Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…
Robert Frost perfectly captured the agony of choice in his poem The Road Not Taken. Each choice we make closes off others, each represents a commitment of sorts … a path we have chosen to follow knowing that there may be regret for the path left unexplored.
This came up recently on the Word On Fire Show with Bishop Robert Barron. The particular episode was a discussion called Heroic Priesthood. After spending some time talking about what it means to be a priest and how the ordained priesthood differs from the priesthood of all believers, Bishop Barron spends a few minutes talking about discernment. He suggests several useful tools including listening to the voices of others and finding a spiritual director. At the end of that he says:
Realize that life is short. One thing I find with the millennials a lot is they have this thing about keeping every option open all the time. That I have all options open all the time. Well you don’t. Life is short. It goes by fast. And so you can’t just keep everything open, you’ve got to say, “Jump in.” Jump onto a path. It’s not going to be perfect. You will have some regrets, but everybody does.
(The whole episode is worth your time, so click on over to listen to it as it includes some advice for the parents of discerners as well.)
So, what’s the antidote to indecision? Decisiveness. Easier said than done, though. What do you do if all options seem equally valid?
There was a good answer in a profile piece that ran on the Washington Post. It explores the discernment journey of a seminarian in DC. Anthony Furgeson felt drawn to the life of an artist and only gradually heard the call to priesthood.
He describes his early sense of being called as “horrifying”. He talks about waffling between being thrilled and terrified by the idea of religious life. Eventually, just before Christmas of 2013, he arrived at a moment of clarity.
“I felt like there was a fork in the road,” he recalls. “I could either choose life with this really nice girl, or I could apply to seminary. I knew I had to decide, and I knew if I decided one way, it would kinda close off the other path.”
At a Sunday Mass he prayed for guidance. “The response that I really sensed back — and I’m not going to say it was a Charlton Heston voice — it was just very gentle, quiet, placed-on-the-soul interior realization that it didn’t really matter which way I chose. The Lord would be there either way.”
Knowing that made it easier for Ferguson to consider what he truly wanted. “And when I thought about going into the priesthood, I really did feel that there was a warm sense of peace,” he says.
I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by a couple of priests — God is not going to be angry if you choose one good over another. Conversely, God will be with you no matter which path you choose. So, as Bishop Barron says, “Jump onto a path.”
For parents, this means being willing to give your child the space to discern and let them know that they have your support either way. No matter what, they will still be your child and you can be confident that God will be with them.
I don’t think Robert Frost was speaking of religious life, but he made a good point when he finished his poem with:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
— Dad (of Evan)