Beauty & Importance of #Discernment in Daily Life

side-light-655024_1280For some people, discernment is most important to practice when they are making a major decision in their life, such as their vocation, a job change, etc. But once they have made this big decision, they forget about the practice of discernment.

But because it’s always important to seek God’s will, discerning God’s will in every day life is a very helpful spiritual practice.

Discerning God’s will in big life decisions like following our vocation enables us to set the overall direction of our life in accord with God’s will. But the purpose of doing so is so that our entire lives can be lived in accord with God’s will. Bringing that same spirit of seeking God’s will into the smaller decisions of our lives—even the daily ones—helps us to become more and more attuned to God’s will, to the point that we take on Jesus’ attitude of seeking only the will of the Father.

When we discern God’s will in the smaller things of our lives, then our entire day—and our entire lives—align with God’s will.

Even small choices can shape our lives, though we may not know it. Especially small choices that we repeat, over and over again, can lead to habits, form attitudes, and push us in a specific direction that shapes larger events. This is another motivation for seeking God’s will in everything, in daily life.

Many of the saints wrote about the importance of uniting our wills to God’s:

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” – St. Paul in Letter to the Romans 8:28

“At the beginning of each day, and of meditation, Mass, and Communion, declare to God that you desire to belong to Him entirely, and that you will devote yourself wholly to acquiring the spirit of prayer and of the interior life. Make it your chief study to conform yourself to the will of God even in the smallest things….” – Jean-Pierre de Caussade in Abandonment to Divine Providence

“Perfection is founded entirely on the love of God: ‘Charity is the bond of perfection;’ and perfect love of God means the complete union of our will with God’s.” – St. Alphonsus de Ligouri in Uniformity with the Will of God

“The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner he wills it; and thirdly to do it because it is his will.” – Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

“The will of God is the great sun to which the soul, like the sunflower, has to be always turned.” – Blessed James Alberione

“My God, you are always thinking about me. You are with me and around me. I am written on your hands. I surrender myself to you completely and forever.” – Venerable Mother Thecla Merlo


Fundamental Stance in Discernment: Desiring God’s Will

tree-338211_1280The most important part in our vocational discernment is also the most important part in living our vocation: the loving desire to do God’s will. If our fundamental stance in our discernment is to do God’s will out of love, then God will bless us and lead us in our discernment. (When we offer ourselves to God so generously, God so delights in this kind of selfless love for him, that he cannot help himself by responding in kind.)

“Fundamental stance” doesn’t mean that we never sin or fail. Rather, it means that we are seeking to live and grow in an ongoing attitude of this loving desire to do God’s will in all things. We will fail sometimes in seeking God’s will, and we won’t always “feel” full of love. When, for whatever reason, we find ourselves holding back or acting in opposition to God’s loving will, we convert and return to this desire to lovingly live God’s will. Throughout our lives, we will need to repent and recommit over and over again.

Seeking to love God and do God’s will is a matter of our will, of what we choose. Loving God—just like our love for someone we care deeply about—doesn’t always feel good. The greatest acts of love usually involve sacrifice, which rarely feels good. Love of God is also not a matter of superficial feelings that make us feel good. We don’t always feel full of love for God. Rather, love is both the deep desire and lived-out choices of loving words and actions.

How can we grow in our love for God so that we will unswervingly seek God’s will—in our vocation discernment and in living out our vocation?

Build our relationship with God through prayer.

Prayer is our communication with God, whether we snatch moments through the day for short, intense prayers, pray the daily Liturgy of the Hours or the Rosary during our commute, make an hour of adoration or ten quiet minutes of meditation in the morning or evening. Whatever form our prayer takes, it is essential to build our relationship with God. It is essential to make sure, no matter how we pray, to leave time for listening. On occasion, putting aside some quality or “special” time for just us and God can bear immense fruit in our discernment, whether that means going away for a weekend retreat, or taking a long quiet walk.

Bring our relationship with God into our daily living.

Don’t keep God separate from the rest of our life. Our relationship with God is the most important relationship we have; our faith is one of the best ways to keep the joys and challenges of life in perspective.

