As part of my discernment for my vocation, I was invited to do a ‘Vocation Experience’ by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate in Los Angeles. I stayed in their convent for a week to learn more about their community, to see and participate in what they do daily, and for me to finally be able to confirm the answer to the question: “Is this the place or the community where God wants me to serve?”.
I have been discerning with this community for almost two years now and I thought I am already being prompted internally and also externally to give an answer whether I am going to continue to the next stage with them, or am going to try with a different community elsewhere.
Searching My Own Mind Alone
At the beginning of the Experience, I was excitedly and nervously doing the chores that I am not used to doing which are part of the Sisters’ daily activities. I was enjoying the fact that I was finally getting the chance to learn how to do these things better since I rarely do them at home, and I got to conquer my fear of chopping my fingers off when I was asked to slice the veggies for the salad! Yay! I survived! 🤣😁
As I immersed in their daily routine (that includes frequent prayer times) and occasional activities, I kept reminding myself that I should be doing these in love and for love, consciously trying to pause or slow down to remind myself of this. But something was off in the interior.
As the week progressed, the self-inflicted pressure to know and finalize the answer to my question intensified. I kept checking how I feel about things, squeezing out for ideas, messages, and reflections from the spiritual movies that we watch and the games that we play together during our recreation time every evening.
I remember during the middle of the week that I started crying to God to help me confirm the answer that was slowly forming in my mind. It was not the answer that I thought the Sisters may expect to hear from me, and I was also aware of the possibility of having my own bias—that the answer that I was beginning to form may just be my own personal preference. That is why I was overthinking on whether or not this is also what God wants. But the overthinking was slowly taking a toll on me.
Becoming More Aware of My Preconceived Notions
Earlier during the week, the Vocation Directress gave me some paperwork where there is a story to read and several questions to answer and reflect on. She intended to meet with me one-on-one on Thursday which, to my relief, was moved to Friday morning. In this one-on-one meeting, I knew she would ask me about how I am feeling so far and how my heart is. I also knew I had to be completely truthful with her about what is on my mind and how I currently feel.
During our conversation, I poured out my heart to her, sharing her my interior struggles and how I cried for the last couple of nights, tugging God’s hand to give me the answers—what His will is, and how I could say it in a way that would not disappoint the Sisters. And I told her with a heavy heart that I may not be for this community (although I felt the relief right after I got that out of my chest).
But the Vocation Directress seemed to have known and understood much more than what I told her. She told me that I should not feel bad for telling her my truth (because it is to God that I answer and not to her; it is God Whom I should not want to disappoint, not the sisters). I knew beyond any doubt that the Lord was speaking through her when she, in complete honesty, unveiled the truths that I have been keeping ‘under the rug’. And with tender fraternal love, she told me exactly what I needed to be told. Even though it may not necessarily be what I wanted to hear because it stirred my heart and shook me to the core, those are the words that God knew I had to hear out loud from someone else.
The truth is: I already had it at the back of my head that I would not join this community even before I came for the Vocation Experience. I already thought that I may not fit in because I did not want to. I looked into my heart and saw that I wanted to join a community in my home country and serve the people there. I am yet to know if this is also what God wants. But for the mean time, there is something I need to do…
Re-arranging Priorities: Remembering the Most Important of All
The Lord also made another truth resurfaced through the Vocation Directress: I became too preoccupied with other things (which may be valid and necessary to accomplish) but up to the point of pushing God and my vocation to the side. I became too engrossed with the intricate details and worldly concerns that I forgot why I am living; what I am doing these for; and most importantly, to Whom I am serving and living for.
It dawned on me that, while it may not be wrong to focus on accomplishing the necessary tasks that I have to do in my life, shifting all my concentration to these, losing my focus on God, and trying to do things on my own efforts and intentions apart from Him may be harmful to my soul.
During the Adoration to the Blessed Sacrament in the church on that Friday night, by the grace of God, I was finally able to do what Sister encouraged me to do earlier in our meeting for the rest of my stay there and going forward: to stop wrestling with God and to allow myself to intently listen to Him; to stop relying on my intellect alone and to seek God in love.
In the quietness of mind and willingness to open my heart in order to listen to God, He reminded me profoundly that in my quest to seek answers and confirmation, I should seek Him first (Mt 6:33). In discerning for the What, the Where, the When, and the How, I should never forget the Why (Love) and the Who (God). Then all these other things will follow.
COME BACK TO LOVE, COME BACK TO GOD.
While sitting before the Eucharist—in His True Presence, God invited me to bring my focus back to Him; to receive His love and His grace into my heart again.
“In all that we do, may we do it all in love.”. But how could I do that if I was like a branch trying to bear fruit while slowly detaching from the Vine? The memory of the theme of the Gospels for that week (Jesus being the Vine and we are the branches), the reminder of Jesus to remain in Him as He remains in us was like water that freely flowed into my heart.
My heart was like a nearly dead plant that had been watered and had been brought out into the sun.
As we wrapped up my Vocation Experience with a meeting with the Vocation Directress on that Saturday, she once again asked me how I am. I shared with her what Jesus told me during the Adoration last night, which led me to answer her question of whether I would like to continue discerning with their community.
I said: I will come back to the Lord first. I will seek Him first and love Him before asking or doing anything else. Only then will my heart be able to get back on the right track. And only then will I be able to do not my will but God’s.
Because for a while, I tried to set up a to-do list and focused too much on marking it off instead of asking God what He wants me to do. But just when the Enemy probably thinks that he has succeeded at getting me sidetracked, the Lord Jesus came through and brought me back to Him.
That little room where Sister and I were in was filled by God’s overwhelming presence and love. I undeniably felt God’s warm embrace as if welcoming His prodigal daughter back. And as I walked out of that convent, I will be carrying these words with me: “God speaks to the heart of His faithful.”, intending to never leave His side again. Lord, help me.
And as for my vocation discernment, my journey continues with Jesus being the Lord, the King, the Savior, the One in charge.
Let’s continue to walk and grow in love.