Discerning: What’s In Our Heart?

06B foto stochDiscerning what is in our heart is the touchstone of our discernment, and it’s what we need to keep coming back to throughout our discernment. Previously, we spoke about desire and deep desire (see What’s the Connection Between Desire and Discernment, and Discerning with Deep Desires blog posts), but let’s re-visit this briefly, as many people struggle with interior “listening” the most.

Our deepest desires—such as the longing to love and be loved—are placed in us by God. These deep desires are often buried beneath more superficial desires that spring from our ego or the stress or distractions of daily life. That’s why it’s so important to pray with our feelings and desires, and to continually “go deeper” and evaluate what we most truly want. If you haven’t had the opportunity to do this, I encourage you to take some time now to pray with your desires. You can use the journaling and prayer exercises in the earlier posts listed above, if that’s helpful.

As we reflect on the other important aspects of our lives to discern, we want to constantly return to what our hearts are telling us. How do we feel about the needs of the world, about the needs of the people around us, about the circumstances in which we find ourselves? It’s not that what our heart says is more important than whatever else we bring to discernment, but rather it is our minds and hearts that find the balance and assign the right importance to each of these different elements. Everything must be sorted through our minds and hearts because, in the end, it is with our will and heart that we will say “yes” to God.


To Journal With

When we begin a discernment, it can be helpful to start with how we feel, because our feelings can often help us determine what troubles us, what we are resisting, and what feels like an invitation. Because all of us want to be happy, we can receive important clues for our discernment when we ask ourselves a few questions about happiness. These might be helpful questions to pray with over the next few days:

  • What does happiness look like for me?
  • Am I happy now? Why or why not?
  • What might I need to become truly, deeply happy (or happier)?

Throughout our discernment, we will want to continue to touch base with our thoughts, feelings, and desires, and bring them often—daily—to God in our prayer.

Follow-up Resource

For a prayerful reflection on how our gifts and our dreams can intersect to reveal God’s will to us, read Meditation 48 in my book, See Yourself Through God’s Eyes, Pauline Books & Media. In the printed book, Meditation 48 can be found on pp. 139-142.

Discerning with Deep Despires

04A 2As we explore how God might be speaking through our deep desires, it might be helpful to describe “deep desires” a little more, as compared to other kinds of desires:

  • a sudden sharp craving for ice cream on a hot day
  • a yearning to spend time with a loved one
  • a fancy for a new gadget
  • a pining for some peaceful moments in the midst of a busy day or week
  • a physical attraction to someone we find good-looking
  • an impulsive “itch” to clean the house or do something else we find immediately satisfying
  • a passionate love for our spouse
  • a longing to be immersed in creativity—writing, music, art
  • a yearning for a real, profound relationship with God
  • a devotion to someone(s) else; a dedicated giving of ourselves in love to someone(s) in need

We all have many kinds of desires every day. Because we are body and soul, our deepest desires often manifest themselves physically even when the desire isn’t for something material. We may say that we “ache” for something, or experience restlessness when a desire goes unfulfilled. Whenever we desire something, we perceive it as good. Eating unlimited chocolate feels good on some level, and so we might desire to eat two pounds of chocolate in one sitting, even though it is not actually good for us.

Our desires can be good and healthy, or they can be evil, disordered by original sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about feelings, desires, and passions in #1768. If you are interested in exploring a bit more about the morality of feelings and desires, you may want to read up in the Catechism or other sources. (If you need references, send me an email or visit a Pauline Book & Media Center!)

Because in any discernment, we are discerning between good things (see my January 23 post on four essential principles for discernment), this blog isn’t the place to address evil desires that are sinful or lead to sin beyond the obvious fact that evil desires are to be avoided, and that God doesn’t “speak” through sinful desires.

However, for the purpose of discernment, we distinguish different kinds of desires. We look at their source, how lasting they are, how connected they are with our identity. If we feel a craving for chocolate (can you tell that I have the potential to become a choc-a-holic?), we know that is a physical desire that arises from our body—perhaps a need for certain nutrients, or a desire for the gratifying pleasure of a delicious bite. But a desire for chocolate has nothing to do with my God-given identity, and while it may arise periodically, it is not a lasting desire.

Our deep desires are longings that are profound, lasting, and entwined in our very identity. The reason that we look more carefully at how God might be speaking through deep desires is because we know that God wants our happiness, and fulfilling a deep desire often leads to happiness. Personally, the further I go in life, the more I see how my deepest desires are given to me by God.

A deep desire is something that we will long for and be passionate about for a long time…perhaps our entire lives. Many people would agree that the deepest desire of the human heart is to love and be loved. (This is definitely a God-given desire!) Since God is Love, this can be rephrased to say that the longing for God himself is the deepest desire of the human heart. In discernment, we acknowledge this deep desire for God, and we look for the specific, unique “how” God is calling me personally, to love and be loved in my daily life.

We all desire love, goodness, beauty, etc. Getting to know our deep desires and the unique “how” we feel called to fulfill them is really helpful and important to living God’s invitations. Here is a personal example from my own life. All human beings desire not only beauty, but to express beauty. For me, that desire to express beauty is specified in one way by my deep desire to write. I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but it took me years to discern that my desire to write was not just a personal desire but also a call from God. Eventually, my community confirmed my discernment when sisters and superiors affirmed my written works and gave me writing assignments.

I still love other forms of beauty, and I dabble in music, but writing seems to come from (and go back to) the core of who I am.

To Pray & Journal With

  • Pray with Psalm 63: “My soul thirsts for you.”
  • How do you experience your longing for God?
  • What are your deepest desires?