Discernment, whether we like it or not, is something we all have to do. There are the daily discernments: what should I do with my free time, how can I love God today, how can I approach this situation, etc. There are the little v vocational discernments: where should I go to school, what should I study, what job is best, etc.
Then there’s the big V Vocational discernment. That’s a whole other story.
Big V Vocation is for all of us. We each have a divine calling written on our hearts, a life through which we reach heaven and lead others there, too. This Vocation is the path to our salvation, the means through which God satisfies our heart’s deepest longings — by unifying us with Himself. Whether we’re called to consecrated life (as a religious sister or brother), the priesthood, or marriage, God has an interesting journey of discernment in store for us all.
I can’t tell you how to discern, because I’ve failed at it more times than I can count. But, from these failures, I can tell you a bunch of ways of how NOT to discern…
1. Do NOT expect an easy answer
I remember the first time I thought I knew God’s plan for me. I just about freaked out, then proceeded to make demands. “God,” I said, “I’m going to pray a rosary on this, and then you make it clear, okay?”
That was awhile ago, and I assure you I still have zero idea what the Lord is calling me to. In fact, I’ve actually probably made some version of that bargain time and time again.
The thing with Vocation, though, is that it’s not a magic 8 ball. There’s no online quiz that can tell you what the answer is. Even years of prayer don’t necessarily mean God’s going to appear to you and make it clear.
Discernment is, by its very nature, about faith. If we knew all the answers, would there be any need for our faith? God loves you. You can trust Him. The path He’s leading you down, albeit sometimes confusing and unclear, will lead to your fulfillment if you keep trying to stay open to God and His ways. You can count on that.
2. Do NOT make it about them
It’s so easy to make our Vocation about every little thing… except God. Often, we make it about others. What does our family want? What do our friends expect from us? What does our significant other think?
These are all good things; we should look out for those we love. But we shouldn’t let them alter our decisions. God has written our Vocation on our heart; He doesn’t need our friends’ approval.
He may very well lead you to a Vocation they disagree with. But if your love is real, and if you trust God’s got you, then that’s a bargain worth taking. It’s not about what others think or what others want; it’s about Him. And what He asks of you, even if it doesn’t seem like it, will both sanctify you and them.
3. Do NOT make it all about you
Perhaps even more difficult than placing God above others is placing God above ourselves. It’s hard to hear, but the fact is, our Vocation isn’t about us. Our Vocation is about loving God best.
Our Vocation will make us happy in the end, by leading us to union with Christ, yes, but that doesn’t mean that we can approach discernment seeking only our own pleasure. Ask a mother caring for her screaming infant at 3AM, and you’ll see that there’s so much more to Vocation than feeling good.
God’s plan for you, no matter what, will be tough. Will it be worth it? Absolutely. But it won’t be easy. Therefore, don’t forget to ask Him what He wants. Because what He wants is our happiness, even if we don’t see it yet.
It’s not about the best career or the easiest route. It’s not even about what makes us feel happy. Finding our Vocation means shackling ourselves to the will of Christ: “Let it be done unto me according to thy Word,” not mine. Building up our relationship with Christ is the surest way to keep it about Him. Through asking the Lord what He wants in prayer, imitating Mary’s Fiat, and participating in God’s plan for us through frequent Mass, Reconciliation, reflection, journaling, and more, we can–step by step–hear Him speak to us.
4. Do NOT overshare
Guarding our hearts is one of the most important things we can do throughout discernment. It’s a deeply personal journey, one of God’s individual invitation and our response. If we share the innermost workings of these divine communications, what others think can influence our receptivity.
Imagine a friend who unfairly criticizes your significant other, or your interest in religious life. Their words can’t help but seep into your mind, and you’re no longer free to discern that relationship. Seeds of doubt, even if trivial, impact your clarity. “Is this really a good idea?” you start to wonder. This friend can discourage us from God’s true call.
In a similar way, friends or family can even encourage us too much. Imagine what it’d be like if everyone kept telling you, “Oh you have to marry that person!” or “You TOTALLY have that nun/priest vibe!” Then we may find ourselves discerning not because God is inviting us to, but because others want us to.
It’s helpful to rely on the spiritual advice of trusted mentors, especially in spiritual direction, and the guidance of those close to us; but this outside help should never speak louder than the voice of Christ.
5. “Be NOT afraid”
Lastly, and most importantly, do not be afraid. God has a plan for you!! This is big news.
Seek Him out. Trust Him. In the words of Pope Francis, “ask Jesus what He wants from you and be brave!” Come to Christ in prayer and ask Him what He’s trying to reveal to you. Be open to His response, and keep your eyes on His gaze amid the journey. Little by little, He speaks to you, His Beloved.
A Vocation may seem like a scary, unknown thing. But if you are seeking God with all your heart, I promise you you’re not going to miss it.