Priesthood was the last thing on my mind in my younger days, especially since I was never an altar server, and so thought I was ‘safe’. Like almost everyone else, life to me was about chasing girls, paper qualifications and a promising career. At age 24, I achieved all of the above. I graduated with an accountancy degree, landed a job in one of the top accounting firms, and met the girl of my dreams at a church mission trip. Yet even with all the boxes ticked in my life, I soon found that it wasn’t enough.
After more than a year of working, and despite getting excellent performance appraisals and promising career prospects, I was feeling restless, for work soon proved meaningless and unfulfilling. In fact, I was getting more fulfillment working for the church as a catechist and youth group mentor, and making a difference in people’s lives.
As for my girlfriend, she was everything I ever wanted in a lifetime partner – she was Catholic, we were serving in Church together, and we both desired a Christ-centered relationship. It seemed like a match made in heaven. Yet, after dating for almost 2 years, I felt like there was still something missing in my life, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was.
One day, I saw a poster in church promoting a retreat for those interested in the Diocesan priesthood. For some reason, I decided to go for the retreat, and soon found myself drawn to a way of life that I never expected to be attracted to. Yet somehow, I felt this deeper desire to lay down my life not only to one person as my spouse, but to the Church as my spouse. I realized how in all my previous years of serving in Church as a catechist or youth group mentor, as well as in journeying with different people through their various struggles and problems, I had unknowingly developed a deeper love for God’s people, along with a deeper desire to belong to them and serve them as a priest. Eventually, I made the painful decision to end the relationship with my girlfriend in order to further discern my vocation to the priesthood.
After joining the seminary, God continued to affirm my heart’s desire as I grew to love the people more through my years of pastoral work and interactions with them. I found a lot of joy simply spending time with people, both young and old, and sharing in their joys and laughter. I also found a lot of meaning journeying with people through their pains and struggles, and allowing God to work through me in bringing them comfort, encouragement and hope.
Still, when I had completed my seminary formation and was close to getting ordained as a priest, I felt God inviting me to take a one-year sabbatical. That took me by surprise, but I knew at that point that I only wanted to do whatever the Lord wills. So I humbly obeyed, with a surprising amount of peace in my heart, and took a year off to allow the Lord to further reveal His plans for me. This eventually brought me to New Zealand to participate in the School of Mission, a 5-month programme organised by the Institute for World Evangelisation (ICPE Mission). Through the School, I received a lot of healing from my past hurts and wounds, and soon found greater freedom and security in my identity in Christ. Through this experience, I realised that what was more important than finding my vocation and mission in life, was to first find my true self, and be healed of all my deeper, inner wounds, so that I could live out my vocation from a place of freedom and joy.
As I continue to allow God’s plans for me to unfold, what I have learnt thus far is that God’s ways and plans for me are far greater and better than what I can imagine them to be. So long as I continue to put my trust in Him, and allow Him to lead and guide me to the path that is best for me, I will never be disappointed, but continue to be amazed at how good and faithful our Heavenly Father is to us, His beloved children.
(Nicholas Lye studied at St Francis Xavier Major Seminary in Singapore. He is currently on sabbatical leave.)