Check your baggage

Check your baggage

"You can forget the past, but it will never forget you."

When discerning your vocation, it's essential to deal with wounds from your past that may be keeping you from moving toward God's will for your life.

Past events can be damaging even years after they happen: hurt feelings, physical injury, guilt, childhood trauma, or poor self-esteem. It is easy to pretend the baggage isn't there, but it will always come back to haunt you unless you deal with it, preferably with a good counselor or spiritual director. But if you can learn to handle past injuries, you won't have to wrangle with them through your entire life.

The key to dealing with most past injury is forgiveness.

In dealing with sin, even if you've confessed everything, you may still need to forgive yourself. For many people, forgiving others is much easier than letting go of one's own guilt and self-loathing. Remember, however, that if God has forgiven you, then you truly are forgiven. After your confession, the priest says with authority, "I absolve you." He doesn't say, "I absolve you once you stop feeling badly about what you've done."

If you are struggling with guilt, make an act of surrender to God's mercy. Trust in His mercy, and eventually the feelings of guilt will subside.

If you're dealing with injury that's been done to you, then you may still need to forgive others. Even if the other person doesn't realize that he or she has hurt you, it is important to forgive so that you can extend charity instead of bitterness. Jesus taught us to forgive all injury, not to expect others to treat us perfectly and nurse resentment when they don't.

The greater the injury done to you, the more pain it will cause. But this means that the act of forgiveness can be greater as well. There is tremendous spiritual benefit to letting go of resentment.

Checking the baggage of past sin and injury is essential to discernment. Why? Because resentment and self-loathing can push you to pursue or avoid a vocation for the wrong reasons. Or it can lead to a poorly-lived vocation marred by depression, loneliness, and mishandling of relationships.

Jesus embraced the whole world's hatred and indifference and offered us mercy and compassion in return. When we imitate His example, it will allow us to know more surely where He is calling.

Above all, if we have recourse to the sacraments - especially the Eucharist and penance - we will be given the strength to overcome whatever obstacles to forgiveness and healing that are in our way. If you are still struggling, be sure to seek counseling or spiritual direction.

Though we cannot escape the past, we can deal with it with the strength that comes from God's grace and by working to forgive ourselves and others.

Thank you for taking the time to consider your vocation. Be open with God, and He will bless you greatly! 

If you would like to talk about your vocation, give me a call or send me an email. 

Fr. J.D. Jaffe
Director of the Office of Vocations
j.jaffe@arlingtondiocese.org
703-841-2514

This article is from a previous issue of our Discernment Insights e-newsletter. I encourage you to subscribe as well as access the archive for past newsletters on topics like abandonment to God's will, why have a spiritual director, celibacy, and more.