The biggest obstacle to discernment

sad-505857_1280The overarching, biggest obstacle to discerning God’s will in our lives is sin, because sin is directly opposed to doing God’s will. Sin is a rejection of God and seeks to put self in the place of God, to seek one’s own will above God’s.

Striving to live a good moral life is a prerequisite for making a good discernment. When we are trapped in a cycle of serious sin, God’s will for us is clearly to convert and enter (or return to) the state of grace, which is a sharing in God’s own life. Even venial sins, which do not disconnect us from communion with God, but weaken our relationship with God, compromise our ability to hear and respond generously to God’s will.

Sinfulness affects our discernment because sin is slavery, setting limits to genuine freedom. Sinfulness deafens us to God’s invitations, blocks our openness to God’s voice, and prevents us from responding wholeheartedly to God’s call. Sometimes, our motivations in discerning could be mixed between good intentions and sinful ones. For example, when we discern whether or not to do something, we might choose to do a good thing out of selfishness or vanity, rather than a desire to serve God. We may still end up doing God’s will–because God can use even our weaknesses to bring about good–but not because we discerned well!

The best preparation for discernment is to live fully our Catholic Faith, to live in continual conversion so that gradually we are freed from the claws of sin. Helps to living a good moral life include:

  • Prayer
  • Reading and praying with the Word of God
  • Receiving the sacraments, most especially Reconciliation (or Penance) and the Holy Eucharist
  • The examination of conscience
  • Acts of charity for others (e.g. the works of mercy)

None of us are exempt from the necessity of examining our lives and our moral choices, repenting of and confessing our sins, doing penance, and praying for the grace to live in conversion and avoid sin in the future. Perhaps you noticed that many of the very means that we use to grow in holiness are the same means that we are encouraged to use in discerning. That’s because discernment is part of the journey to holiness, a specific way of growing spiritually. The more we grow in our life in Christ, the freer we become interiorly, and the more receptive we are to God’s graced invitations.

The One Word That Best Describes Discernment

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Discernment can be described in many ways, but the best single word to describe it is listening. How can we hone our listening skills, and what are the obstacles to listening to God?

We have all watched movies where a character is alone in the dark, hears a noise and, despite the danger and fear, decides to go investigate. As the character walks into danger, we may even shout at the screen, “Stop! Don’t go in! Don’t you know that something bad is going to happen?” Either the movie has a poorly written cliché, or something else in the story prevents that character from listening to their intuition.

We may be wise enough not to investigate a dark alley at night by ourselves, but we all have moments when we don’t listen to the experienced voice of wisdom within us. Whether it’s lack of time or the noisiness of our life, consistently listening for God within is often the hardest part of discerning for us. Listening to how God is speaking within us includes:

  • listening for God in our prayer and desires
  • recognizing God’s presence in the circumstances and events of our lives.

Listening to God means living reflectively.

I try to check the pulse of my life daily to ensure that I’m making enough time for silence and prayer. Doing this daily is important because I find it so easy to be distracted by the “noise” of daily life, allowing it to overwhelm the much-needed interior silence that I need to live in mindful awareness of God’s daily invitations.

In addition to simple distractions, three obstacles that I regularly face in listening attentively to God within (in my prayer, desires, and reflection on my daily life) are:

  1. Busyness and/or overwork
  2. Restlessness or discomfort with silence or deeper reflection
  3. Giving others’ situations, needs, problems, or conflicts undue attention in my thoughts, so that I’m focusing on external situations that are often beyond my control, rather than my own

For me, these choices, behaviors, or attitudes are often rooted in ambition or overdeveloped ego.

What are the biggest obstacles that prevent you from listening attentively to God?