How do you differentiate between a natural desire for family and the vocation to married life?


#1

Sorry this is a bit long, but the main thrust is in the title.

I have been in the Church for a little over 2 years, and like many converts, I was inspired by the lives of the saints. This inspiration caused me to strongly consider religious life and/or the priesthood almost from the beginning of RCIA, and this is a process that has continued to the present. I have had multiple conversations with different vocations directors, visited some religious communities and done lots of "cyber discernment."

During all this time I have essentially dismissed the whole idea of the vocation to marriage. This is not to say that I haven't been attracted to marriage--there have been plenty of times I've sat in church thinking about how great it would be to fill a whole pew up with my own kids, or what life would be like at home with a wife and children. But then I would put it out of my mind, considering it a distraction.

The other day I finished a 3-day retreat at a nearby monastery, the 3rd visit I've made in about a year. Everything went fine, and I ended with a conversation with the abbot, in which we talked about life as a monk and what would be expected of me and what I could expect from them, etc. He mentioned the monks who had various roles in the community (priests, campus ministers, music directors, professors--the abbey sponsors a college), and kept saying that they all considered themselves monks first, and everything else second. That gave me pause, because I had envisioned myself more as a professor who would happen to be a monk. I started to wonder if maybe I was attracted more to their apostolate than to the community itself.

On my drive home, for the first time since my conversion, I couldn't think of anything except married life. It was exceptionally strange, thrilling and...hard to describe. I don't know where it came from, but it opened a whole new avenue of possibilities that I had not considered at all. Should I have been considering this vocation all along? Is it a sign, or a distraction?

I realize there are a number of issues here that would be best taken to a spiritual director (if I can find one--down here in the South they're hard to come by), but I really wonder: how do you differentiate between a natural desire for marriage and the vocation to marriage?


#2

Firstly, congrats on converting and welcome home!

It sounds to me like you are on the right track. There is no set formula for differentiating between a baser desire to the family life and the higher calling of the religious life.

I recommend discerning a religious vocation first, then once you have a firm answer from God, move on to discerning married life. However, it sounds like you've basically done that. At this point, I can only recommend you spend more time in prayer (particularly in front of the Blessed Sacrament) and then wait for God to give you clear answer. He will answer you in His time and then you will no longer have any doubt.

And you are correct, a spiritual director would be the best option.

Best of luck! I will say a prayer for you!


#3

Well, do you have somebody in mind that you would like to marry? Marriage is great but it's also a lot of responsibilities, sacrifices... A religious vocation involves 1 person and God but marriage vocation involves 2 persons and God. Sorry to state the obvious here. Would you be able to live with somebody from a different background, maybe with emotional issues or financial debt, with different tastes and aspirations? We are all human with annoying imperfections.
Do you have an impatient nature? If the idea of being married/having children is very strong, soon you will find yourself 'wife hunting' and you might be lucky or you might be disappointed. It could take months to meet the right person, to get to know each other and each others family and to actually marry and start to live together. Women don't always get pregnant right away and of course it takes 9 months to carry a baby... So at best, I would say that you could start 'filling the pews' (cute expression!) with your progeny in 3 to 4 years. Prayers and good luck in your discernment.


#4

As you stated, obviously a spiritual director could advise you best in the area of discernment. Even a conversation with your parish priest would likely be more enlightening than anything you get from any of us. But, since fools go where angels fear to tread, I will proceed with complete abandon. ;)

Since I do not know you personally, I can really only give a few generic observations based on my own experience. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to discernment. A lot depends upon the individual. I would say that, so long as you maintain that connection to the Lord via daily prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments, simply head in the direction that gives you the most peace.

Also, it is important to recognize that it is a process. Spending some time reflecting on marriage does not mean you are committing to marriage instantaneously (indeed, that would be difficult to do by yourself! ;)). It simply means you are giving it due consideration. So long as you are keeping the channels of communication and grace with the Lord open, then doing so can only help confirm you in your vocation (whatever it turns out to be).

I do not believe that every Catholic has to give equal consideration to marriage or religious life in any sort of pre-determined order. Some people just know where they're supposed to be. For others, it's more of a struggle. I felt a strong call to married life ever since second grade, so much so that I never really considered religious life. In college, after a painful break up, I thought that maybe I hadn't given the priesthood a fair shake. So I spent about a week (maybe less) praying about it and God made it quite clear that I was not being called in that direction (which my spiritual director at the time confirmed, though he said I would make an excellent priest). I never felt peace about religious life the way I have about marriage.

So keep praying about it. There's no need to make any snap decisions. God seems to like bringing clarity over time. It keeps us in contact with Him, which is definitely what we need!

God bless!


#5

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.