Vacations and vocations

My husband Andrew has a saying, “You know it’s a vocation when it wakes you up at night.” A priest’s sleep is likely to be interrupted by an urgent call from a hospital emergency room. For married couples, it’s the cry from the crib, or the teenager’s anxiously awaited walk through the door just past curfew. The religious brother or sister wakes to the sound of the bell ringing for Matins.

The Christian life is lived in various forms. But the underlying unity is all the same. Every day, and every night throughout one’s life, God is calling. He is never satisfied with 9 to 5 Christian discipleship. He wants all of us, all the time, and forever.

Most Catholics hear a lot about a “crisis of vocations.” That terminology is generally used to describe a lack of priests. But the truth is, that in our “keep-your-options open” world, there’s a lack of lifetime commitment across the board. People willing to give their whole lives to anything are in short supply. It isn’t only the number of priests and religious that have declined. Even marriage seems to be considered a less worthy pursuit--and a less necessary one--than it was in previous generations. While schools now require community service hours, fewer people seem to desire lives of service. It’s no wonder the sacraments of service--confirmation, orders, and matrimony -- have declined in recent years.

But strangely, in this culture of have it all, be it all, do it all, and then move on, there seems to be a grinding dissatisfaction with what we have, who we are, and what we do. People are always talking about the need to get away. They start planning their next vacation the day after they return from one. They never seem to have enough “me time,” even when their lives are pretty much the way they want them. There is a swift current of discontent around us. Even after hot pursuit and apparent success, hardly anyone seems genuinely happy.

I admit that I have sometimes allowed myself to fall into this way of thinking. I dream of travel and time off. I wish for freedom I sometimes feel I don’t have. But when I have a little time or freedom, I almost always use it to just do more of what I’m already doing, or be a little bit more of what I already am. Daily life may be filled with aggravation and stress, but it is full and not empty.

The Holy Father has recently spoken about the blessings of leisure time, and the refreshment that comes from a good vacation. I think, though, if he were asked, he would also say that a good vacation is only possible when one’s life expresses itself in a good vocation. I always get a laugh when my kids say that they need a vacation. I usually ask them what they think they’d be taking a vacation from! I mean, taking a break only makes sense when you’ve been working hard at whatever it is you think you need to take a break from.

Vacations, as good as they are, are only meant to recharge us to fulfill the calling our lives were created to answer. In the end, it is our vocations that give us life. That is because it is in our vocations that our lives become the gift they were meant to be--gifts for the world, and not just for ourselves; gifts to the God who gave them to us in the first place.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.