Figuring out what to do in the future is one of the things that most young people struggle to figure out. Now that you know your identity, you can remind yourself that God, indeed, has a purpose for you. You were created for a reason, and figuring that reason out will be one of the most exciting things you ever do.
Discernment is simply seeking and discovering God’s will in your life. It’s an adventure with God and it begins with bringing a question to the Lord. It’s easier if the question that you ask isn’t an open-ended question.
Here are some examples of questions:
- Should I date this person or not?
- Should I go to College A or College B?
- Should I enter the seminary?
- Am I called to religious life or to marriage?
- Am I called to be a priest or a religious brother?
- Am I called to be a cloistered nun or not?
- Should I be a chemistry major or an english
- Should I propose to this person or not?
You can’t discern between things that don’t matter that much, like whether you should eat Fruit Loops or Lucky Charms for breakfast. You also cannot discern between things that are immoral, like whether to have sex with someone before marriage.
You should discern life-impacting issues and in order for authentic discernment to happen, you should be in a place that you’re open to whatever God wants for you. Discernment starts there. If you already have your mind made up about what you’re going to do in the future, then you’re not open to begin discernment.
Here are some simple tools and steps you can use for discernment. We’re going to call it the Stop, Drop, and Roll method to discernment. If necessary, this method is also useful if you ever find yourself on fire. But, here are the steps for discerning:
It’s important to take time to formulate a question to discern. Like we mentioned earlier, it’s between things that are life-impacting and between two good things. But, it’s important to take time before beginning discernment to access the following questions:
Are you ready to discern?
Are you praying every day? This is important. Having a routine of prayer is important to have, whether you are discerning or not.
Here are some ways to improve your prayer:
- Frequent the Sacraments: Outside of Sunday Mass, try to go to daily Mass throughout the week. Receive the Eucharist as often as possible. Try to go to Confession once a week.
- Have a prayer schedule: Map out your week, your schedule for school and for extracurricular activities. Section out ten minutes a day that will be for you and God alone. If possible, go to the chapel, if not, create a space in your room that is prayerful and free of distraction. Add more time once you get into the habit of doing ten minutes.
- Scripture: It’s important to pray with Scripture. Get to know God through Scripture and take time to listen to Him speak to you through it.
- Journal: Keep a journal. Journaling is different than keeping a diary; it’s simply you writing down what happens in prayer. You can format it as letters to God, or you can simply write down different realizations you get in prayer. Journaling is a great way to see how God works throughout your life, and eventually you’ll be able to connect dots that you may have forgotten about if you don’t write them down.
Are there things going on in your life that may distract you from being able to freely enter into discernment? If you are experiencing a recent tragedy, illness, or feel that there is a significant situation that requires your attention, it may be best to hold off on discernment. It’s important to enter into discernment during a peaceful period in your life.
What are your attitudes?
Do you feel attached to a specific outcome? Are you willing to follow God’s plan for you, whatever that is? It’s not about what you want in life, it’s about what God wants. But you’ll find, the closer you get to God—the more you desire His will.
Do you trust that God has a plan for you? Do you believe that God has something in store for you that will far exceed your expectations? Or, do you believe that God is only out to make you miserable?
Do you know all you can as you go into discernment?
Are you aware of all your options?
Are you aware of all the possible outcomes?
Do you have the means to follow through whatever answer God gives you?
Know that you may not have all the answers to these questions prior to discernment, but it’s important to “stop” and where you are. Going into this time with open eyes is important.
If you feel pretty confident with where you stand before discernment, then it’s time to move to the next step.
Simply put, this means drop to your knees to bring it to God. You’re dropping your will, for God’s – so in this step here are the things you’ll want to do:
Take time to pray. In prayer, it’s important to talk to God about everything going on in your heart. Be authentic with Him, He already knows your heart and what’s going on, but He wants you to talk with Him about it, so He can respond.
