In the 1991 romance comedy movie “L.A. Story,” the main character (Steve Martin) receives instructions on his love life from the ubiquitous freeway signs around L.A. Wouldn’t it be easier to understand what God wants if he’d just throw a few brightly lit signs into our lives?
Many of us strive to live according to our faith in Jesus Christ, and we rely on the Church to help us in our journey of discipleship. And although we are all called to holiness, each of us has a unique and personally hand-crafted life to live, a life given to us by God. Sometimes, though, we need help in discerning exactly what that life is all about.
Simply put, discernment is discovering God’s will for your life.
What it isn’t:
- Doing your own thing without God, but demanding God’s blessing on your choice.
- Trying to decide about an immoral choice (e.g. to sleep with my boyfriend or not to sleep with my boyfriend). There is only one possible answer here, which does not need to be discerned!
- Flinging yourself into one situation after another and hoping something works out.
- Demanding God to give you the outcome you want (then being angry because you didn’t get it!).
What you should do, instead:
- Understand what you’re discerning.That may sound like “Well duh,” but truly, this is an important step that some people miss. When they do, the discernment is completely muddied. It would be like starting an experiment without knowing what you’re trying to measure or discover. Come up with one clear question, such as, “Should I marry so-and-so?” “What college should I choose?” “Do I have a religious vocation?” and drill down from there if need be with questions within questions.
- Go to Adoration and talk to God about this. Put the question to Jesus and sit in his presence, letting his love flow into you. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this. Silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament will bear fruit!
- Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a good spiritual director. A spiritual director is not the same as a psychological counselor, although it could be that a good spiritual director may have some background in counseling. A spiritual director helps you clarify your questions and the answers God is giving you.
- Listen. Allow God to speak in your life in prayer, and through other people and situations.
- Keep a discernment journal. Journaling in general is not everyone’s style, but when it comes to this, it is a helpful tool in keeping track of where you’ve been and what patterns emerge in your discernment. List pros and cons, write out your thoughts and feelings, and take notes from conversations with your spiritual director. You can copy helpful writings and prayers, and even compose your own prayers.
- Make a decision. When you’re ready, and there seems to be only one answer coming through, make the decision and trust that God is with you, and that your best efforts are pleasing to God. If God wants something else for you, he’ll let you know!
- Don’t dilute or confuse your discernment by talking to anyone who will listen. Keep this a more private conversation between you, God, your spiritual director, and those directly involved (such as a vocation director or potential future spouse).
- Be patient. We want answers now, but God’s timing is not ours, and God’s timing is perfect. Trust him!
- When you’ve made your decision, follow through. Hesitation and vacillation will leave you feeling ill at ease. That’s what the enemy wants, because when we’re ill at ease and confused, we are not accepting Christ’s peace, hence we’re not able to live the life for which he has created us.
- Remember that your discernment is not about you! Ultimately, it’s not about “What makes me happy,” but rather “what God has planned for all of Creation, and how I am a part of that.” When we’re doing what God has created us for, we will share in Christ’s love and joy!
“Be who God has made you to be and you will set the world on fire.” – St. Catherine of Siena
Some helpful links:
Discernment in the Ignatian Tradition (St. Ignatius) – includes discernment of spirits
Discernment in the Salesian Tradition (St. Francis de Sales) – includes radical dependence on God