When I discerned God wasn't calling me to be a priest and I withdrew from formation at the seminary, I'd established a plan for my life. My top priority was finding a wife. ASAP! Over the course of the next three years I found myself volunteering as a youth minister, travelling around Australia and overseas, then beginning a new job and resuming studies - pretty much everything but dating. My plan had gone out the window.
Have you ever had the experience of things not going to plan? Let me clarify: have you ever had the experience of things not going according to your plans? And I'm not talking just about petty stuff; but things like losing loved ones, missing out on a job opportunity, relationships breaking down, failing subjects at school or uni, getting a serious sporting injury - things that shoot down our dreams.
Most of us can probably name at least one moment in our lives where what we had planned was obviously never going to come to fruition. That moment can be filled with pain, frustration, confusion, and if you're anything like me, you feel like yelling out to God "WHAT THE HECK???"
It might seem childish to blame God when things go wrong but let's be real, sometimes life can feel unjust; and when life begins to go a different direction it can be a painful experience letting go of all the things we had come to expect. Sometimes it feels like the only thing we can do is get angry at God.
I think too often the Christian life is portrayed as the "I found God in my life and I lived happily ever after" story. But God never promised us happy ever after. God never promised an instant fix. Give us this day our daily bread does not mean "spoon feed me graces daily!"
The Christian life is about choice: the choice to know, love and serve God when its easy and when its hard. As hard as it is sometimes, the greatest grace we have in the face of the most challenging and painful circumstances is to keep hoping and trusting in God.
When I left the seminary I though I had life all figured out - and I let everybody know about it too. I thought I knew exactly what God was calling me to do. My experience over the last three years was exactly the opposite: I had no idea where I was going or where God was calling me. At times it was painful, because it felt like I didn't know God anymore.
Is it ok to struggle with faith? Absolutely! Even Jesus struggled: he had times of confusion, times of struggle, times of frustration, times of anger and even agonised with the Father before he faced his Passion. Jesus showed us that faith isn't about some soft and fluffy, feel good fairy tale. He showed us that faith is about the real and difficult struggle to hope in God in all situations.
As I once told my younger brother: my faith doesn't magically transform my life into a fairy tale, but it does give me something I can lean on and hope in when things get tough, confusing or challenging. And really, that's what vocation is about. We can get so caught up on "priesthood" or "marriage" or "religious life" or even "occupation/career" and how we're meant to figure that out.
But ultimately what vocation is about is relationship with God. And I mean a real relationship, not this "I heart Jesus" rubbish, but a relationship where we're honest with ourself and God; that relationship is all that matters. Plans, careers, states of life - they can all go out the window; because an authentic relationship with God brings meaning even to the most challenging of situations.
"Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you: therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice: blessed are all those who wait for him." (Isaiah 30:18)