Discernment. That word people love to throw around in Catholic circles. A word that can make my stomach turn at just the thought of it. You see, discernment of big decisions has never been my strong suit. Throughout the past couple years of making decisions concerning what to study in college, what to do after college, what to do after missionary life and continued vocational discernment, I have learned from each experience, a few things of what not to do. My hope is that you do not fall into the same traps that I have when it comes to discernment and trust that ultimately, God is in control and has incredible plans for your life.
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:11-12
1. Pray as hard as you can until hopefully, God just hits you over the head with His will.
Now as helpful as it would be if God could just spell out an answer in the clouds for you when making a big decision, this isn’t exactly how our Lord usually works in our prayer lives. Prayer of course is vital to following God’s will in making decisions. However, if you go into prayer, expecting for God to hit you over the head with an answer, you might never leave the chapel. When making big decisions, it is important to pray for a spirit of surrender and openness to God’s will. It is also important to ask for trust that He will be with you no matter what comes of the decision.
2. Ask every person you’ve ever known for their opinion on your decision.
Although it is wise to seek out the guidance and direction of a few people who know us really well such as family members, friends or a spiritual director, it can be very unproductive to hear opinions from every person in your life. The fact is that everyone in your life will have an opinion and all of them could be different. However, at the end of the day, it is your decision and you are the one who must live with the fruit of that decision. If you are especially confused on which direction God might be leading you, it is helpful to talk things out with a trusted friend or companion who genuinely knows you and the ways God has worked in your life in the past.
3. If you’re unsure, put off the decision as long as you can…and then put it off some more.
How tempting it can be to delay your decision if you are confused or feel anxious about making the decision. However, giving yourself more time for discernment does not always bring more clarity, but can in fact give more time for confusion. When making a decision, it is wise to set a reasonable amount of time to pray and seek guidance from others (let’s say, 3 weeks). If we limit the time we have to make a decision, we are often more focused and intentional in our prayer time and seeking out resources and conversations to help us make that decision. And if you’re like me and sometimes need extra motivation to decide, a deadline will give you that push you need.
4. Make the decision, and then spend some time second guessing yourself and losing sleep.
You did it! You made the decision! And now, the doubts come. Was that the right decision? Did I factor everything in correctly? What if this person gets upset by that decision? How easy it is to second guess ourselves, especially in a big decision. At the end of the day, you may not ever know if you made the “perfect decision.” However, you can trust that if you are genuinely seeking God’s will with the tools He has given you, He will be so pleased with your desire to know His will. And remember, nothing can completely separate you from the Lord, not even a bad decision!
So my friends, I doubt I’ll ever completely get this whole discernment thing down, but good thing we worship a loving Father who knows our weaknesses and works in us and through us in spite of them! No matter how much I have wrestled with decisions in the past, it is beautiful to witness God’s faithfulness in the end. My prayers are with you, so go ahead and make that decision. Jesus will be there on the other side, I promise.
“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
Katie Smith, NET Alumna