We use a process called “discernment” to help us to determine what God wants of us. An introduction to discernment is outlined below. You may wish to reflect on the observations and questions raised here.
Discernment is about distinguishing or separating what is of God from what is not of God. This may sound easy, but we need to do some work trying to determine what comes from God and what comes from our own ego, from our culture, and from peer pressure. The discernment process also helps us to decide between choices which are equally good, for example, am I called to priesthood or marriage?
Through the prophet Isaiah, God says: “My plans for you are for peace not destruction.” Responding to God’s plan is about discovering how to be my best self, my most authentic self. Does this mean that I will never suffer hardship and pain? No.
Decisions and choices can often mean hardship and even pain. But the bottom line is that following God’s plan is also about discovering and living my most authentic self. This will lead to a deep peace and joy, even when there is struggle and hardship.
What’s required for discernment?
- Time: Discernment is a process that takes time.
- Journal: Get a special book that you can record your thoughts and reflections in.
- An open heart: Come with a readiness to follow the path wherever it leads. There is no point in coming to a discernment process if you have already decided the outcome!
God’s call is rarely a clear call or a clear message. Most people ‘wake up’ to the call and become conscious of the call over a period of time. God’s call can be like a tiny pebble in your shoe, an irritation that has to be dealt with before you can move on, or an itch that has to be scratched. One minute it is there, the next it is not, but it keeps coming back. Something in you is calling for a response of some kind. Discernment is about looking at the ‘irritation’ and seeing what it means.
In the Gospel of John (John 1: 35-41) we read of the call of the first disciples of Jesus. Jesus asked them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “Where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”
If you are going to discern God’s call then you need to spend time with Jesus in prayer and reflection. Let yourself be like one of the first disciples and let Jesus look you in the eye and ask you, “What are you looking for?” It can be helpful to put your name in front of the question. Imagine Jesus speaking your name, “N. What are you looking for?”
Tell Jesus about what you want. Tell him about your deepest desires. Listen to how Jesus responds to you. Sit with this response from Jesus. Note your own feelings. What is rising up in you? There is no need to initially analyse your feelings, just record these feelings in your journal.
How do your feelings fit in with what you want and your deepest desires? Are you feeling energised, excited, fearful, sad, or some other feeling? See if you can determine what lies behind your feelings, for example what is it that excites you or makes you fearful? Try and be as honest as you can. You might even be surprised at what you discover.
A prayer for discernment by Thomas Merton:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me.
And you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.
Try to make Thomas Merton’s prayer your own. Maybe write your own discernment prayer.
These points may help you in writing your own prayer:
- Acknowledge who God is for you.
- Acknowledge the reality of your situation … your feelings, questions, doubts.
- Acknowledge your readiness to trust that God will lead you.
Remember: God does not call us because we are worthy, or good, or ‘holy’. God calls simply because God knows and loves us, and knows the best way that we can be the person we have been created to be.
Some questions to reflect on:
- What part does the Eucharist (Mass) play in your life at the moment?
- How and for how long do you pray?
- How involved are you in your parish?
- What leadership roles have you had?
- Do you have a desire for further learning?
- In what ways do you listen to others?
- Are you willing to take the first steps towards another, even if feeling shy or embarrassed?
- Are you willing to let go of what you are doing to help someone if needed? Examples?