After “first contact” the initial key stage of vocational discernment within the Communion is the prospective candidate’s Faith Story. A person’s Faith Story, sometimes called a “testimony” is a description of their spiritual journey, how they came to faith and how their relationship with God has developed through their life to where they are now. It’s a useful tool for those involved in vocational discernment to understand a person’s sense of calling and their spiritual life.
Each person’s story is unique to their relationship with God. There is no one “right” story. People come to love God and grow in Him at different rates and in different ways. There is no need for embarrassment. There’s no stage that’s better or worse than any other stage. What matters is that a person’s faith isn’t stagnant, and they are demonstrably moving closer to a deeper relationship with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. The following are given to encourage, guide or inspire those who have been asked for their Faith Story in the vocational discernment process.
Your Faith Story should be structured like any essay with an introduction, a body and a conclusion. It should be written in an easy style for reader’s to understand what you are trying to tell them. Put things in context with your life, where you were, what you did, who you were with, when things took place. Be as accurate and as honest as possible, include past mistakes where relevant, nobody is perfect and nobody is seeking to judge. Don’t be afraid to share times of pain, suffering, doubt, or despair as it is often through these experiences that our spiritual lives develop and grow stronger. Above all, talk about you, your faith, your sense of calling and your relationship with God.
Remember that discernment is a three-way process involving you, God and the Church! At this stage of the discernment process what matters is the state and condition of your spiritual life and awareness and openness to God. Nothing yet is certain and this process is the same for discerning all vocations whether to the religious life, consecrated life, licensed ministry or the Sacred Ministry. Though you may feel that God is calling you to a particular vocation, this process is to discern with the Church whether indeed that is the case or whether perhaps some other vocation. Sometimes we can miss entirely, misread, misinterpret or misunderstand the promptings of the Holy Spirit and other objective input may help to sort things out!
Begin at the very beginning…
Where were you born? Were you born into a believing household? Were your family practising any kind of faith? Identify what your life was like as a young Christian or before you even came to faith. Share when and how you first heard the gospel and/or were exposed to Christianity. How did God move in your life to warm you up to the Gospel? What were your attitudes, needs, and/or problems? What were the circumstances around your coming to faith in Jesus? What events in your life caused you to come to faith in Jesus Christ? From what did you get your security or happiness?
How did your faith develop…
Who and what have you confidently relied on for answers to faith questions? Describe the most influential spiritual practices and people who have influenced growth in your knowledge about Christ and your relationship with him. How did your faith begin to deepen, at school, at college, at university, through work? Who are the spiritual heroes and heroines that you follow? Who makes up your significant circle for friendship, encouragement and what impact have they had on your faith journey? Where do you experience a sense of accomplishment in your spiritual life? Are you working on any particular spiritual goals? Have you read or studied? What or who have you read or studied? Have you experienced a significant faith or life crisis that has shaken your sense of spiritual well-being? If you felt like your faith was falling apart, describe how or what was causing it. Describe how your image of God changed from earlier times? Can you describe a “dark night of the soul” experience? What does it look like in your life to have this closer relationship with Christ? What are your blessings? Where do you struggle? How do you depend on Him through those struggles? What difference does having Him in your life make during those times?
How do you experience your calling…
Have you experienced a nagging search of personal meaning? How? When? Have you lived with a deep sense that there has to be something “more than this” in your spiritual life, or experience of God? What brought you to the place of being willing to listen or of wanting to be more than just a believer? Who influenced you? How and when did you decide to commit yourself to discerning ministry? Describe how you felt, what truths you heard, what you thought about them, how you felt after you made the decision. Describe how you are experiencing God’s presence and guidance in all aspects of life. Have you sensed a new, more focused sense of calling or ministry? Do you have a glimpse of God’s purpose (vocation, call, ministry) for your life? How are you detached from self and the world and attached to God?