The first full week in Lent brings us to the Lenten Ember Days, three days (Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday) set aside for prayer and fasting for vocations. These days are often used for ordinations, and Anglican seminarians are required to send "Ember Day Letters" to the Bishop, communications as to the state of their ongoing discernment. The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare, meaning "to call." Christians have insisted through the centuries that every Christian has a unique calling not only within the life of the Church, but within this world - to bring their gifts and talents to be of good use.
Christians today seem to be struggling with no small amount of frustration and disillusionment when it comes to vocation. What is God calling me to do with my life? Where should I go to college? Should I continue this degree program? Should I stay in this job? Several years ago, one of my mentors gave a great piece of advice, and I have repeated it from time to time: vocation in three parts.
#1: Desire Desire is a powerful thing. It can be woefully disordered, causing us to commit grave sin. But, it can also be a rightly ordered gift from God, causing us not only to follow His call, but to actually want to follow. Many times in life, we persist in seeking what we actually don't desire. We can feel trapped. We can feel that there are no other options. Desire is usually the very thing that either stops us from following a course before us, or compels us to a change of course.
Desire is the necessary ingredient in enduring all the suffering, pain, and trail which we will no doubt face in following the call of Jesus in this world, and it is essential that we pay attention to it.
#2: Ability When I was a kid, everyone my age wanted to be Michael Jordan. We wore his shoes, emulated his moves, and for some strange reason, followed the Chicago Bulls. But, over time, none of us could ever have his ability with a basketball. No matter how much practice we undertook, no matter how many free-throws, no matter how many passing drills, ability was lacking.
Through the years, I've noticed that a good many people don't pay much attention to their abilities. They tend to be far more practical, far more interested in what will provide a good income or what will bring stability to their lives. My friend and mentor used to ask: "Is there any reason you shouldn't do this?" He was right to ask this question, especially as most people ask "Why should I?".
#3: Opportunity Assuming you have a deep desire to follow a certain course, and there isn't a compelling reason you shouldn't, the next step is to look for opportunities, and more importantly, pray that the Lord will give them to you. Opportunity, and the ability to seize upon it, is what most often separates people who are truly living out a vocation, and those who are surviving this life merely trying to pay the bills. Opportunity will mean not only the occasion to use your abilities, it will also mean the occasion to gain a livelihood by them.
During these Ember Days, let us pray for a great desire for the Lord's will to be poured out on His people, for the Church to be granted great ability and great opportunity, for the building up of the Kingdom, and the flourishing of the world around us!