God gets a kick out of our wildest ideas

Like a parent, God loves when we step into who we're made to be.
Our Faith

Our 6-year-old recently informed my wife and me that he would be going to college three times—because he wanted to be 1) an explorer, 2) a paleontologist, and 3) a veterinarian.

At face value, this means we need to gird our financial loins. But terrifying college fund aside, I love the implications of this triple major: He clearly plans to explore far-flung regions of the world, where he will find live dinosaurs and other animals widely believed to be extinct and offer them any medical care they might require! It’s breathtaking.

And rather than pure fantasy, he’s clearly following the energy and joy he gets from his dinosaur books and drawing a highly personalized call from it. From a vocation standpoint, it all checks out: He is hearing a call aligned with his joys and passions. He is fearlessly setting out into the world. And he sees his path as promoting greater understanding and even healing. (What if a meaningful number of adults were to apply such a light to their paths?)

Given that he is 6, I fully expect his vision for his future to change, perhaps completely and in a very short span of time. But it’s still encouraging to see him grappling with vocation in this way. Thinking about the future is a sign that someone has hope. And simply witnessing it as a parent packs quite a punch.


A transformative moment in my own journey was in the confessional my freshman year of college. Our kindly chaplain responded to a rather low-on-myself confession with the observation, “This clearly reflects a lot of growth, and don’t you think it brings God joy to see his creation growing and becoming who you’re meant to be?” Now I realize I am witnessing the very beginnings of this joy.

It hearkens back to Jesus asking which of his followers would give their son a stone when he asks for bread or a snake when he asks for a fish, and how much more lavish and gracious God is than even the most doting earthly parents.

My dad response to these signs of vocation are enthusiastic, even celebratory. It’s palpable. With my 6-year-old in particular, it’s so easy to ride the empathetic waves of his joys, frustrations, and disappointments. It’s not my heart on my sleeve so much as my whole sternum just popped out of place when dealing with this child’s ever-unfolding encounter with life. The vocation to parenthood can be gutting—which I guess technically makes it a form of kenosis. The dread of vulnerability is always real, but I’m not sure I would be capable of going about it another way.

What an adventure each human life must offer our creator. We don’t think about this enough. One of the great post-Second Vatican Council paradigm shifts is our embrace of the universal call to holiness. Not just the clergy journey with God. This opens up our sense of vocation vastly and radically.


A call is not a call, singular. And it does not arrive at one finite point in time. It is discerned, and it is dynamic. Vocation is not a “set it and forget it” reality. Whoever, whenever, and wherever we are, God is present—as in present tense. God is always interested in deeper relationship and most often expresses that by inviting us into something—something more, something different, something deeper. A kindergartener displaying an interest in paleo-veterinarian field work? Barely the beginning of the beginning.

If we take living in a posture of ongoing vocational discernment seriously, we start to feel the pull of the divine invitation around every corner, or perhaps in every square of the pavement. And larger vocations, like parenthood, are loaded with little calls, moment to moment, like “learn patience,” “practice tenderness,” and of course the all-humbling “remember something about your younger self.”

But that’s not all that adults can stand to learn from the vocational aspirations of my 6-year-old. To embrace life as an adventure of discovery—setting off into whatever metaphorical jungle is one’s cup of tea—is a far cry from the rote, frenzied, and at times dehumanizing ways that people approach a career and day-to-day life. Work is supposed to offer meaning and dignity to one’s life. How often do people settle for well below that bar?

The idea of finding live dinosaurs suggests an openness to surprise, a faith that God will do the amazing and even the impossible over the course of life’s journey. Our faith tells us this is so. Why bracket off one’s own day-to-day experiences from such intervention?


And the bit about being a veterinarian: How widespread is God’s invitation to all people to, in the words of Pope John XXIII, “make the human sojourn on Earth less sad”? People have the capacity to respond to their environment in ways that foster healing, wholeness, and systemic justice. If I own a business, are my employees getting what they need in order to flourish? If I work in the financial sector, are my decisions helping bring greater equity to the system around me? If I’ve been appointed to a lofty position in the judicial system, does my work reflect the dignity of the human person, or do I pursue and greenlight federal executions at every opportunity?

Of course, this is giving human agency a lot of credit. Jesuit Father Anthony de Mello maintained that all altruism is ultimately selfish. The goal should be to aim higher and be a conduit for God’s grace in the world beyond the threshold of our own intentions. And the beauty there is that discernment is ultimately a huge act of trust in God, that we’re being led to that which will bring us unparalleled joy and actualization. Trust that can lead us to take profound leaps into the incredible: That’s what God looks for in a relationship.

Recently my 6-year-old, with a serious look on his face, asked where paleontologists get the money for their job. The air went out of my lungs for a moment, as I didn’t have much of an answer that didn’t involve Richard Attenborough showing up in a helicopter at the beginning of Jurassic Park. My heart broke a little, as even this cute little guy had the foresight to take financial considerations into account in planning his future.

I hope he knows that if he drops and changes his plans entirely, the enthusiastic dad response for his hopes and dreams will not go away. My approval is about him—beautiful creation that he is—and not his choices. I’m excited to see where his discernment of the path takes him, especially if early indicators turn out to be remotely reflective of what’s to come.


And that should be an encouraging bottom line on vocations for everyone: God wants to see what we decide to do—and will get such a kick out of it. 

This article also appears in the June 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 6, pages 43-44). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.


Image: Pexels/Hannah Grapp


About the author

Don Clemmer

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