A hugely important part of any good discernment is to listen to God’s invitations as expressed in the needs of the world—the needs of those around us: Where is God sending us to serve?
We live in a busy world, with so many needs. Any person of good will alive today can easily become overwhelmed by the number of requests for help, whether from family, friends, neighbors, parish, or work. Sometimes it may seem to be a call from God; at other times, we may become casually involved in helping out our family, our community, or a ministry simply as a favor, and the favor turns into a bigger commitment that we didn’t pray about or plan for. Especially when the invitation is casual, or we never envisioned ourselves serving in this particular way, we may not recognize God’s call.
When we feel pulled in many directions, or find ourselves juggling too much, this is the perfect time to enter into a spirit of discernment, to sort through the different demands on our time and discern which requests or needs are invitations from God. Sometimes, we can easily sort through them. At other times, it may take time to gradually clarify how God is inviting us. But as we go forward in our lives, we will develop more of a sense of our personal mission, of how God is calling us to be and to love in the world.
For example when I visit a hospital, I am drawn to help the people I encounter there—not just the person I am visiting, but also the people I meet casually. While I’m at the hospital, I seek to respond as best I can to the requests that I receive. I believe that God wants to work through me to touch the lives of the people that I encounter on that particular visit. (And often I am deeply touched by the people who are so courageously undergoing such suffering.)
However in my vocation as a Daughter of Saint Paul, I am also aware that I am not called to be a nurse. Instead, my vocation as a Pauline communicator is to focus on the spiritual poverty and suffering of the people whom I encounter, whether they are wealthy or poor. This can be a less obvious call, because physical poverty and suffering are often more noticeable.
What criteria can we use to sort through the many demands that we experience? For me, the wonderfully profound Presbyterian minister and writer Frederick Buechner sums it up best when he wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (Frederick Buechner, from his book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC). Looking for that resonance between the outward call we receive/perceive, and the inner movements of our heart may take time, prayer, and discernment, but the God who lovingly calls us will clarify his will for us in his time.