In discerning God’s will for us in ways that will shape our future in a big way, it’s easy to become anxious about making “the right” decision. If we find ourselves so afraid of making the wrong choice that, even after taking significant time to discern, we swing like pendulums back and forth from one choice to the other, discounting the experience and insights we have gained thus far in our discernment, then we might need to “lighten up” on the pressure and the scruples: we need to take ourselves less seriously and trust more that God is guiding us. Here are a couple of things that might help us to think about our discernment in a new, less-anxious way that takes the focus off of ourselves and puts it back on God:
Define “the right decision” that we are so concerned about making. Are we truly concerned that we are doing God’s will, or are we afraid of making a mistake? Making a mistake doesn’t mean we aren’t seeking God’s will. In fact, never making a mistake means that we are probably not taking enough risks in our discipleship of Christ.
Often the bigger the decision, the more small steps it takes to implement it. Each of these small steps gives us an opportunity to test out and affirm our conviction that this is God’s will for us. For example, if we are discerning whether to go back to school, there is an application process that will help resolve our doubts. And, at any point in the process, we can stop or change direction.
Have we created a false timeline or expectations about our discernment? If we honestly cannot hear God’s invitation in the particular regard we are discerning, maybe we are missing what we are supposed to be discerning about. Truly seeking God’s will often brings about a certain interior peace. If instead we find ourselves growing in anxiety, perhaps instead of discerning our vocation, God is inviting us to be more active in our parish, and we need to discern how to do that. Talking about our expectations for the results of our discernment with a spiritual director at this point could be very helpful.
Especially if we have been discerning for a significant amount of time and we feel stuck (we don’t feel we are making progress), we can deliberately take a break away from this particular discernment. (This would be something to talk over ahead of time with our spiritual director.) For several weeks, we don’t allow ourselves to think about it at all. At the end of this time, we can evaluate our experience. Beyond a sense of relief, what was our experience during this time?
1) If we experienced a sense of newness, light, and joy while taking a break from discerning, then we may need to make a major shift in either what we are discerning, or how we are discerning. Discernment is seeking the will of God. Although parts of the process can be painful and difficult—especially in facing our motivations—discernment is ultimately meant to bring us to a greater freedom, peace, and joy.
2) If, instead, the break filled you with new conviction and clarity to continue discerning, then you can continue discerning with a renewed focus.
Whatever the fruits of our “break,” we will want to bring them to our spiritual director.