How long I am to be here depends on him. As to what will happen then, it is not for me to concern myself. But it is necessary to pray much, in order to remain faithful come what may. -St. Edith Stein
We speak of "God's time", of waiting and prolonged discernment, and sometimes it is unclear when we are actually ready to make a move. In time, discernment can become oppressing and foreboding. More and more today we see people who are drifting around looking for their place in the world, and the person with whom they will spend the rest of their lives. However, responding to God's call is just as important as waiting patiently for a vocation to be realized, and God chooses a time that we need to learn to recognize.
I was told once about an elderly religious sister who, rather than leave her bed easily, would literally jump out of bed as soon as she awoke. She used to say that she did this to show the Bridegroom that she was willing to answer His beckoning immediately, without taking time to wipe the sleep from her eyes. While most of the time it was not really the call of the Bridegroom, but the community bell... she knew that it was worth being ready for Him when He did call. Like this sister, it is important to always be prepared for a journey, and ready to follow Him as soon as He calls. To be in the habit of surrendering ourselves, our belongings, our careers, our academic potential, our hobbies, and all the other things we posses at the feet of Christ... to be ready to leave everything at a moment's notice and follow Him, as one might prepare for the unknown moment of death, and to habitually renew the resolution to go where He guides no matter where it may be, is the first step to knowing God's time.
For most of us who are discerning the days, weeks, months, and years seem very long... until they have passed. Therefore patience is essential to discernment. Learning to live our lives for Christ, and to walk blindly towards the vocation He has chosen from us, builds us in faith and instructs us in how to follow God's will. Drifting from option to option, walking down one path and then down another, gives us a greater understanding of how we are to offer our days and moments to Christ, and shows us how we can touch others' lives by following the course Jesus has laid before us. Because time is unstoppable, we most often learn this lesson first. We cannot rush God, and we must learn patience and blind acceptance.
How do we know when God has finally answered us? When do we know that He has finally opened the door and called us through? This is determined by our relationship with God. If we know His voice, if we have learned to pray in silence and respond to His words, then we will just know in our hearts that the time is right. If our consciences are well developed, and in line with the will of God, we will know when we are circumstantially ready to make a decision, and morally obliged to do so, and will simply pray for guidance when we follow a vocation. If we have maturity and decision we will know that we are mentally ready to make a choice and stick to it, and will most likely take that option. If we have great faith we will come to a point where waiting seems cowardly and useless, and we will simply walk in the hope that God will guide us. Whatever our personality and character attributes, there is always something, some hint or circumstance, that triggers us into action.
So what are these "hints"? We can see how we will make a decision, but why? Let me offer a few examples, beginning with my own vocation. I was in high school, but so eager to get on with my vocation that I began taking college courses. I had opened my heart to another vocation, but the longing for the monastery was and is dominant in my life and irrepressible. I was prepared to make a decision, with only the slightest push, and had been careful to loosen all ties that could keep me from my vocation. Then, in prayer, I was simply convinced and at peace with my decision, so there was nothing to keep me from making a move. As you can see, the "when" of my vocation became very clear to me, and I had no doubts.
Circumstances vary with different vocations, so I will mention another scenario of a religious vocation. Perhaps a woman had finished high school, and moved on through college, finding enough in this life to keep her happy. But then, as she pursued her career, she found no spouse and had no one to care for. She would be at a turning point in her life, when she would feel in the depths of herself that something had to be done, and therefore the circumstances of her life would provide suitable incentive for a vocational decision.
I will give one final example. Say a young man was in college, actively seeking his vocation. Perhaps he had considered the priesthood, but just wasn't sure. If a young woman came into her life and he fell in love, or if he became convinced in prayer that he was called to the priesthood, he would probably choose the end of his college semesters to make a decision and then, when nothing was holding him back, would be free to pursue his vocation. In all these examples, the circumstances of the person's life provided that "open door" that they needed. Whether they were sure of their vocation or not, they were free to pursue it. Circumstances such as these, combined with a gentle nudge from heaven, are all that is needed to provide the "when" of a vocation.
Whatever your vocation might be, it is important to remember that patience must be combined with willingness to answer God's call. Patience is important, it gets us through the day to day of our discernment and builds us in faith, but the opportunity to serve God should be striven for to the extent that when everything is ready, you are also ready. Prudence is necessary, and proper discernment of God's call, but once you have an idea of His wishes, or think you do, you must not wait lest the opportunity pass you by. Knowing when to follow our vocations is almost as difficult as knowing our vocations, and this is why we must be courageous in taking that "leap of faith", trusting that God will always catch us in the palm of His hand and bring us home.