Key Discernment Questions: Who am I & What do I want?

We continue to use the storytelling lens to reflect on the importance of coming to know ourselves and our motivations.

hand-534867_1280Our God-given identity is often expressed in our deepest desires and needs, as well as by our choices and actions. Knowing that we are made in the image of God as well as weak and sinful, it’s crucial that we come to know ourselves and our inner life well. This includes knowing our motivations, too. For example, if we are kind to someone, we can have any of the following motivations—or a mix of them—for that one act of kindness:

  • trying to please the person who is with us
  • hope to get something back from the person we are being kind to
  • a sense of duty
  • the genuine virtue of love

Many times, if we are honest with ourselves, our motivations will be mixed. No matter how simple or complex they are, when we know our motivations, we are better able to freely choose what will make us deeply happy.

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Here is a rather extreme example. In the Middle Ages, sometimes women entered religious life because it seemed a path to greater independence in a time when women’s equality with men was not commonly understood or respected, especially married women. Circumstances often pushed women to seek the relative freedom of religious life even if they weren’t called. And a woman in such a situation might feel attracted to life in the convent. If she didn’t know herself well, she might have thought her attraction to the convent was a call from God rather then her own need to escape a loveless marriage or oppressive circumstances. Trapped in difficult situations, many women who weren’t called opted for religious life. As a result, some convents became quite lax because many of the sisters were not following a call from God but seeking escape.

Our deepest needs and desires—the ones that have been placed in us by God—will motivate us and shape our entire lives.

* * *

My own personality was and still is shaped by a deep need for meaning and purpose in my life. I think I’ve always been this way, and to this day, my need for purpose and meaning continues to be very important to me. I know that this need can even make me see, a bit more serious than other people—at least on the surface. When I visited the sisters as a teenager, I was drawn to them partly because I thought that living their apostolate of contemplative prayer and active mission would give my life more meaning.  (When I got home, I tried to live a little bit of a convent schedule, and ended up frustrated and discouraged!)

Ultimately, my need for meaning and purpose in life became one of my main motivations for entering religious life, and I think it continues to influence me—even in difficult moments— because I can find joy as long as I continue to feel that I’m living my life’s purpose—drawing closer to Christ and sharing his love with the world.


To Journal About

Think back on some of the major choices you’ve made in your life. If you can, pick three. For each one, reflect on the following questions:

* What was the driving factor or motivation in each decision that you made?

* What inner needs or desires were you seeking to fulfill by making that decision?

What’s the connection between deep desire and discernment?

Anna_Brassey_438-victorian-woman-writing-jornalThe 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.