Imagine you’ve just been hired at Google. You know you always wanted to work there, that it’s going to be the best thing ever, but there’s one problem: you have no idea what your job description is. So you come in on your first day and go meet your boss in his office (which, knowing Google, is probably a playground ball pit).
“Welcome!” the boss says. “We’re so happy to have you, and we really need you here. We’ve got something really special for you to do.”
“Great!” you say, desperately trying to look professional as you sink deeper into the ball pit. “I’m excited.”
“Good!” says the boss. “So here’s what’s going to happen. There’s some HR person who knows what your job is. I don’t know what they look like, I don’t know what their name is, I don’t know when they’re showing up, and I think they only speak Sanskrit. So just listen to them, and you’ll know everything, ok? And don’t forget, there’s a free snow cone machine in the elevator.” With that, your boss pulls his laptop out from the bottom of the pit and begins typing away.
Admittedly, this scenario is a little bit ridiculous (even for Google). If someone knows what they want you to do but they don’t tell you what it is, then you can’t do it, right? It’s a completely unfair situation. In real life, this would never occur. Except…
THIS IS EXACTLY HOW WE TALK ABOUT VOCATIONS
What have you heard about knowing your vocation? All I ever heard was “pray to know your vocation,” “pray to know God’s will,” “pray for God to reveal your vocation.” The intention behind that prayer–involving God in your life plans–is noble, but it’s actually the worst kind of advice. It spends all its energy telling you how important knowing your vocation is, and then gives vague, impractical steps about what to do. It’s not helpful.
So, how can you know your vocation? Just ask yourself the following three simple questions. Disclaimer: It’s going to take work on your part; this isn’t a BuzzFeed quiz that tells you which My Little Pony is your spirit animal. Sorry.
- WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE?
Yes. A vocation is about what you want to do with your life.That might sound crazy to some people, or even wrong. Until very recently, it would have seemed crazy to me. I thought of a vocation as merely a divine plan that I had to avoid thwarting, a plan that could be anything arbitrary, but that I would follow if God wanted me to.
That’s not a vocation at all. A vocation is the place where your actions and God’s will meet. Discerning your vocation is not actually about knowing God’s will but about doing His will, and the saints bear witness to this, especially Mary. Sure, God sent an angel to ask her about being His mom, but He never forced her to do it; she did it because she wanted to. That’s what free will is about, and that’s the only kind of “yes” that God wants: one that’s freely and lovingly given.
Now, “what you want to do” can’t just be “get rich and drink pina coladas in Tahiti.”
Remember, God’s will and your actions have to meet. So, you have to find His will. But, guess what? It’s easy.
- WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?
God is probably not going to send an angel to reveal your vocation. In fact, He will probably never reveal your vocation to you, and you’ll never just know what it is. If He was going to do that for anyone, it was going to be me, because of my great humility.
Just kidding. I’m not saying I’m special, it’s just that I have prayed to “know my vocation” for years. I’m not talking a-random-Hail-Mary-when-I-thought-about-it prayer, I mean adoration-chapel-at-midnight, begging-for-direction kind of prayer. If God was going to give me a vision or drop a scroll from the sky with my name on it, He would have done it.
Instead, He answered my prayer by teaching me a better way, the way I’m talking about now. Because one day, a family friend asked me what I wanted to do with my life – a question I was terrified of because I’d been praying for years with no answer. The friend brushed aside my vague answers and told me, “You need to make a decision.”
That one phrase cut right to the heart of my problem. I actually (without warning and really embarrassingly) broke down crying when she told me that, because I realized I was so afraid. I wanted God to tell me what my vocation was so I didn’t have the responsibility of doing something, so I could point to a sign or a vision and say, “There’s no doubt about it.”
But that kind of life doesn’t require courage, it doesn’t require trust, it doesn’t require hope. That’s not how you know God’s will. You know God’s will by discovering it. By trusting in God and following your heart. And you can only start this discovery by doing something. It doesn’t matter if it ends up being the wrong thing; you’ll gradually come to understand where God’s will meets your actions.
And lest I be as vague as the advice I’m criticizing, I’ll say this: your vocation is whatever life brings you joy and God glory. That’s how you’ll know it; in adversity or calm, if you have joy in your work and that work glorifies God, you’re doing His will.
Sounds way practical, right? It is. I think we don’t hear it a lot from the pulpit or from teachers, however, because people assume that unless we’re told to do something, we won’t do it. It’s a general assumption about people, especially about young people, that we’ll take the easiest way out, that we’ll do what we want whether or not it aligns with God’s will. It’s a fair objection, but there’s a simple solution.
- WHERE IS GOD IN YOUR LIFE?
The biggest challenge in our faith life is the transition from a “have to” to a “want to” relationship with God. Children need rules when they’re learning how to behave, but rules alone only work for small children and become unsatisfactory motivation for teenagers and adults. We know there’s more to the faith than checking off a list of requirements, and many people leave the faith because they can’t form a relationship with a God whose only concern is whether or not you follow the rules.Fortunately, no such God exists. We may misunderstand Him, but in reality, God first and foremost wants us to love Him. And a loving Father is someone we can definitely trust in, someone who we should want to involve in every moment of our lives.It was Saint Augustine who said, “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”
When we love God and follow our hearts, it’s impossible that our actions will stray from God’s will for long. We might make mistakes, we might ignore our lack of joy even for years, and we might find ourselves despairing of discovering our vocation. But God will keep loving us, and our hearts will keep calling us to do great things for His glory.
If you sat in the headquarters of Google, you might wait forever for a Sanskrit-speaking HR representative to find you and give you a job description you can’t understand. Even if he did, your boss would call you into his playground office for failing to fulfill the requirements of the job, which, of course, include being fluent in Sanskrit. You’d be fired and forever lose the right to free snow scones from the elevator.
Or maybe you could just put your talents and skills to work and do something great. If you do it with confidence and make Google money, who’s to say that’s not your job?
And hey, free snow cones.