How to wait for clarity about your vocation

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LIFE OFFERS many opportunities to wait. According to statistics we wait an average of 62 minutes every day, and throughout a lifetime a person spends five years waiting in lines and six months waiting for traffic lights. We wait for our name to be called at the dentist office, for an elevator to arrive, for a computer program to download, for a line to move, for voting results, for a soldier to return, and for time to pass. Often we find it physically and emotionally uncomfortable. When we wait our inner landscape might connect with our feelings of fear, self-doubt, and anxiety.

But waiting also excites our thoughts of eagerness and hope. We wait for flowers to grow and bloom, for wounds to heal, for friends to call, for bread to rise, for wine to age, for children to grow and mature. Waiting in the spiritual life can be a sacred exercise of a willingness to “stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us,” wrote Father Henri J. M. Nouwen in Eternal Seasons.

We’re not spiritual couch potatoes
When we wait in discernment, there is a struggle to let go of our sense of discomfort with powerlessness, our lack of control over the present moment and the anticipated future, and our judgments about wasting time. In the sacred time of discernment, waiting is not passive. It invites us to live actively and nurture the present moment. There in the fullness of the moment we are companioned by the gift of mystery and the God who gently nudges us to become what God so desires us to be.

“Waiting,” said author John Ortberg in his book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, “is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be.”v
“Waiting,” said author John Ortberg in his book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, “is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be.”
Some time ago my niece was pregnant with her first child. When she was two weeks overdue, she became aware that the baby was no longer moving. With apprehension she went to the emergency room, and after a number of tests she was informed that all was well. The nurses then told her that before moving into the birth canal the baby rests. For me that is one of the holiest elements of coming to be who we are, which we learn far before we are born. Preparing, forming, listening, nurturing, resting: All are aspects of living actively while waiting. This same sacred intuitive knowing is the rhythm we encounter each time we are willing to hold still and listen to our heartbeat as we ponder the learnings, wisdoms, and direction to which God is inviting us. Thus listening with our heart moves us to rise, to decide, and to take action. We learn to trust our inner knowing and God’s grace even though the next steps may be blurry.

Patient and hopeful waiting
Waiting is always accompanied by patience and hope as our teachers. Waiting with patience involves giving over our restlessness, expectations, assumptions, judgments, fears, and illusions. Waiting with hope is the grace to embrace the yearning for something to change and happen. Being a person of hope means we are called to be creative and imaginative so that what we have encountered within will take form upon our moving forward. The mingling of patience and hope in our active waiting offers us a wisdom that is uniquely ours.

It is in this time that the Divine reveals to us our purpose, passion, and call. It is in our newfound awareness that our “yes” to God’s dream for us has been revealed in the outer landscape of our lives through individuals, events, and in our faithfulness to prayer. Our response is one of moving on and daring to risk from what we have heard within. A discerner says: “Although the comfort of complacency lingers and tugs at my spirit, it is through God’s laser-like grace that my heart’s desire is given form with greater transparency on this sacred vision-quest.”

Waiting to act
Waiting to discern our call with passion and purpose is truly a dance of resting and being active all at the same time—truly a paradox that God has somehow designed for our becoming. While we are resting, we patiently hold still to let ourselves be known, healed, loved, and made whole by our God who is gradually lighting our way with signs that give us meaning and direction. It is with a hopeful response that we then pick up our mat and walk (see John 5:8) to the next moment by embracing our call in our process of becoming what God wants us to be.

quiz about celibate life
Sister Jean Hinderer, C.S.A.Sister Jean Hinderer, C.S.A. is a Sister of St. Agnes, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. She is vocation discernment director for her community, a retreat director, and a spiritual director. See her blog at




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