service of the one Body, which is Christ.
Talk to Someone. St. Teresa of Avila said, “A good means to having God is to speak with his friends.” As we are given God’s Spirit in baptism, it is especially helpful to talk with and listen to others in our process of discernment. Seek a prayerful and faithful person. They can be an excellent sounding board and can give you the encouragement that you need.
Look. There are so many opportunities for service out there; sometimes the answer is right under your nose. You may not know what God is calling you to, because you don’t know what options are available. Consider what your gifts and desires are and do a little research. You may just find that there’s something out there that meets your interests and talents perfectly.
When we do good discernment, we make a good decision. So how do we conform our lives to God’s will and not our own selfish will? Not an easy question. In the time of St Francis of Assisi it was more simple. He opened the Bible and played “Bible roulette” with his index finger. Where his finger landed, on whatever Bible verse, was the answer to the question. I wouldn’t recommend this for big decisions, but it can be fun to see if a theme surfaces when you spin the Bible roulette wheel three times.
Every person wants to make a radical decision and give themselves away to something larger than themselves. We call this a person’s higher calling. It is part of our DNA and gives us a sense of purpose. People discover satisfaction when they find their higher calling. This could be a calling toward parenthood, military service, charitable work, ministry in the church, or simply using your talents to help that one person in need of your skills.
Affirmations of our call surface when people respond, “you gave me just the thing I needed.” When we sense a joyful exuberance bubble to the surface, a peaceful sensation of interior delight, and an interior calm that could withstand any storm - these are all affirmations that we are doing what God wants us to do. A certain excitement takes over and the human person flourishes.
I find it insightful to project thought experiments toward the future. Imagine you are lying on your deathbed tomorrow, any doubts? Any unfulfilled dreams? Any regrets? Imagine your eulogy and all your loved ones and friends gathered to weigh in on what type of person you were. What would your friends and family say about you? What do you want your friends and family to say about you?
If God truly desires the human person to flourish in life, and he does, then what can you do to bring about an abundant flourishing? Now with a farsighted vision of where you want to be, all you need to do is draw a map to get there. I have confidence that the Lord will ride shotgun and get you where you most need to go. Northward Ho!
How do I know what God is calling me to do?
I think it begins with discernment and ends with a leap of faith.
Discernment is a deliberate process that involves both internal and external elements. It begins by clarifying the choice(s) involved. Am I called to get married and to this particular person? Should I take a new job or make a career change? Should I get more involved in my parish? How am I to spend my years in retirement? Naming the matter at hand is crucial. Second, gather as much information and facts about the choice(s) you have. What would this entail, what would it expect or require? Third, pray about it. Take this before God in silence. You might do this in a church, in a quiet place in your home, or by taking a walk. Fourth, talk to family and friends, to those who know you and whose input you value. What do they say? What further insights or questions did they raise, what affirmations did they make? If the choice is still not clear, talk to an independent observer or professional. This might include a mentor, pastor, or spiritual director. And after all these steps, take it back to your prayer.
Finally, no matter how certain or uncertain you may feel about your decision, a leap of faith is needed to act on that decision. Whether it was a long and arduous process, or a relatively easy one, there is still a chasm that needs to be crossed. We can never know what God wants us to do until we decide and take that first step and begin to live with it.
After being a priest for ten years, I stopped to reflect: when did I actually start knowing God was calling me for this way of life? I would even dare to say, how did I hear God’s voice? Maybe this is a question several young people ask themselves because they want to be sure that God is truly asking them to follow as a priest, brother, or sister.
In my personal journey, I felt or heard God’s voice through other people I was close to. In my high school days I was involved in several parish ministries and I often heard comments from those closest to me that God was calling me to something different. At first I dismissed the comments as “if you say so,” but not giving it much thought. But I reached a point in my life when I had to sit and question myself was God trying to tell me something through those friends and mentors?
After several months or a full year of hearing this, praying, and asking a priest what God could be calling me to, I began to try and picture myself as a priest. Could I be a leader? Could I see myself in the place of the priest? And the answer was yes. My calling began with hearing God’s voice, but through others, in my friends and mentors.
As time went on and I discerned to join a seminary or religious life I realized God was not done speaking to me. Of course we run into challenges, and we might question if God is still calling us. Is God still speaking to me and wanting me to stay in formation and in the path of priesthood? The answer was yes but now the voice of God was speaking to me through my directors of formation when they challenged me but affirmed what I was doing. I had to get rid of old habits and be open to new challenges to become a healthy individual who would be a mentor to others.
In reality God did not stop speaking me, but continues to do so. First it was through friends and mentors and later through directors in formation. God has not stopped calling me, speaking to me. I often tell people that God never stops speaking to us - that many times the problem is that we aren’t listening. When and where does God speak? He speaks to us through others like friends, family, and mentors. God speaks to us when we learn to sit and be still. God speaks to us through scripture. God speaks to us through sacraments where we also receive God’s grace.
Anyone who is discerning whether or not God is calling them to be a religious priest, brother, or sister should first learn to be open to what others are saying and then listen. It’s all about discovering God within ourselves and then discovering God in others and then discovering what God wants of us. God speaks, but let us always listen.