by Adam Burns
I was filled with excitement for this past Christmas. The source of this excitement was my fiancée, since this will the first Christmas we shared together. Christmas is in itself already a time for great joy and thanks, but this Christmas I had my future wife and marriage to be extra thankful for.
It’s a stunning contrast to my Christmas celebrations over the last few years. Christmas has often found me wandering and wondering about where I fit in the world, perhaps not unlike Mary and Joseph seeking refuge in Bethlehem. My discernment journey seemed to drop me in temporary homes for the Christmas season, and I often felt like a party-crasher at other people’s Christmas celebrations. This time I felt at home. While becoming engaged has been a significant life choice for me, one that has grounded me and calmed many of my fleeting impulses, it's only part of the equation of why this Christmas was so different for me.
I think we often exaggerate the weight of those “major” decisions, moments or commitments that happen through life. They tend to overshadow the rest of life (or Ordinary Time as our Liturgical calendar calls it). We can overlook that there is a whole realm of on-going, everyday “stuff” happening in our life that leads into and follows from any momentous “major” life decision. It’s a societal problem. The more immersed I become in wedding planning, the more I realise how much emphasis can be placed on one day. The intensity and commercialism of the wedding industry is mind-numbing! What is it really about?
This past Christmas season has sparked for me all sorts of ideas and thoughts on how I will celebrate Christmas in the future with my wife and family - thoughts and ideas that previously were just dreams or distant illusions. While discernment takes direction from the decisions we make, a vocation needs also to still be inspired by dreams, thoughts, passions and idealism. Remember, St Joseph is inspired by dreams and idealism to protect Mary and her unborn child, despite the cultural ramifications of such a choice.
Celebrating my first Christmas with my fiancée has reminded me why we use the word discernment rather than decision making to pursue God’s call in our lives – we are not just making a decision or a series of decisions throughout our life. We have to fill the space in between those decisions. And what do we fill that space with? Thoughts, dreams, passions, feelings. These form the lifeline that keeps us going from one decision to the next. As the initial excitement fades from a major change in life, it's idealism and belief that keeps us going on that path. If not, we would be bored or disillusioned, prepared to throw it all away.
Whenever we talk about vocation and major life decisions or commitments we have this tendency to put aside passion or dreaming, it seems to airy-fairy when our survival is in the balance. While there is a seriousness to vocational choices that requires grounded-ness and level thinking; it's our dreams and passions, our idealism, which fleshes out those choices and keeps them afloat in the face of challenges and obstacles. Choices are important, but if we are just decision makers then how different are we from computers running algorithms? Vocation is more than decision making, it is the invitation to keep dreaming about how God’s love becomes reality in the world, in my world, in your world.