Vocational discernment is a dynamic process that requires the ability to place oneself in the present and to walk with understanding and perseverance towards the realization of authentic happiness.
PUBLISHED ONMar 2021
One day, I came across an ancient story narrated by the Desert Fathers in the early centuries of Christianity. This story presents a situation that we can all recognize in our day, especially if we live outside the big cities.
It is the story of a man walking with his young son who is taking his hunting dog for a walk. At a certain moment, the dog sees a white rabbit in the middle of the woods. As it is trained, the dog starts running after the rabbit while barking frantically to give warning of its chase.
In the same village, other dogs start barking and running like him after hearing the first bark. After a few minutes of running, discouraged and tired, the other dogs abandon the chase and only the first one continues running until it catches the rabbit. At this point, the young boy asks his father: “Daddy, why did everyone abandon the chase except our dog?”
The father replied: “Now here is a great lesson in life: the other dogs ran and barked because they saw other dogs running and barking. It was different with our dog. He knew why he was running and barking–because he saw the rabbit!
“The same thing happens in our lives. If we run because we see others running, we get nowhere. But, if we ‘see the rabbit’ and put chase after it, it will be hard, but nothing will make us give up without reaching our goals.”
This story highlights the great vocational issues that concern us throughout life. Life does not stop and we often lose direction. We do not know why we run, where we are going or why we are going in the direction we are heading.
We run because we see others running. Everything seems to come naturally: we are drawn into certain things as if we are puppets without a will. Deep down, deep down, these are all excuses! What we seek is to have the approval of those who know us, but ... this is not vocation nor will it ever lead to personal fulfillment–to an authentic fulfillment of happiness.
The Starting Point
The first problem that arises when we look at our life, trying to envision a future of happiness that we want to achieve, is really to situate ourselves in the present moment: what we want to be (in the future) does not exist dissociated from what we are (in the present). In the story I presented, the starting point of the first dog was precisely to “see the rabbit,” from the point where he was. This alone guaranteed the success of the dog’s “hunting” mission. In the same way, we have to dare to ask ourselves where we want to go. When we discern, we see “our rabbit” and we can think about the options to catch him. We can choose a direct or strategic race, but nothing will make us lose sight of the “rabbit.”
This process cannot be isolated. It is necessary to choose the right companion to accompany us when we look at ourselves and reality. Life is not going to play a prank on us. We think we have seen “the rabbit,” but everything is just an optical illusion or a reflection of having dirty spectacle lenses. We know that we can be easily deceived by ourselves and by the social and cultural currents that are marking our daily lives.
Ghosts And Vocation!
Without realizing it, when we enter the great “vocational forest” alone, we risk running after other people’s “rabbits” and not our own. This does not mean that our mission is isolated from that of others, but that it is distinct from theirs. It is unique in its specificity in that it articulates and meets up the mission/vocation /life of others.
Every day we are bombarded with utopian happiness, whether through advertising, the arts, or the cinema. Everything looks easy and perfect! With this eagerness for the “easy and perfect,” we desire for a fantasy future instead of running after concrete and real happiness. The fantasy makes us see “rabbits” as it suits us with ease and the way we feel at the moment.
Other times, if we remain alone in the “woods,” we begin to enter the world of fear. There are ghosts in every alley! The ghost of “I’m not able,” the ghost of “I don’t know what to do,” the ghost of “poor me”!
These ghosts also, little by little, blur our vision and lead us to start running where others run: after all, if many go there, it is a sign that it must be good! But, as they say, the good is the enemy of the best. “Being well” is not synonymous with happiness! The good for some is not good for everyone. Every human being has his/her own path. Copying that of others, out of fear or because it is easier, is not a life option: it is cowardice and an escape from reality/happiness.
Take The First Step
Overcoming the problem of situating yourself in the present and discerning your vocation, removing ghosts and fantasies is a fundamental issue for anyone who wants to take life and their happiness seriously and responsibly.
The second issue to resolve is that of inertia! Once we see “the rabbit,” we have to set foot on the road!
Pope Francis perceives these dynamisms and difficulties of the vocational path and recalls that Jesus himself lived His vocation from a concrete reality–son of a carpenter (Matthew 13, 55), the carpenter of Nazareth (Mark 6, 3)–and made the vocational discernment that led Him to the redeeming Mission.
His youth is marked by the feeling that He is a “beloved son” (Luke 3, 22) and the relationship He has with the Father and with His friends. But, also, His vocational growth is marked by misunderstandings by those who live around Him: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”(Luke 4, 22), they questioned without understanding. Neighbors, friends, and even their parents seemed to be unaware of Jesus’ mission or vocation (Luke 2, 48–50).
It is not easy to live for love, but it is possible! Vocational discernment requires overcoming the barriers of ‘simply imitating others’. It requires daring to go beyond the fantasies and ghosts that incessantly haunt and hinder us.
For this very reason, the Pope does not cease to intercede for all those who genuinely seek to take the first step towards a serious and responsible discernment of their vocation: “Dear young people, my joyful hope is to see you keep running the race before you, outstripping all those who are slow or fearful. Keep running, attracted by the face of Christ, whom we love so much, whom we adore in the Holy Eucharist and acknowledge in the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters. May the Holy Spirit urge you on as you run this race.” (Pope Francis, Post–Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit, n. 299).