Sometimes I feel an overwhelming pull toward seminary. Other days I don't. How do I know whether or not I'm supposed to go?
“The place God calls you to,” Frederick Buechner tells us, “is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Discovering where that place may be for each of us is what we know as discernment. Discernment is often challenging work. That’s because God rarely calls us in a loud and unambiguous fashion: for every heavenly vision, God sends us thousands of holy whispers. Discernment is also challenging because God so often invites us to do things which, as Paul puts it, sure appear to be foolish. Anyone who has heeded God’s call — whether it be to having a child or changing careers or beginning retirement or going to seminary— will tell you that there are moments when she wonders if she isn’t doing something that is totally misguided.
Discernment is more like searching for clues in a great forest than it is like pulling answers out of a box. Mercifully, however, the work of discernment does get easier with practice. Over time, you begin to learn where the clues are likely to be hidden.
Here are a few things, Student, that I have learned during my years of searching.
First, make sure that you talk with God about this decision. God enjoys having conversations such as this one. Share your anxieties, your passions, your uncertainties. Hold your questions before God. You may be surprised by what she has to say.
Second, be open to the people through whom God may give you advice. My experience is that God often speaks through the voices of friends and of teachers. Do the people whom you love, trust, and respect think that seminary is a great idea? Or are they saying “no” or, perhaps, “not yet”?
Third, use your imagination. Pretend that you have made the decision to go to seminary. How does that feel? And now pretend that you have said, “no thanks.” How does that feel? Which decision makes you the most free, the most passionate, the most energized, the most at home?
Fourth, allow yourself to sit with this question in abundant silence. God doesn’t like to shout. Laptops and smartphones are fabulous technology. But, if you rarely look away from your screen, you may not even notice God when she is sitting right beside you.
Fifth, decide that you’re going to make a decision. A clear ending is vital to any period of discernment. Without the promise of an ending, discernment will slowly ossify and turn into paralysis and regret.
Finally, Student, whatever decision you make, commit yourself to it entirely. This is a diving board moment. Like a marriage proposal, like the opportunity to move to a new city by yourself, like the words which you may or may not speak to a dying friend. The decision that you make is going to shape your life in profound, unexpected, wondrous, and permanent ways. Trying to do this partway won’t work.
Is seminary the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet? Is it where God is calling you to be? Or is that place somewhere else for you?
Whatever your answer may be, jump in. Give all of yourself to whatever you choose to do.