Here are some things to talk to Him about:
- Your desires: What do you want? Talk to God about it. What have you envisioned for yourself? This doesn’t mean if you’ve always wanted to be a doctor that you will be one, but it’s a good place to start in prayer. He’ll often show you more than you think.
- Your fears: Bring these to the Lord. Are you fearful of the uncertainty of the future? Talking to God about your fears is good because you’re bringing light into the places of darkness. Make sure to name your fears and journal about them. If you are afraid of being lonely, write that down—and then ask God to show you the truth. You may find that there are wounds from your past, or certain habits in your life that have led you to be fearful of certain things. Let God heal you, and let His perfect love cast out fear (1 John 4:18).
- The question: Bring the question or whatever you’re discerning to God. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance through your discernment.
- What is going on in your heart: This doesn’t mean just about the feelings surrounding the situation. Like, if you’re discerning religious life and your family makes you feel unsure about it, that’s not what we’re talking about. Talk to God about what you’re experiencing deep in your heart. Is there excitement at the thought of doing one option, and anxiety at the other? Keep in mind, on the surface there may be fear or anxiety, but deep down you may experience peace. Be honest, and bring this to the Lord.
In this step you’ll also want to be talking to other people. People outside of the situation will help you see the situation more clearly, but it’s important to talk to people who are not attached to a certain outcome. Most of the times friends and family may be too close to the situation. Try your parish priest, youth minister, or other people who know the spiritual life well.
Keep in mind, that you are the only person that can discern God’s will for you. Having others helps distinguish between God’s voice and your own, but ultimately God will reveal it to you. Bewary if someone tries to tell you what God’s will is for your life.
Make sure to take time to examine the question. If you’re discerning whether to date someone or not, take time to weigh your options. Attraction or loneliness, for instance, is not enough reason to date. God gave you a mind to be able to examine situations in life. Make sure that whatever you’re deciding between is done during a time of peace.
When looking at your options, it’s also important to access whether or not a certain option will lead you closer to God, closer to a person, or potentially away from God. When discerning whether you will date someone, it’s not that being led closer to a person is bad, but will that person also lead you to God? These are all questions to consider.
St. Ignatius of Loyola gave us three exercises to help us discern in his book titled, Spiritual Exercises:
- Make a Pros and Cons Chart for each option
- Ask yourself, “What advice would I give to someone in my situation?”
- Picture the following scenes: At the moment of your death, if you were to ask yourself, “what would I have wanted to have done,” which would you choose? In the presence of Christ, would you have wanted to do what you chose?
Make a decision in prayer, and examine the way you feel when you imagine yourself doing it. Take a couple days imagining yourself doing one of your options. Do you feel at peace, are you excited about the future, or are you hesitant and fearful? Discernment is not completely based on feelings, so it’s important to talk to others and to check in on yourself after a day or two to see if you still have peace. And if you don’t have peace after a couple days, keep waiting on the Lord.
If you feel at peace, excited, or generally feel in a good place, it’s time to move to the next step.
This is the point that you’ll want to make a decision and roll with it. Discerning something means, in essence, that you’re discerning whether or not to try something. Entering the seminary doesn’t necessarily mean that you are for sure getting ordained. Also, keep in mind ifyou’re open to dating a person, you should be similarly “open” to “dating” religious life.
You may discern entering into a specific major and realize that you don’t like it and decide to discern choosing another major. It is not that you discerned incorrectly, you only discerned the next step, and God may have wanted you there for a reason.
Make a decision and tell someone who knows you well. Keep your eyes opened for doors closing or any in surmountable obstacles. When you make a decision, it’s important to completely embrace it and move forward. If you discern that you’re called to date a person, do it confidently and lean on the Lord. Don’t second-guess yourself. If you discern into the seminary, don’t constantly think about what it would have been like if you didn’t do it. Roll with it, and God will show you the next step.
God wants you to know His will for you. If you are seeking Him, you won’t miss out on it.
This blog is an excerpt from the book Now What: A Teen Guide to Discernment which you can purchase in the Life Teen Store.