Ha. No—not that ‘D’ word. The other one.
If you’re Catholic/Christian and in your early to mid 20’s you have probably heard that term ad nauseam. I feel like I hear it on a daily basis but I feel that a lot of us use the term too flippantly.
What I mean by that is, a lot of the time I hear the word used as an excuse to avoid making a decision.
“I can’t really do that right now… eh heh hem… I’m … Discerning…”
Or a lot of times I hear the word only reserved for the use of describing someone’s never ending battle with God about whether they are going to join the convent, go to seminary, or hold out to see if Mr. or Mrs. Right is ever going to come along.
“Well.. I’m kind of discerning my next step in life righ…”
“WAIT– You’re going to be a priest?!”
But, I’m here to tell you friends, discernment is not just for those big ticket items on the list of our lives. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he says, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophesying, but test everything. Hold fast to what is good and abstain from what is evil.”
Test EVERYTHING. Everything in our lives needs discernment. Paul told us not to quench the Spirit who thirsts to be a part of our lives. God wants to be a part of ALL of our decisions. He wants to permeate our lives. I am not saying take an hour to pray about what you’re going to eat for lunch, but we are, on some level, supposed to take our decisions to God and ask him to conform them to HIS will—not the other way around.
But the big question is—how do we discern? There have been tons of books written and many talks given, but I will spell out a few pieces of discernment advice I have found helpful for all aspects of life.
- God is most likely not going to call you up on your cell phone to tell you what college you should go to, who to date, what to give up for lent (Netflix. It’s a struggle, y’all.), how to find a new job, where to live, or how to remove or change a negative relationship in your life. I do not doubt God’s power—He can do whatever He wants, but His preferred mode of communication from the beginning has typically been in ‘the whisper’ and not in ‘the earthquake’ and delaying decisions for long amounts of time while waiting for Him to come down in a big booming voice and hand you the answer is probably not the most practical thing to do.Don’t get me wrong–we can’t discern impulsively either (Applying for a missionary year a few days after your boyfriend breaks up with you—probably not a prudent decision. Lucky for me, God works all things for the good those who love him, am I right?)
- Adopt a spirit of detachment.
Imma let my girl St. Teresa of Avila spit some truths on this one–“We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can—namely surrender our will and fulfill God’s will in us.”
We have to know ourselves as children of God and we have to surrender our will to the father who loves us.I heard from someone once about a father who wanted to give his 3 year old son a cookie, and how instead of having his hands open to receive what the father was going to give– he jumped up and down and grasped at the cookie jar.
When it comes to our plans, why are we so hell bent on grabbing the cookie jar for ourselves? God wants to give us every gift possible in this life and for eternity but how can we receive that if we are trying to grasp at the things we only think will make us happy? — because let’s be honest, we never really know for sure. We have to detach from what we want and trust that our Father in heaven will give us what we need.
In discernment, we have to take to prayer the intention of conforming our will to God’s and also for the grace that we need to detach from what we may think is right and stop grasping at it. If you’re still holding on to something tightly in your life, you are not ready to discern what God wants for you because you have already made your decision.
Detachment takes trust. We have to trust that God isn’t going to force us into something that we absolutely do not want to do. He doesn’t want to fill his seminaries and convents with people who hate the idea of that vocation just for the sake of filling them. He’s not trying to trick you into doing his bidding at the expense of your happiness. We just need to take our blinders off to allow God to bring clarity into our lives. His clarity won’t affect us if we’re not going to see past our own plans. We have to detach first to be able to discern anything.
- Once we detach, we have to move.God can’t guide someone who is standing still.
For those of us who are in/have gone to college – you know that you have to walk through the door to figure out if you’re in the right class or not on the first day. Sometimes, you have to sit through the whole thing before you realize…). I can’t give you an exact blow by blow of discernment because it is different for everyone—but I can say that once you move, God is better able to open doors for you or shut them. You will begin to either have a sense of peace or a sense of discontentment or anxiety. You may see where God is leading you after a few hypothetical steps forward, or you may need to go even farther than that before you realize, but be assured that God has you where you are for a purpose, even if He doesn’t allow you to see it all the way through.
At the end of my junior year of college, I began to work on getting into Grad school for counseling. That was always the plan. I registered for the GRE, bought the practice book, and then a few months later realized I had absolutely no desire to do it and it wasn’t just senioritis kicking in. I took it to prayer and realized I was filled with this huge anxiety—I was trying to shove my life into this little tiny box labeled “My plan” and I didn’t want to let any of it go, but it was exhausting to hold on to it all. It took me a while but I eventually realized that God’s plan for me was a lot more freeing than my tiny little box. I could look back on it from where I am now, and say that I wasted my time getting a bachelors in Psych only to become a youth minister with no plans of pursuing counseling, but I know that God brought me through that stage of my life for a purpose. It was necessary.
- Take a step back and analyze what is happening. Do you have peace, or not? Is what you are doing bringing you closer to God, or not? If it doesn’t feel right, chances are you need to go back to the drawing board and make adjustments. But eventually, as you detach from your will, and move, and pray, and reflect – God will get you where you need to be. In His time. Not yours.
- Whatever you are discerning, big things or little things, do not fear making the wrong decision. Fear is not of God.
“The goal of all of our undertakings should be not so much a task perfectly completed as the accomplishment of the will of God.” – St. Therese of the child Jesus and the Holy Face
If we place Christ at the center of our lives, we no longer have to rely on our imperfect nature but Christ’s perfection, and His perfect love casts out all fear and doubt.If we bring Christ into the center of our decisions and act WITH him rather than without him, we don’t need to worry— He WILL make straight our paths.