What is a vocation? I am a single person. Sometimes having a vocation can seem to be a huge, scary thing, not meant for me. Other times, it feels like the thing that will make my life meaningful and I wonder why I don’t have one ‒ or at least why I don’t have the one I thought I’d have at this point in my life. Finally, I have come to think of a vocation as a blank check given to God. It’s a check we can and should write over and over again in every single moment of our lives.
What does It Mean to Write God a Blank Check?
Vocation as a blank check means offering to God our lives without holding back. Antonio P. Villahoz puts it in these terms in his book, Making the Most of Spiritual Direction. He asks “Are you really willing to give God a blank check, asking him what he expects of you? God’s call is undoubtedly demanding, but do not flee from this important aspect. Knowing what God expects of you is perhaps the answer to the most important question of your life” (p. 32). At the end of this quotation, Villahoz is referring to that pressing question ‒ why am I here? A vocation answers this question and infuses our lives with meaning, but it also comes with the huge demand of surrender of will to God.
Vocation as a blank check is frightening. A blank check means I am not keeping anything for myself. There is no Plan B. At a restaurant or a store, I want to know how much the check is going to be. I want to know whether the item I have purchased will be worth it to me. Often, I want to know what it will give me in terms of worldly status.
In contrast to a commercial check, The Prayer of St Francis tells me writing a spiritual blank check is in the end a good bargain for “it is in giving that we receive.” The prayer makes clear though that we must write this check again and again in our lives without expecting anything back for ourselves. As the prayer makes clear, we write this check whenever we sow forgiveness, whenever we sow joy in the midst of sadness, and whenever we sow unity and faith. Thus, when we say a word of encouragement to a friend, respond generously to a request we don’t like, or defend our faith and morals when it isn’t easy to do so, we write a blank check to God without expecting anything for ourselves in return.
Christ’s Ultimate Sacrifice is a Sign of What a Vocation Means
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ’s prayer is essentially a blank check given to the Father and a total surrender to God’s will. Christ prays courageously, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). The Our Father echoes this prayer in the words “thy will be done.” A vocation to Christ is obedience to the daily cross the father sends us. It can never be seeking our own will or fame. Rather, a vocation to God is the willingness to lose oneself for the Gospel ‒ “Whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35). Surely, for Christ, the loss of himself took place in a huge way in the Passion, but it was prepared for in smaller self-denials; for instance when he interrupted his prayer with the father to appear to the people.
Responding to Christ’s Vocation as a Single Person
Christ prepared himself for a tremendous moment of giving. As a single person, I can think of my life as a similar preparation for a moment of great giving, no matter what that moment may be. Of course, this comes with the caveat that greatness usually lies in small things. I can follow the call of Christ simply by getting up in the morning on time and making an offering of my day to God. I can do it also through the sanctification of the mundane events of my day ‒ the interruptions and impatient customers.
Also, I can try to live with the attitude Villahoz suggests and that Christ demonstrates through his life. I can put away my pride and reject the self-seeking ideas about vocation that I often have. I’m often pained by not having the vocation I think would make me look good. True openness demands accepting whatever vocation God gives.
The Peace of St. Stephen
St. Stephen is portrayed in art and movies as a single, young man like me, and for this reason I feel I can identify his vocation in a very small way with my own. It is easy to imagine that he must at times have experienced loneliness especially when those he helped turned against him. Whether he experienced doubt or not, his faith in Christ seems to have been unshakeable. I would like to have that same faith.
His moment of giving came in a great sacrifice that few are called to make. However, we should expect that he was chosen for qualities that existed well before his martyrdom. Acts says the disciples chose Stephen for special service to the community because he was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). As in the case of Mary who is described as full of grace, we must imagine that Stephen too was living a life dedicated to God in big and small ways.
St. Stephen provides an image of vocation not only through the total way with which he followed Christ but also through the peace that he reflected. Having recently watched the movie Paul Apostle of Christ, I have a visual image of St. Stephen’s martyrdom and can appreciate better the contrast between the look on St. Stephen’s face “like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15) and the bloody horror of a stoning.
Even when faced with a horrible death, St. Stephen found peace through his giving. Can we find peace when we are laughed at for going to Mass by a secular friend? When we are blamed at work for something of which we feel we are innocent? I think we often fear that giving our lives to God will be the end of our peace. St. Stephen shows us that the contrary is true.