Here’s a question that pops up often in my work with people sincere in trying to connect with God’s intentions and discern their life calling. There are several layers to this question—the desire to respond to God, perhaps even to dedicate oneself to God, and I suspect a struggle between the draw to marriage and family, and the scarier, less-understood question of a call to religious life. 

Since Vatican II proclaimed the “universal call to holiness” and encouraged lay people to pick up their baptismal call to be disciples of Jesus and friends with God, we have witnessed the awakening call of many to serve God in Church ministry, in service, and in justice work. We have seen great men and women balance the demands of family with lives of prayer and service in the Church. So yes, you can dedicate yourself to God and not be a nun.

But what about the vocation to religious life? How is it a different way of dedication to God? I answer this as one who made that choice many years ago and who would make that choice again today! 

The heart of the decision, or discernment, is the question, What is your deepest heart’s desire? Just as in marriage there is a unique call to one particular partner, so in the choice for religious life, there is a desire for an exclusive, single-hearted, laser-focused, total gift of self to God.  There is a desire to have no primary responsibilities or commitments other than complete attentiveness to God, streamlined of distractions as much as possible, with an availability and readiness to go wherever God wants to send us. 

For me, I wanted a way of life in which I could focus on God with a laser-beam intensity and with few material distractions. Religious life offered that to me. It’s not that there aren’t mundane tasks that are necessary to live and work in this world, but I know that my primary  call allows a freedom to respond to the primacy of prayer, the call of the Gospel, and the needs of the poor.

So it’s not really about dedication. All friends of God can live a dedicated life. It’s about how you want to live that out--how you want to spend your days loving and serving God.  

What are your feelings as you read this? What do you hear in your heart?