God desires a deep union with us, and this is not an “on-and-off” union. By actively trying to bring God into our daily life, we deepen our union with God and open ourselves more fully to his grace. We can become channels of his grace for others with whom we interact.

While God never actually leaves us, we can try to “keep God out” of our daily lives when we ignore God’s presence, avoid prayer, or deliberately sin. When we prevent our union with God from growing and push God away from our awareness, we prevent the most important relationship in our life from having a direct influence on our daily choices. When we do turn to prayer, it can become harder, then, to experience God’s presence because we have ignored him all day. Inviting God into our day—especially the difficult times—gives us a strength and a joy we cannot imagine otherwise.

When we are able to become aware of God’s presence with us and around us in our daily life, then we are more open to hearing his invitations; we become more discerning in our daily life.

Although love is not a matter of feelings, it is helpful to stir up feelings of love for God so that it is easier to seek and do God’s will, especially when pleasure, fear, or something else inclines us in other directions. All prayer is good, but certain kinds of prayer are especially helpful in rekindling our daily fervor. Lectio divina, or making daily meditation (in the Christian sense of praying with the Word of God in such a way as to encounter God with our minds, wills, and hearts), is ideal for reminding us of God’s love for us and all the good reasons there are for our loving God in return. Praying with the Word of God in a way that personally engages us also helps us to know ourselves and to prepare us to live our day in union with God.

Practical Steps for a Daily Discernment

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When we feel the need to discern something big—such as our vocation—then ordinarily we need to take our time with it, and there are a number of steps we can follow. Discerning about smaller, daily choices may take merely moments to make. For me, it often takes just a few minutes to do the following:

  • an evaluation of the need(s) presented to me
  • a short prayer to the Holy Spirit
  • an honest glance at my heart, to make sure I’m aware of my desires and to uncover any unconscious “agenda” that may sway me
  • a renewal of my deepest desire: to live in union with Christ
  • a check-in with my current schedule/responsibilities and, when needed, with a mentor and the people who will be affected by my decision (e.g. the team I’m working with)
  • good old common sense

Then, I put all those together and make a decision.

This may seem like a lot of steps for a smaller choice, but they’ve gradually become automatic for me as I’ve grown in the art of discernment, and they help me to pay more attention to seeking God’s will. Becoming proficient in this spiritual art means that seeking God’s will becomes as habitual as breathing.

To Think About

What would be your list of steps for a discernment about a smaller, daily matter? If you can, share them in the comments or via email (and I’ll post them)!

God’s Storyview

rainbow809697_26431701-foto stoch-xchngOur loving Creator has revealed himself as Father. God has created a world that is exquisitely designed, beautiful, astonishing, powerful, and full of mysteries. This amazing and mysterious universe is where we live our lives, our stories. As we grow, we discover how our universe works—in its physical aspects (such as the rule of gravity), in our human nature, in the spiritual realm, etc. If we want to discover and live God’s story for us, if we truly want to co-author our lives with God, it’s helpful to understand God’s overall design. How can we tell what’s most important to God, and how God views his creation?

By listening to God.

God reveals himself in many ways, but most clearly in Sacred Revelation: the Bible and Sacred Tradition. This is where we can best find God’s view of the world he has created, his overall design for humanity, and the stories that he wants us to live. One simple way to describe God’s “storyview” is this basic premise that describes salvation history:

Our all-good God loves us and always wants what is good and best for us.

The spiritual art of discernment only makes sense in light of these foundational truths: that God is good, that God loves us, and that God always wants what is best for us. These fundamental truths give us important principles with which to shape our stories. In my next few posts, we’ll unpack them.


To Journal About:

It might be helpful to take a moment to take in this profound statement that is the foundation for any good discernment, allowing it to sink in.   

Our all-good God loves us and always wants what is good and best for us.

When I read this statement—to myself or aloud—what is my first reaction to it? What do I think? What do I feel? Do I believe it to be true?

