Discernment Takes Practice

(Learn to Discern, Principle #4)

If you ever went to youth retreats and sat through talks on “God’s will for your life” you might be familiar with these questions:

“How do I know my vocation?”

“Is he/she the one I am supposed to marry?”

“How do I know if God wants me to do x?”

These were the type of questions that plagued my young Christian heart for years – and apparently mine wasn’t the only one. A recent conversation with some friends who do youth work revealed that these questions, often spoken in anguish, are perennial. Everyone wants to know: how do I know my life’s path?

The big questions in life aren’t matters of simple decision making. They’re matters of discernment.

The problem is, sometimes we wait to enter into discernment until there’s a really big issue at stake – and then we find ourselves totally new to the process when it feels like everything is hanging in the balance. It’s not a great place to be.

Thankfully, God can work with us anywhere, anytime, any way. But we can also better prepare ourselves to face the big questions by establishing discernment as a firm habit in our lives.

Imagine trying to decipher the recipe for a gourmet soufflé when we’ve never even learned how to fry an egg. It’s going to be a lot more difficult!

Learning to discern involves taking on the habit of discernment in our lives, about issues that are big and issues that are not so big.

Begin now to take on discernment as a deliberate practice.

Practice entering into conversation with God about the little things in your life. Practice learning to listen – He may not speak to you like he speaks to others. Don’t expect to necessarily be able to hear immediately if you’ve never listened before.

Practice getting to know yourself – your tendencies, your inclinations, your consistent ways of approaching situations. If you know yourself, you can adjust accordingly.

Practice noticing — noticing your own reactions to opportunities, to difficulties, to other people’s reactions. If you don’t pay attention, how can you learn?

Practice taking stock – keep a journal, meet regularly with a friend or mentor, find a way to see the trail you’re leaving behind. Time reveals more to us about ourselves than we can see in the moment.

Making discernment a habit eases the pressure when you are faced with a big question: who to marry, where to live, what to do. Instead of being a newbie, you’ll be practiced at discerning well.

A caveat, though: don’t expect to be good at discernment overnight. It takes years! And really, don’t even make your goal being good at discernment for the sake of the big questions.

Discernment is a life-long process that never stops, even if we think all the big decisions in our lives are settled. Making it a habit is about learning to enjoy the process.


How do you practice discernment?