The idea of being single in college is one that has many mixed reviews associated with it. Many might think of cuffing season—the idea that you must be dating someone by the time you come home for the holidays.
In addition, we must always be busy—busy bettering ourselves or filling every moment of our time and knowing exactly where it is we are headed. That being said, there is an unspoken pressure to be dating or at least seeking out a relationship with someone while in college. A discomfort or embarrassment comes out of this status of singleness or unsure focus.
Everything in college serves a purpose, or so I like to think. Every extra curricular activity we do will fill a gap in our resume, and lead to us getting somewhere bigger and better after college. So we go to classes to get a degree. We get a degree to get a job. We get a job to support ourselves and our families. And, well, we just have to have a family, right?
Hold on! There are other options. We seem to forget that rather easily, and while having a family and raising them to love like Christ did is an incredible way to live, we must remember the other options.
There is a daunting phrase: vocational discernment. That means a lot more than just the process of becoming a priest like you may remember from Sunday school. According to author Russel Shaw, in religious talk, the word vocation refers to three different things. He does a great job explaining the difference between these denotations of the word we mainly associate with the priesthood.
The first of these is the common Christian vocation, which comes with Baptism and is shared by all members of the Church. It consists of the commitment of faith and what follows from it: loving and serving God above all else, loving and serving neighbor as oneself, and collaborating in continuing the redemptive work of Christ, which is the mission of the Church.
The second meaning is state in life. A "state" puts some flesh on the bones of the common Christian vocation. It’s a broad, overarching commitment to a particular Christian lifestyle. As such, a state in life sets someone choosing it on a path that will shape his character through the countless choices and actions required to follow it to the end. The clerical life, the consecrated life, the state of marriage, and the single lay state in the world are states in life.
Third is personal vocation. It’s the unique combination of commitments, relationships, obligations, opportunities, strengths, and weaknesses and understanding those things as they work in our life in representing God’s will. It is how those things are expressed by someone, whether it is a priest, religious, or layperson while trying to know and live the life God has in mind for them. It is the singular, unique role in his redemptive plan that God intends for each of us.
"Every life is a vocation," Pope John Paul II says. And so, it is—a unique, personal vocation.
I feel that in life, when we are caught up in the college life or cuffing season festivities, we forget that, at each stage of our life, we are discerning our vocation. We get so busy with our goal-oriented mindsets that we forget where we are in the moment. Let us not forget that wherever we are, we must be all there. Each moment is infinitely important for a greater cause and if our head isn't there, what is the use?
At Easter, we are mourning and rejoicing that someone loved us so much in order to die for us! Is that not the love we long for? In Ordinary Time, we are preparing for other days of remembrance and celebration, but we are still working on our hearts; we are still preparing for something, and those seasons of preparation are equally as important. But sometimes we get bored of the green everywhere, and long for another color; we must be cautious though. We must remember the importance of each day in our vocational journey.
Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ, the Polish-American priest who spent many years in prisons and prison camps in the Soviet Union during and after World War II, caught the essence of this idea in these words:
"God has a special purpose, a special love, a special providence for all those he has created. God cares for each of us individually, watches over us, provides for us. The circumstances of each day of our lives, of every moment of every day, are provided for us by him. . . . [This] means . . . that every moment of our life has a purpose, that every action of ours, no matter how dull or routine or trivial it may seem in itself, has a dignity and worth beyond human understanding. No man’s life is insignificant in God’s sight."
I encourage you to find Jesus and cling to the cross rather than clinging to the norms of college cuffing season, to embrace this journey and pray for a gradual notion of clarity instead of a hasty holiday date.