Geographical Discernment

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Yesterday, I was in Collegeville, MN having a conversation about monastic vocations and young people. No sooner was I in the midst of what twenty-somethings are passionate about and who they are today, than I was thrown back into who I was then, as a twenty something myself.

I criss-crossed the country six times before I was 30, backpacked Europe, worked in Central America, held seven jobs, completed two masters degrees, and was married, and tried for a child the last four years of that decade. It was a decade filled with adventure, loaded with questions, laced with story.

I spent six of those years in Chicago living among college friends, near my brother and his family, and pursuing studies that inspired me. I pursued some work that told me what I was not supposed to do, sell real estate; and other work that gave me great joy, looking at people’s vocational calls. There in Chicago, I came to a cross roads when my vocational work beckoned me to California.

Newly married, I not only had to discern if this next step was “good for me,” but for us? We would be leaving family, and a community of friends from undergraduate work, graduate studies, volunteer work, and professional endeavors to a place we knew no one. My partner did not have work there, but did not love the work he was currently doing. We had student loans to pay off, and debt to wrestle. On paper we had more reason to stay rooted in Chicago than to leap to California, but our hearts were already gone, and our gut whispered sternly go and trust.

As St. Francis de Sales says, “Pray about it, seek wise council, make a decision and don’t look back.”

We did. We spent two years living in northern California. We paid down debt. We learned a new culture and how to make friends there. We learned to rely on one another. We learned to tell the seasons by what is in bloom not by the markings of snow or the absence of leaves. We were blessed with a child. Peter let go of work that was no longer life giving to pursue work that bought joy and addressed environmental needs. And two years later, when life called us back to the road, we learned to let go and return home.

Where we called home for two years...

Discerning a move? Leaving for college? Finishing school? Called to live intentionally? Wondering where your gifts are leading you–are calling you?

First quiet your mind by finding silence, stillness, and listen to your heart, what is it longing for? Where can you find this longing? This calling? Dream about it. Then start to explore possibilities, talk with people, ask questions, listen to their stories and see what arises. Are there any concrete options for you to further pursue? If so, go for it, apply, and see how you feel about the option once you have the details before you. (Deeper discernment can not occur fully until you have real possibilities to discern.) If it is a go, pack your bags, try it. If not return to your breath, return to your heart’s desire, and see if it’s shifted, looks different or is still revealing itself.

Sometimes geographical discernment leads you back home and other times keeps you planted where you currently stand–whichever your outcome honor it. Let your roots grow wild and fierce like a dandelion’s– a deep vertical plunge and the wingspan of an eagle.

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