The art of discernment encompasses praying our past, our present, and our future. But we are called to live in the present moment. Does the art of discernment force us into an unhealthy attitude of trying to live in the past, or in a future that is not here yet? Not if we are discerning well.
Discernment is very much a call to live the present moment. In order to attentively listen to and seek God’s will for the next step in our lives, we need to be fully present to ourself, to God, and to our own lives, in the here and now. Discernment is the art of listening to God in the present so that we are open to carrying out God’s plan. The greater our ability to listen, the more we discover—perhaps to our surprise—that God invites us in specific ways to draw closer to him and to do his will in the world. We are not seeking to foretell the future, nor to make our own plans, but to seek God’s plan, so that what God wills can fully become our will. Whether it’s seeking how to approach an important conversation with a loved one, discerning our vocation, or recognizing God’s invitation in the moment, discernment is being present to God right here, right now, and making ourselves available to God’s plan for us. As Father Ivan Rupnik says in his book, Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God: “Discernment is not a technique for resolving the problems of our spiritual life, but a reality found in the relationship between the human person and God.”
God’s Dream for Us
Up to this point, we have focused more on how to grow in the attitudes that will help us discern God’s will for us. As we go forward, we enter into the concrete practice of discernment, of how to give priority to God’s will in our lives, and how to overcome the obstacles that get in the way of a discerning heart so that we can fully live God’s will.
God’s will=God’s plan=God’s desires=God’s dream for us.
We know from the Bible that God’s dream for us is what is truly best for us. God dreams of our happiness, our freedom, of being in a close relationship with us, of our knowing and trusting that we are loved, of our complete fulfillment. As mentioned earlier, God doesn’t just dream for us, but with us. We can see discernment as our way of dreaming with God, of discovering how we can reach that fullness of happiness and freedom that God desires for us—even more than we want it for ourselves. Since God shares his dreams with us most often in the ordinary “stuff” of our lives, these ordinary things are what we will be praying and discerning with: our prayer, our interior dispositions, our situations, our world, our desires, our abilities, limitations, and gifts.
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