I’ve asked God for a sign, to tell me if He wants me to be a priest, or a brother, or to get married. I am still waiting….
I do hear this from many discerning a vocation to priesthood or religious life. In this post, I’d like to explore the question; “Will God give us a Sign, telling us what we should do?”
My experience, after hearing many people share their story of how they found “God’s Call” in their life, has lead me to believe that; Yes, God will often give a sign… BUT not in lieu of the much hard work needed in a good discernment. If a sign does come, it will more likely come at the end of a long discernment process, to confirm (or not) the decision the discerner has made in his/her God given freedom. For after all, we are not puppets or robots. God created us free, so that we can freely give our lives to a purpose, in love. Our vocation is a freely given gift to God. The sign we might get from God will not be a “Do this” as much as it is a “Thank You. I am well pleased with the Gift you want to give!”
I think of it this way. If a child asks a loving parent, “What should I do with my life?” The answer we’d most likely get from a wise parent is; “Well son (or daughter), what would you like to do? What will make you happy?” A parent may have ideas about what their son or daughter would be good at, but they also know that their child’s ultimate happiness will depend as much on the process of their having decided how to spend their life. My favorite example of how this process of a person needing to decide for themselves what they will do, comes from my understanding of the life of tennis great Andre Agassi. In his autobiography “Open”, he describes how his father forced him to play tennis from an early age. As a teenager and young adult, he rejected the profession his father had “chosen” for him. He did not fully apply himself to tennis, but instead was known more for partying, and for his public image as “The Rebel” which he also used to promote products in commercials. As he matured in life, (and after facing some of his internal spiritual and emotional inner questions), he decided that his desire was to use his life to make the world a better place, and to help kids born into difficult situations make their lives better through discipline and education. To do that, he decided that he needed money, and a proven reputation of success through discipline. For the first time in his life, he chose to embrace and accept being a tennis player. He applied himself fully to that purpose, foreseeing that one day he’d be able to leverage that success to his higher goal of helping others. He formed a team around him, and began a much more disciplined training program. He soon became the number one rated tennis player in the world, and one of the all-time greatest athletes. It was not until he made the decision in freedom, to be a tennis player and help others, that he finally became his best. Today, he runs his “Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy” in the Las Vegas, and many other charitable programs for children. It has been claimed by at least one publication, that he is the most charitable athlete of his generation! See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andre_Agassi#Philanthropy for more on Andre Agassi’s charitable works for children.
God will not, I think, give us a sign to tell us what we should do, because the very nature of our lives is to use our freedom to give ourselves to our higher call and purpose. However, after hearing many stories of how people have discerned their call, I have come to believe that God often does give a sign after one has gone through a process of discernment. That person has then given this decision to serve God in a certain way as a gift to God. When people have asked God to give a sign of confirmation if this is a wise decision and pleasing to Him, He often does respond with a sign to affirm that decision. (This is much like what I think a wise and loving human parent would also do.)
On our Come and See Experiences, our different friars share their vocation stories, and tell how they discerned God’s will in their lives. A sign from God that comes at the end of the discernment process, is not uncommon. E.g. Fr. Tom tells that after praying about becoming a priest for quite a while, he finally told God in prayer; “OK God, I am willing to do this, but I don’t want to do it unless you are calling me. So, if you are calling me, you need to give me a sign. And, since I’m hard-headed, the sign needs to be real clear!” The next several days, many people, including family members, friends, and acquaintances, said to Tom; “Are you going to be a Priest?”, or “You’d make a good Priest”. One even said, “I hear you are going to be a priest!” Fr. Tom took these words to be the sign he had asked for. In my own discernment process of about two years, I had discerned that I wanted to change my life as an engineer in the aerospace industry, and serve God in a more dedicated way, but exactly how I was not sure. I took a six month leave of absence from my work to discern God’s call. I decided to join the Christian Brothers in New York City as a full-time volunteer, living with them and teaching in one of their schools. Then on one Sunday shortly after making this decision (on the Sunday when the church prays for Vocations to Priesthood and Religious Life) a Franciscan Priest gave a homily on being a Franciscan. I felt something powerfully speaking to me during that homily. After the homily, a fellow parishioner asked me “Was that homily meant for you?”. After Mass, I went to my mailbox in the parish office (I was ministering as a volunteer young adult coordinator for the parish) and the Friars had put a Vocation Pamphlet in my mailbox. I looked at it and told God that; “This seems like something just as good, if not even better than what I’m currently planning. If this is really what you want me to do God, make the volunteer plan in New York fall through. I even wrote this in my prayer journal. Three days later, I received a call from New York. It was the volunteer coordinator with whom I had worked. He told me that one of last year’s volunteers decided to stay another year, and so they did not have room for me. I took this as the “Sign” God gave me to enter the Franciscans.
I do think that God, in his love, will give us a sign. But the sign is more to confirm a decision we’ve freely made, or to accept an offer we are giving God. Additionally, I believe we often don’t get a sign until we act in faith, and the signs more often come in form of looking back on our decisions and recognizing they fit, and that because of our decisions we find joy and peace. (E.g. I found my greatest “Sign” to enter the Franciscans after experiencing one year of postulancy. In that year, I experienced many grace filled moments that told me I was on the right path.) God often works through our experiences, and as we look back on them, they confirm (or not) the decisions we’ve made in faith and uncertainty. These “Signs” are by far the most common! Discernment requires us to take a step, in faith, and then the “Sign” comes to confirm that direction or not.
Finally, there is one sign we all are given, that we often overlook. That is our desire. God has built us for a purpose. The desires we have in our deepest self, point to that purpose. The talents we already have and love using, point to that purpose. Let us not overlook the “signs” that we already have been given.
Learn more about discernment on our next Come and See Experience, July 17-21, where we will meet friars from throughout the United States as we receive this year’s class of men into our Novitiate. The ceremony is called “Investiture” when last year’s 15 postulants will receive the Franciscan habit for the first time as they begin their one year Novitiate. Please Join Us! Contact Fr. Paul for more information.