God’s Story for Us

01A choice 2 (me)Oops! There’s a catch there in my last post when I said I love my plans. The catch is that I don’t just enjoy making plans and rejoicing when they work well. I actually become invested in my plans, to the point that I can make my security revolve around my plans–how well they are working, etc. If you are one of those people that rejoice in saying, “It’s all going according to plan,” then you might also be in danger of absolutizing your plan…or at the very least, making it more important than it was ever meant to be.

Because a plan is a very temporary thing, meant to serve the needs of the moment. It’s not meant to be something that takes over our lives, that becomes more important than its purpose, or the people it involves, even ourselves.

Yet plans can be incredibly helpful and important–in keeping a group on track, in juggling many things at one time, in achieving goals that, without a lot of careful planning, might otherwise be impossible.

Whether you are a pantser or a planner, whether you love plans or hate them, or whether you are somewhere in-between–loving the organization that plans bring, but longing for more spontaneity–you probably aren’t neutral to plans.

The problem with any plan is that it isn’t perfect. No matter how many contingencies we anticipate, it’s likely that something will come up that we couldn’t foresee. And then the plan must be adjusted or replaced with another.

The good news is that the most important plan for you is perfect: perfect for you wherever you are, and flexible when your situation changes, or when you want to shift directions. What plan is that, you wonder? God’s plan.

* * *

Vocational Insight: Religious Life*

For all of us, the future is unknowable. As a religious with the vow of obedience, I don’t have the stability of creating my own plan, of knowing where I’m going to live, or the work that I’m going to be doing. While others can take this stability and this sense of control for granted, they are not part of my life. Often, I have no clue of what’s coming next. I cannot count the times when I’ve needed to change plans for the mission that I’m carrying out midstream. And I honestly never know for sure where I will be or what I will be doing a year from now. Although this might sound difficult to live, the security I have in living the vow of obedience is worth it:

Living well the vow of obedience offers me the certainty that I am doing God’s will, however unexpected it may be.

My vow of obedience demands that I trust in a larger plan that is not my own: in God’s plan for me, as mediated through my superiors. Though at times I may struggle in the moment (or the first weeks or months) to accept God’s plan for me, the truth is that every time I’ve been able to step back and look at my life, it’s clear that God’s love guides the story of my life. God’s plan has proven  over and over again to be the best for me.

*For those who are  discerning their vocations, I’ll occasionally offer an insight from the various states in life. Naturally, since I’m a religious sister, my personal insights will most often be about religious life. But I’ll try to find others to offer spiritual insights into the vocation to marriage, priesthood, and the single life too.

God Dreams with Us, Not for Us

DSC03070One of the traps that we can fall into when we’re trying to discern something is to think that God has one precise and perfect way picked out for us, and woe to us if we take a wrong step. We mix up God’s knowledge of the future with God’s will, imagining that God already wrote the complete story of our lives, and that we really don’t have free will. That’s a pretty robotic view of human nature, and it’s far from the Church’s teaching about the human person. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, numbers: 1704, 1705, 1711, 1731, among many others.)

1. God doesn’t abandon us if we don’t pursue his dream for us—he always loves us and continues to invite us towards a closer relationship with him, up to the last moments of our lives.

2. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and God is all-wise, so whatever God wants is a perfect fit for us. His dream for us is exactly what we want at our deepest core, we just don’t always know it.

3. God’s dream for us isn’t created apart from us. It might be more accurate to say that God dreams with us, not for us. With the Holy Spirit, we are co-protagonists in the story of our lives.

4. God values our free will so much that he invites us (not forces us) into a loving relationship with him. Similarly, he invites us to enter into his dream for us. We choose how we respond to God’s invitations. God respects our freedom, and is more than willing to work with whatever steps we take, especially when we are sincerely seeking his will for us. Even when our steps seem to be going in the opposite direction, God is able to turn things around in the blink of an eye. The cliché “God writes straight with crooked lines” totally fits here—although it’s not complete. It’s even more than that! God seems to delight in working with our littleness, even with our limitations.

(We have a powerful reminder of this as we approach Christmas: God delights so much in working with human littleness that, when he took on human nature, he was born a little Baby.)