Involving God in the process

While many of our children and youth are well into the school year, we are approaching the midpoint of the fall semester. Also, in addition to their regular studies, our high school juniors and seniors are starting (or are well into) the process of deciding what happens after high school. This process involves grappling with the larger question, “What do I want to do in life?” 

As exciting as this time in their lives is, it can also be stressful. It is a time that requires serious personal reflection, conversations with parents, family, teachers and friends. It is certainly not a decision to be taken lightly. It is also a decision that is not etched in stone at graduation from high school. In my work with college students, many discover a different path in college than the one they thought when they were in high school.

An important aspect of this whole process — in high school, in college and beyond — is involving God in the process. Think about it for a moment. A young person converses with parents, family, teachers and friends when deciding about college and career, because these people know the individual and can offer some observations and insights that the person might not realize on their own. God made each of us, and knows us better than anyone else. Don’t you think that He would be One Who could offer some help?

This semester we begin a new initiative at Catholic Campus Ministry at UMass Dartmouth. It is called Jeremiah’s Journey. Jeremiah was a prophet in the Old Testament. At the beginning of the book, we hear God calling him to service, but Jeremiah resists. Listen to the conversation:

“The word of the Lord came to me:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you
‘Ah, Lord God!’ I said,
‘I do not know how to speak. I am too young!’
But the Lord answered me,
Do not say, ‘I am too young.’
To whomever I send you, you shall go;
whatever I command you, you shall speak” (Jer 1:4-7).

Scholarship tells us that Jeremiah may have been in his early 20s when this takes place. He doesn’t resist God’s call because he doesn’t like God. He resists because he has, like so many of us, his own ideas about his future, and being happy. His response to God’s request is “I’m too young.” But God knows Jeremiah better than Jeremiah does. He knows how Jeremiah will truly be happy in life and He persists in calling the young man. Jeremiah gives in and becomes one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament.

Jeremiah’s Journey is meant to help students involve God in discerning their vocation and career in life. It connects them to the process of Spiritual direction, meeting with a trained religious leader to see where God is at work in their lives and listening to where He is calling them. The program provides opportunities for prayer with other students, and presentations on aspects of discernment. As they progress through the program they have the opportunity to explore specific vocations (Marriage, priesthood, religious life). An important element of the process is prayer. To listen to the voice of the Lord calling you, it is necessary to know what He sounds like. 

A program like Jeremiah’s Journey is helpful in focusing our prayer to the questions facing us, but discernment doesn’t require a program. It is simply as easy as asking God for help. I often suggest that people use Psalm 139 to help them begin that conversation. The beginning of that psalm shows why it is so helpful in a conversation with God about our future:

“Lord, You have probed me, You know me:
You know when I sit and stand;
You understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
with all my ways You are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
Lord, You know it all” (Ps 139:1-4).

When we engage God in this conversation, the heavens aren’t going to part and angels from on high are not going to descend with a message from God telling us what our career and vocation will be. However, the prayer experience will begin to open our minds and hearts to listening for the voice of the Lord calling us to a deeper understanding of Him and ourselves.

Transitions in life are exciting and can be stressful. It is best to be as prepared as possible and we are on our way to doing that when we involve God in our decision-making.

Anchor columnist Father Frederici is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and Chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.

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