“Ask a Priest: How Can I Know I’m Choosing the Right Career?”

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Q: I’ve been in a bit of a spiritual crisis for over a year. I’m a first year in college and I’m at a loss of what to do with my life. I have interests, but my dilemma is that I don’t know what God wants me to do. My biggest fear is that I’m going to pursue a career God didn’t intend for me. For that reason, I chose a theology major so I could work in the Church. But I also have a passion for the outdoors and have been looking at outdoor/wilderness courses. The only thing holding me back is that I can’t see a way to give that to God. I fear that if I pursue a job I can’t give to God, then I’ll go to hell. Will I go to hell if I don’t have a career related to my faith? How do I know if my passions/dreams are from God or if they’re leading me astray? – Madison

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Discernment about one’s life can be a subtle process. It takes lots of prayer and closeness to the sacraments to help you see where God might be leading you.

It’s good to remember that God isn’t some vengeful judge ready to hurl down thunderbolts if you make a misstep. Rather, he is a loving Father who only wants the best for you, his beloved daughter.

Moreover, God doesn’t try to micromanage our lives. He gives us principles to live by, and he might call some of us to religious life or priesthood. But generally, he gives us leeway about how we will use our gifts for his glory and for the good of others.

Now, it’s not unusual that at this point that you are undecided about your life’s work. Perhaps a few ideas can help.

First, whatever you do, it would be good to dedicate time to prayer every day. It would help to have a regular sacramental life, too; especially helpful is regular confession with a solid priest who can guide you on an ongoing basis. This, in turn, will help ensure that you live in accord with the basic moral norms of the faith.

Second, try to see how various interests could dovetail with your faith.

The fact that you are interested in theology and attracted to the outdoors doesn’t necessarily pose any contradictions.

Work in forestry or something similar can be a way to guard the environment, of which God has made us stewards. This kind of work would be compatible with the Christian vision of how we are called to master and protect the physical world. “Fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

Third, it would be good not to focus exclusively on a “career” in the sense of a job. God doesn’t call us to a career but rather to a mission of service. And mission can include raising a family.

Fourth, it might be good to consider doing a retreat sometime at a solid Catholic retreat center or religious house. Quiet time with Our Lord helps open the heart to the workings of the Holy Spirit.

And try to develop a network of good Catholic friends. Living the faith is easier when we do it with the support of a community.

If these basic ideas are in play, you will give the Holy Spirit a firm basis on which to work. With time, you will likely see where the Lord is leading you.

An added suggestion: the FOCUS site offers lots of ideas about how to live your faith well on campus. Count on my prayers.

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