by Adam Burns
“Go for it!” Those three words form perhaps the most cliché euphemism in the Australian vocabulary, but there is so much truth hidden beneath the surface of this simple, often used phrase. Firstly, it implies there is something to “go for”. And often, that “something” is of great value, something that has long been the object of thoughts, dreams or desires. Secondly, those words hint that some feeling or fear (or even perhaps, laziness) is holding one back from “going for it”.
I’m approaching the six-year mark since my year in the seminary, which prompted me to reflect on the phrase “Go for it!”. It was those words that spurred me in the first place to apply to enter the program for priestly formation. Priestly discernment was that “thing” which occupied my thoughts and dreams of the future; and I was held back by the fear of “what if”: what if I’m not called to be a priest? The only way to answer that question was to go to the seminary and honestly ask the question: am I called to be a priest. After a year I knew the answer, and I left the formation program and began dreaming again about what my future and my life could look like.
Fast forward to August last year and I was confronted with a set of different doubts in the face of a new dream. After searching through my life and my heart, I had discovered the deep desire for marriage, to give my life totally to another. Yet, even after years of wrestling with where God was calling me, I still found my mind swirling with doubts: are we ready, is the timing right? I went for it, I proposed, and she said “yes!”
There are two things that profoundly shaped my journey. The first was having mentors and a community around me who were honest and encouraging. These were people who knew me and knew the journey I was on, who were able to say to me, “Seriously dude, just do it! Just go for it!” At both times, when I was deciding to apply for seminary and when I was preparing to propose, I had people around me who said, “yep, you’re ready” or “you just need to do it”. That support took me discernment outside of my own head and feelings and pushed my discernment to be more grounded and real.
The other learning from it all was to be merciful to myself. This year in the Church we’re highlighting mercy in the Extraordinary Jubilee. The focus can often be receiving God’s mercy and extending it to others. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of mercy is extending it to ourselves. I punished myself for years after I left the seminary by dwelling on my exit. I blamed others for not supporting me, I blamed myself for being naïve, I questioned the whole experience and discounted what it actually meant for my life. Eventually I was able to show myself mercy, not in some flimsy, self-deprecating sense; but by allowing myself to move on. The moment I finally was able to believe for myself that I went to the seminary, discerned I wasn’t called to priesthood and left was the moment whole new horizons opened in my life. This isn’t to say that leaving the seminary (or leaving anything uncompleted) is a shameful experience, just that in my own personal journey there was so much emotional baggage I was hanging on to that I needed to be ok with.
So, as cliché or cheesy as the phrase may be, “Go for it!” actually encapsulates much of what is at the heart of discernment. As a New Year begins it may be your mantra, echoed by your mentors and the community around you, to give yourself the permission to try something and maybe get it wrong – but still be ok with that. In 2016, the journey goes on!