“O that today you would hear his voice harden not your hearts…” Psalm 95:7-8
The reminder to listen for the voice of God runs deep in the Scriptures. Such admonitions are usually partnered with the hardened heart – one closed off to the guidance and grace of God’s love. As a spiritual director, I often sit with those dealing with issues of vocation. Rather than a once-in-a-lifetime call to a career or lifestyle, however, this kind of discernment occurs over and over again as we age or as our circumstances shift. Even those with what might be considered a final vocation, such as the priesthood or religious life, must continue to listen for where God is calling them and how to best use the gifts God has bestowed upon them.
I have two good friends who discerned this “call within a call.” One is a Franciscan sister who moved from years of work in education to ministry as a hospital chaplain. Her innate gift of compassion and empathy was put to such tender use as she sat with those who were sick, injured, or dying and their loved ones. Another friend, a Holy Cross priest, felt a strong pull towards working more intentionally with the poor. It drew him into full-time service with those in need through one of his community’s shelters for the homeless.
Parker Palmer, a gifted educator and author, describes how he first mistook vocation as an act of willfulness. This may work for a career but falls flat when it comes to discerning one’s calling. Vocation, which is derived from the Latin root for “voice”, comes from listening to one’s life and trying to understand what it is about. As Palmer writes, it isn’t a goal to pursue but a calling that we hear. When we don’t “harden our hearts” to what this might be, we are more open to God’s voice, nudging us towards our truest selves and what we have to share with the world. This makes attentiveness to vocation a lifelong process rather than a once-and-for-all decision. I personally find this hopeful because it honors our own spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental evolution. God’s voice can be soft and subtle, however, so learning to listen is also the goal of a lifetime.
The common vocation for all of those who follow Christ is the call to holiness. The ways it is lived out varies not only from person to person but also from one part of our life to another. Thus, to listen to our lives is to attend to the voice of God calling us ever deeper into a holy and blessed life.