How To Discover the Holy Spirit in the “Setting” of Our Lives

If God wants us to begin our discernment where we are, then another helpful thing we can do is to reflect a bit about the “setting” of our lives, our particular world—the concrete circumstances in which we live.

There will always be some things about the circumstances of our lives that we cannot change:

  • Aspects of our own  personality
  • Our families and the people we share our lives with—our primary commitments
  • Our history (although we can change the way we understand our past)

But even though we cannot change them, it’s helpful to consider our situation, to accept where we are, and to actively seek the Lord’s invitations within this “setting” of our lives that he shares with us.

Other circumstances of our lives may be relatively permanent, or we may be able to change them over time, if we want to or feel we are called to:

  • The responsibilities that we have committed to
  • Where we live
  • Our relationships with the people we share our lives with
  • Our training/the kind of work we do/our vocational commitments

Finally, there are many things in our lives that we can change—our behavior, attitudes, and choices; how we interact with others; how much time we spend in certain activities; what we give priority to each day, etc. But before making any changes, it’s helpful to first understand and acknowledge where we are, what’s going well and what we’re struggling with or longing for.


When we pray to the Most Holy Trinity, we often do so by distinguishing the roles of the Persons of the Most Blessed Trinity in our world. If we praise the Father as Creative Love, the Son as the Beloved Word of the Father, then we might pray to the Holy Spirit as the Embrace between Father and Son. This holy, eternal Embrace, the Holy Spirit, extends outside the Trinity into the lives of God’s beloved people. The Holy Spirit embraces us in our lives, in the concrete situations in which we live. When Saint Paul tries to explain God’s presence in the world to non-believing Greeks, he speaks of God as the One in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Isn’t that an apt description of the Holy Spirit as the One embracing us, within and through the context of our lives?

A. To Pray With

Below is a series of questions about the setting or circumstances of your life that you may wish to journal about or pray with. As we pray with these questions, we want to remember that this setting of the story of our lives is the realm of the Holy Spirit, who works in and through all the particulars and details of our life. God is active in the moments, in the day-to-day, in the concrete details of our lives. These questions can help us to recognize how the Spirit is at work in our lives as they are—where are his invitations, his signs of faithful love, his challenges? As we begin to pray with the circumstances of our lives, we ask for the light of the Holy Spirit so that we can contemplate our lives with the eyes of Christ, with his loving gaze.

Here are some questions to pray over:

  • Where am I?
  • What are the circumstances in which I find myself?
  • What do I love about my life?
  • What do I struggle with or find not working for me?
  • What do I long for?
  • How is God present in my life?
  • How might God be speaking to me through the circumstances of my life?

B. To Pray & Journal About

While there are some things about my life that I cannot change, there are many ways that I can improve my circumstances to grow spiritually, to be healthier, to foster personal growth, to more fully live the mission God has entrusted to me. In another time of prayer, reflect on these two questions, praying the second question especially in the light of the Holy Spirit, and asking for his light and for clarity:

1. What insights have I received about myself and my life?

2. How is God speaking to me through the circumstances of my life right now: encouraging me, blessing me, inviting me, challenging me to grow?

Discerning in Daily Life

02 F (GS)Discernment is not just about big decisions. Discernment is a spiritual art, an attitude of seeking God’s will that we can take into our daily life. As our relationship with God deepens and grows, discernment naturally seems to become more and more a part of our daily life, even to our daily decisions. Even the small decisions can have untold influence on the story of our lives or the lives of others.

When I first wondered if I was called to religious life, I thought discernment was a one-time thing I needed to do—to discover my vocation. I believe that God gently led my young self through the steps of discernment, and I entered religious life. I thought I had finished discerning.

But as I traveled further into religious life, I found that, even when I finished my initial discernment regarding my vocation (which lasted several years), I had to continue discerning within my vocation. Especially when I was confronted by large questions, such as being asked to take on a particular assignment, I felt the need to discern God’s will. I wanted to live God’s story for me, so I brought these big questions to prayer and discerned, within the context of my vow of obedience, which apostolic work was God’s will for me.

Gradually, I started to feel the need to discern smaller apostolic choices within the assigned field of my ministry. For example, now every time I write a book, I spend at least several weeks discerning if it’s God’s will that I write that particular book. (Any writer will tell you that choosing one’s next book–which can take from a few months to several years to write–is not a small decision!) Is God calling me to respond to this particular need, to reach out to this particular group of people? How is he calling me to do that? What is it about this topic that God invites me to learn, deepen, and share with others? How will writing this book fulfill the mission that God has given me as a Daughter of Saint Paul? How will writing this book shape how I live my story, and my community?

After discernment became such an important part of my writing, it started to “leak” into my daily life—especially difficult choices. Long ago, I used to just trust common sense, the inspiration of the moment, and the intentions that I placed in my morning offering. But now, I try to bring a spirit of discernment to these daily choices. This allows me to be more mindful about seeking God’s will all the time, not just with big decisions.

But I still have a long way to go before I can claim to truly seek God’s will in everything. That’s my desire, but other things—like selfishness, a desire to please others, or fear of conflict—still get in the way. Making these daily little discernments helps to shape my larger life story, and makes me more receptive to God’s invitations—no matter how big or small, how obvious or subtle.

To Journal and Share

  • What discernments have I already done?
  • What kinds of things do I feel are important for me to discern?