The driving force of any story is the protagonist’s deepest needs and desires, because they determine what the protagonist chooses and does. Think of Will Smith’s character in the film The Pursuit of Happyness. Or Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Whenever we are discerning, we want to become more mindful of our deepest needs and desires. (Deep desires go much deeper than a passing urge, such as our appetite for chocolate or ice cream. “Deep desire” means desires that well from deep within our soul, such as the longing for happiness, etc.) Just like in a movie, our needs and desires drive our choices—often without our knowing it. So the more aware we can become of what we want and need, the more honest and free our discernment becomes.
When writing a story, the writer has to write two stories that are deeply connected: the outer story with events, plot, obstacles, and other characters; and the inner story of the protagonist’s growth with the protagonist’s desires, needs, and choices. In a good story, these two stories are so deeply connected that it’s the resolution of both the inner and outer challenges that make a powerful ending.
Just as a good story has both an inner and outer story, so does a good discernment. In our world today, it’s easy to spend time focusing on the outer story: What are the needs of the world today? What do my family and friends tell me about myself? What does this spiritual book tell me? What is Pope Francis saying about the needs of the Church and how to live our Christian vocation?
All of these are important and critical when we discern. Yet the most critical place to listen to the voice of God is interior: within us. The basis for any discernment is our relationship with God. If we do not pray, we cannot hear the voice of God—often the whisper of God—within us.
When we discern, we also need to go within, to listen to God speaking and working within us. Our deepest desires often express our God-given identity! It’s just as important to pay attention to the voice of God within as it is to pay attention to how God speaks to us through events, circumstances, and people in our lives. Discernment involves weighing the different “voices” that I hear—from within, from outside—and discovering which is God’s call.
Our interior journey—our understanding of who we are, and our needs and desires—will profoundly influence and shape our response to God’s call in our choices and actions.
To Journal About
- Make a list of the ten things in life that are most important to you.
- When you’re finished, bring that list with you before the Lord in prayer, and ask him to reveal his priorities for you.