Vocations: Destiny or Free Will?

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As someone who grew up reading fairy tales and watching anime, I began to notice something in the way that people see vocations.

Many of my married friends believe in the idea of pre-determined “soul mate” love and how God planned for them to marry a specific person. The story of their love life is essentially like the chorus from Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”: “You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess. It’s a love story, baby. Just say ‘Yes.'”

People who discern religious life, on the other hand, have vocation stories that resemble the typical anime “destiny plot.” In a typical adventure anime, the main character goes on a long journey or goes to school while trying to figure out what their purpose in life is. Either way, the protagonist finds their destiny and the story focuses on them working towards becoming a priest or a nun, with the perfect gang of friends who accompany them on this journey.

I’m speaking in generalizations, of course. I know that every vocation story is different. But in the years I spent going to vocation-related events, it seems like people see marriage and religious life as a pre-determined destiny and all they have to do is “discern” which one is right for them. In reality, marriage and religious life are not as cut and dry as that.

Yes, God creates each and every person with a unique personality and skills, but he also gave us this strange thing called free will. We have the ability to choose what to do with our gifts, for better or for worse. Our lives are more like those video games where the choices you make effect the way that the game ends. (Just think of Mass Effect or Infamous.) It doesn’t mean that we can just do whatever we want. The power to choose comes with the responsibility of making sure we choose to do God’s will. In an ideal life, we work with God to help us to choose the right thing. Eventually, our choices help reveal what God wants us to do with our lives.

The best example of this can be seen in the movie Moana. Although Moana was chosen by the ocean to voyage out and return the heart of Te Fiti, her journey was not an easy one and at one point, she gave the heart of Te Fiti to the ocean, wanting to return home after Te Ka nearly killed her. The spirit of her grandmother was supportive of Moana’s decision to turn back, but at the same time, Moana was hesitant. She had to choose to take the heart back herself and not just because the ocean or her grandmother told her. She did that by remembering who she was, where she came from, and reflecting on how far she has come.

So how does free will play a role in discerning marriage or religious life?

When it comes to marriage, I have a bit of a bias. For one thing, I don’t believe in soul mates. Now before you clutch your pearls and start citing the examples of Tobias and Sarah as well as Mary and Joseph, know that I wrote a Bible study on Tobit and I have a great devotion to the Holy Family. Tobias was worried about having to marry Sarah. He was free to choose to fulfill the promise he made to his father. Thankfully, Raphael guided Tobias to understanding how they would save Sarah from the demon that killed her previous husbands. If Sarah and Tobias’s marriage was predetermined, God would’ve found a way to have Tobias marry Sarah first and also expel the demon from her house at the same time.

In a similar way, Mary and Joseph still had to choose to say “Yes” to what God was asking of them. And their life was anything but a fairy tale, with Mary having to deal with at least three months of pregnancy alone (even while she was helping her cousin Elizabeth) and Joseph almost choosing to divorce Mary when he heard about her having a child.

God creates each and every person with a unique set of personality traits and skills and in our lives, we find people who we’re compatible with and some that we don’t get along with. But everyone we meet teaches us a lesson. Every relationship we have is a unique experience because we fall in love in different ways, depending on the person. It’s not going to be an instant-love-at-first-sight kind of thing that we see in romantic comedies and fairy tales. We choose who we love and then, once we marry, we can choose to stay with them in good times and in bad.

On the flip side of things, I know people who are still waiting for their lives to start, who have an idea on what God is calling them to do, but still have to choose the path they need to take in order to get there. The good news about these people is that they’re not just waiting around waiting for an answer to come on a silver platter. These people might have to pave their own paths or consider options beyond the norm. Regardless of where they head, God will always be with them.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t have a hand in our lives, but when it comes to our vocations, we can’t make the idea of finding our calling the end all-be all. We are called to ask God to be the compass of our hearts and then we choose the paths we walk down. There is no grand destiny where we save the world from an apocalypse. Most of us are called to live our holiness in ordinary lives. But is there anything wrong with that? I don’t think so.

tl;dr: Our path towards our vocation, whatever we are called to be, is not a straight line. It’s a path we forge with God guiding us through each and every choice we make.

