Vocation development has proudly entered the twenty-first century, with upbeat multimedia youth events, resource-rich websites, Facebook, Twitter, satellite radio, and uplinks and downloads for every vocational way of life—including e-networking for the marriage inclined.
Yet the unavoidable loneliness embedded in God’s calling has not gone away. Jesus experienced this loneliness within his calling, and he taught his followers to expect such loneliness as well. What is this loneliness?
Vocational loneliness is the interior ache that reminds you that to be called by God means that you throw away all other options and give yourself wholeheartedly to a holy work where you are no longer in charge. Vocational loneliness means handing over your plans, your understanding of how things should be, your very liberty, to the greater forces of the Holy Spirit, to make of your life what God has in mind.
This loneliness is the necessary work of being conformed to Christ. You may encounter it early in life. More likely, this loneliness defines the experience of God’s calling as the years advance.
Vocational loneliness runs counter to what we intuitively seek for our lives—the comfort and safety of family, the buffer of friendships, the distractions of work. Will these all be taken away? Not necessarily. But you’ll discover that family, friendships, and the distractions of work are not enough to sustain you in your personal vocational journey into God. Instead, there will come a time when you will find yourself taking your relationship with Jesus more seriously, and come face to face with the life that has your name on it and no one else’s.
In writing about Catholic social activist Dorothy Day, biographer Robert Ellsberg described the vocational loneliness that Day experienced, which “persisted even in the midst of others, the essential isolation that belonged to any commitment or vocation … to which Christ invited his friends.” In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, Day herself writes: “[This vocational] pain is very great, but very endurable, because He who lays on the burden also carries it.”
Jesus taught his would-be followers as much when he said, “Let the dead [i.e., those who lack a personal sense of calling] bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). Jesus spoke of the very solitary path of the disciple: “If anyone comes to me without hating [i.e., fully detaching from] his father and mother … and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). And again: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Vocation is costly. God’s calling is demanding of your fullest self or it is nothing at all, as Jesus insists: “Whoever loves father or mother, … son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Indeed, before communion we pray these honest words, “Lord, I am not worthy …” But should the Lord himself vocationally say to us, “You are not worthy of me,” we would feel the sting down to the core of our being.
No matter your age or state in life, you may be surrounded by family members and friends who are not yet vocationally awake, so your own vocational awakening may cause them to pull you back from your solitary path, in hopes of escaping a little longer their own solitary path. But once your vocational awakening begins, you know in your heart that there is no looking back.
You should expect vocational fruitfulness in your life. But be prepared to walk a road which you alone must take. Even in the midst of family or studies or work obligations, expect that God’s calling of you is personal, and your lifelong response will be one for which you alone are accountable and which only you, anointed in the Holy Spirit, can give.
Copyright 2012 Mary Sharon Moore, M. T. S.