Winter has begun and it's cold. So very, very cold. I wasn't ready for it to be this cold. Admittedly, I'm never ready for it to be cold. Maybe it's my Filipino genes, maybe it's my last name (Burns), maybe I'm just a wuss; but my body just doesn't cope with the cooler climates of winter. Disappointingly, my once reliable collection of old hoodies and my only pair of track pants (which was once part of my high school basketball warm up uniform) lacked the necessary warmth. Thus, I decided it was time to ditch the sentiment in favour of actually being warm.
So it was that I found myself in the menswear section of a store, searching for the right fit. It seemed I got to the "buy warm clothes" party about a week late, as I dug through messy mounds of winter wear. What began as an innocent search for new clothes quickly became a battle of comfort vs style: to what level of dagginess was I prepared to stoop to in my search for warmth?
However, in the end it became a search for something that would actually fit me. The process looked a bit like this: Adam picks up garment, Adam decides said garment meets warmth and/or style conditions, Adam tries on said garment, said garment does not fit Adam, process repeats. My usual clothes shopping routine is nowhere near this involved, however the rather diminished range of sizes forced me to actually try on each piece of clothing to check if the bigger or smaller size would still fit.
After an extended amount of time (certainly a longer period than I would normally have patience for) I lost all hope in this particular store and decided it was time to investigate another store (searching more than one store further indicates my desperation). As I cleared the menswear section, I spotted a clothes rack in the corner of my eye. Had I checked it already? I wasn't sure, but I decided to walk past it and give it a quick scan, not wanting to commit lest I be greeted by further disappointment. And there it was: a blue jumper, thick material, only minimally bogan-looking AND in the right size. It was too good to be true, so I double checked for any tears, holes or stains. It was good. Finally, I found the right fit.
My shopping experience somewhat resembles the vocational journey. Like my search for the right winter clothing, the discernment journey has many elements. When looking at ordained, religious, single or married life, one might ask: which option would best function for me? Which looks good? But then one might come to a point where they look beyond the aesthetic value and get to what we might call the "nitty gritty" vocation question: "is this where I fit?"
It's crucial that this process of "trying on" actually happens. Window shopping for a vocation will rarely lead to the conviction one needs to fully live God's call. I think part of this is seeing a vocation as a lifelong decision making process, not one decision made for life. That's why, for example, a man goes through a discernment and application process before they even go to the seminary, then spends almost seven years in formation before they become a priest. Similarly, before getting married a couple spend at least some time dating before they get engaged and undergo marriage prep before their wedding day. Regardless of which state of life we end up in, it's still a daily decision. Every day I have to make choices about who I am, I'm not automatically me. Likewise, every priest, nun, sister, brother, husband, wife and lay person has to choose how they live out their vocation regardless of which state of life they are in.
Additionally, it's not something we decide on our own. When my girlfriend noticed my new jumper (which I interpreted as approval), it was confirmation I had made the right choice...though now I'm realising she didn't actually say she liked it, she only asked if it was new! If we base our vocational decisions only on our own thoughts then we will only serve ourselves in our vocation. However, if God, family, friends, mentors, the Church and the community are involved in the discernment process, then the living out of that call will fundamentally involve them.
Finally, discernment isn't one size fits all. It took me numerous attempts at discerning priesthood before I realised it wasn't where I was called, whereas some of my mates knew they were called to marriage the moment they laid eyes on their now wives. The only way to know is to step into the store and try on the product. Or perhaps more accurately, to step out of ourselves and to find where we truly fit.