Interview With Arleen Spenceley

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Photo courtesy of Arleen Spenceley

Arleen Spenceley is author of the book Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin (Ave Maria Press, Nov. 2014). She works as a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in counseling, both from the University of South Florida. She blogs at arleenspenceley.com.

What was the inspiration behind
Chastity is For Lovers?
Chastity Is For Lovers was inspired by my desire to encourage the people who already practice chastity, and to present chastity to the people who don’t practice it yet. I want people who are virgins to know they’re not alone, and I want people who are saving sex from now on to know that chastity truly is possible, and I want people who haven’t heard of it, or who’ve got it confused for abstinence, to know what it actually is.
Do you feel yourself drawn towards any particular vocation or do you prefer to be open to all of them?
I am most drawn to marriage, but I’m not married to it. I’m still not sure to which specific vocation God will call me, but I hope to be open to any of them when that’s clearer to me. In the meantime, seeking Him first is a fantastic way to prepare to accept the call to any vocation. Doing so will refine our desires, and pave the way for continuing to seek Him first when I become a wife or a nun or otherwise consecrated single person.
Tell me what it’s like to be single. How is that different from dating, marriage, and religious life?
I’m two kinds of single: unmarried, and also not currently in a dating relationship. But I’d consider myself “single and mingling,” ’cause I do date. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be perpetually single, because I don’t know yet if I will be. But I can tell you that this season of singleness — if it indeed is a season — is actually kind of exciting. That has less to do with what I’ve done during this season and more to do with what God is done. It is clear to me, almost always only in retrospect, that how single I am has been integral for my ability and availability to do some of what God has invited me to do.
Had I not been single while writing the book proposal for Chastity Is for Lovers and then while writing the book itself, I probably would have neglected the writing or the relationship. That isn’t to say a person can’t write a book, or travel and speak, or otherwise serve the Church while dating or married. But because of my particular circumstances, another commitment would have been a bad idea.
I wrote the book proposal during my second to last semester of grad school. At the time, I worked 32 hours a week as a staff writer for the newspaper, interned 14 hours a week as a counselor at a youth shelter, took two classes and lived, interned, worked and went to school in four different cities. As much as I had moments of hoping I’d meet a guy to date, God didn’t open that door and in retrospect, I’m super glad that he didn’t.
One problem I personally have with being single is loneliness. How do you deal with that?
When loneliness hits, I say “focus on Jesus, focus on Jesus, focus on Jesus,” over and over, in my head. The last time I “ached” like we sometimes do while we’re single was when I was interested in a specific guy — a guy from whom I wasn’t hearing. And while I hoped he’d text me or call, God legit spoke to me when this thought popped into my head: “You don’t ache because you’re alone. You ache because you’re looking in the wrong direction.” I hadn’t been seeking first Jesus. I’d been seeking first some other guy. So I needed that reminder to focus on Jesus.
Who’s your go-to saint when it comes to anything relating to dating/boys/love life/etc?
For most of my adult life, St. Francis de Sales has been my go-to, ’cause we’re basically BFFs.  In undergrad, while I studied journalism, I suffered from anxiety. One day, I stumbled upon a quote from St. Francis de Sales about anxiety, and it really helped. A few days later, I stumbled upon another de Sales quote. It was also about anxiety, and it also really helped. I’d never heard of de Sales before I stumbled upon his quotes, so the journalist in me had to do some digging. I looked him up, which is how I discovered that he’s the patron saint of journalists. I’ve felt a connection to him ever since.
If you’d like to see the quotes I stumbled upon, click here.
What advice would you give to young girls and boys right now?
I’d give both females and males the same two pieces of advice: a) Reflect a lot on the fact that you are of infinite value because you exist, and b) Focus on Jesus, focus on Jesus, focus on Jesus.

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