Reflections on my vocational discernment

Originally Appeared in : 9815-7/19/18

Last week I traveled to Atlanta and spent the week serving at a camp run by the Missionaries of Charity. A few weeks earlier, my friend Kim (who helps the sisters find volunteers) mentioned they needed helpers and when I found out I could bring a few of my children with me I decided to go.


It’s been years since I last got to serve with these sisters. When I was in high school, I spent several weeks one summer with my classmates helping to run a similar camp in the mountains of Kentucky. In college, I went with a group to the Bronx, where we spent one summer running another day camp.


It’s beautiful and fun and exhausting to help at these camps. On our first day in Atlanta, I found myself loading up my van with as many 8-to-10-year-old boys that would fit. It felt like my regular life, but on steroids. It’s interesting how all these things work out. As we were leaving Mass before the first morning of camp, the sister in charge of camp turned to my 16-year-old son and said, “by any chance are you a lifeguard?” Of course he was. As it turned out, the sisters needed a lifeguard for the week, and also the transportation of our van. I had no idea they would need that, and they had no idea we could provide it.


But one thing you learn, spending time with the Missionaries of Charity (and anyone else who has learned to rely on God’s providence) is that they have a profound trust in God. They know God will send what they need because they have seen it over and over again. Why worry about all the cares of tomorrow, the things we don’t have figured out? God will provide.


At one point during the week, I was part of a conversation between one of the sisters and a teenage boy at the camp. She was sharing her vocation story, how she knew for several years that God was calling her to the religious life and how she pushed back as hard as she could for as long as she could manage. Finally, when she was around 28, she explained, she finally let God take over. And his love and sense of mission washed over her with tremendous force. At that moment, when she finally allowed God to be in charge, she was overcome with his love for her, and with the knowledge of what she needed to do and where she needed to go.


It was interesting to hear that conversation. Years ago, the very first time I got to serve with the Missionaries of Charity, I was praying about my life. I was about to begin my senior year of high school and also just starting to really consider how to spend my life. My relationship with Jesus was starting to deepen and I wanted my life to be something poured out for him.


To me, spending those weeks with the sisters, I considered the issues to mostly be about whether or not I would be willing to say yes to being a nun. I love Jesus, I want to be holy, therefore I must be a nun. This was my reasoning.


Fast forward a few more years and another summer spent with these beautiful women. I was still offering my life to God, but not hearing the clear sense to join the convent. It was around this time that I slowly started to understand that the concept of vocation applied to us all — but it would look different for each of us. Here I am, all those years later, spending time with the sisters in a season where I clearly know that my vocation is to be a wife and mother.


And still, the call to serve and be open is there. The opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus is with you as a nun or a mother. Ultimately, as we travel through life it’s about being in the habit of listening for God’s voice and being willing to do the thing he needs each one of us to do.


Rachel Swenson Balducci is a freelance writer and member of Most Holy Trinity Church, Augusta. She can be reached at

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