I used to dream of being an artist. As a teenager, I spent hours listening to REM albums and painting. I was so happy with my solitary late-night painting that my parents became genuinely worried about me. I studied studio art in college, but my life went a different direction. That artistic, quiet teenager became a Catholic priest. Now I talk and write for a living. Everything is on public display — how I say hello, how I dress, the look in my eye. Let’s just say it isn’t the vocation I had in mind when I was 16.
Sometimes I think about what being an artist would’ve been like. Would I have been happy?
At the time I entered seminary, all signs pointed to it being a bad idea. I was anxious about preaching, introverted and overly sensitive. The calling was there, though, waiting for me to mature into it. Even though I still love making art, I wouldn’t have been happy as a career artist. I ended up in the right place.
Discovering your calling isn’t a one-time decision. A life is meant to be lived, and we never quite know where it will take us until we stop worrying and start living. In the priesthood, we talk about this intentional life as a vocation. We ask young men if they can envision living as a priest, to really think about it. Slow down and consider what, for each unique individual, makes for a happy life. This process isn’t only for potential priests. Everyone has a vocation.
In our parish, which is packed with young adults, lots of our young people express the desire to be a mother or father someday. This, too, is a vocation. Motherhood and fatherhood, because they are buried in dirty dishes and best understood through sleepless nights with crying babies, can seem unimportant — but they create, nurture, and shape lives. Parenthood might mean trudging to work day after day to provide for the family and coaching sports teams of kids who kick the ball in the wrong direction. This is a precious calling. I have retired friends whose vocation is to walk in the park, notice beautiful things, and pray. I had a parishioner, Diane, who was home-bound. She meticulously remembered birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and mailed cards. Her vocation was mailing those cards. It may sound insignificant but it meant a lot to me.
In every stage of life, your calling is important. Because our vocations can seem small and tedious, or we feel unequipped to fulfill them, it isn’t uncommon to doubt them, but our vocations draw gifts and talents out of us we didn’t know we had. You may think back and wonder what life would have been like if you’d made a different choice, but don’t regret the person you’ve become.
As we age through different stages of life, vocations can change, so don’t despair because the kids have grown up and left home or you no longer work. Your calling is now different. I’m sure it’s amazing.
Father Michael Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.