How Do I Know if I Can Trust My Desires in Discernment?

(Learn to Discern, Principle #13)

One of the most frequent issues that arises almost every time I talk about discernment is the role of personal desire in spiritual and practical discernment.

It might take the form of, “how do I know that this is what God wants and not just what I want?” or “I really want x, and so it’s probably not what I should do,” or, “I have always wanted to do y, but that’s irrelevant, right?”

Is personal desire something that belongs in discernment? Or is it the kind of thing that we should just disregard because it’s a massive distraction from what is really meant to be happening? How do I know if I can trust my desire?

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How Do I Know if I’m Actually Open to Hearing God? (Part II)

(Learn to Discern, Principle #12)

Most of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves caught in the loop of wondering: is God speaking to me? Am I hearing correctly? Or am I hearing only what I want to hear? How do I know if I’m actually open to what God has to say?

Part I considered how our openness to God isn’t necessarily tied to any particular emotional feeling, but rather has to be understood in the context of our lives as a whole. How we live indicates how much weight our deeper desires should carry in the process of our discernment which unfolds in conversation with God.

The question “am I truly open to hearing God?” can only be answered in light of the more fundamental question: do I live like I’m open to God? Because how we live determines if we make space for God regularly. We’re usually open to hearing God if we’re leading a listening kind of life.

How do we know if we’re leading a listening kind of life?

Here’s what it entails:

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How Do I Know if I’m Actually Open to Hearing God? (Part I)

(Learn to Discern, Principle #12)

Have you ever found yourself asking God to speak to you, while hoping He’ll only say one particular thing?

“God do you want me to take this new job? Please say yes.”

But then you worry that your desire for only one answer makes you not really open to listening?

“I know it could be not the right job, but it’d be really great if it were the right job so… yes?”

You’re in a spot where you want to “be open,” but you don’t really feel open. You feel like you know what you want to hear.

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Acknowledge What You Are

(Learn to Discern,  Principle #12)

“God has a plan for your life!”

How many times have you heard this proclaimed? At church, on retreat, by some street evangelist – it’s a phrase we get used to hearing. But it’s a phrase that’s easily misunderstood.

Sometimes, we think that God having a plan for our lives means that we don’t need to make one. (“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans!” is another Christian classic.)

Sometimes, we think that if we make plans for our lives, God will automatically have something else in mind – as though He wills the opposite of what we want, simply to be contrarian.

But the truth is that God is not a contrarian. God is a God of love. A God who offers us a multiplicity of goods in the created world. There are simply so many good things for us to choose from when it comes to living our lives. We don’t have to be afraid of choosing something good, and we don’t have to be afraid of choosing something that might not be the very best thing in all the universes of possibilities.

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Fear Is a False Friend

(Learn to Discern, Principle #11)

An American friend of mine once found herself engaged in a conversation about family pastimes in Italian. “My mother gardens,” said one girl; “my sister paints,” offered another. “My father makes fruit preserves!” my friend joined in, enthusiastically. “Peach, strawberry, all different kinds,” she continued, slightly oblivious to the growing silence around the table. “The whole family helps, every summer!”

Finally, one of the older women at the table quietly asked her to clarify. “Fruit preserves!” My friend said again, in Italian. Noticing the shocked look on everyone’s faces, she stepped into the kitchen to get a jar of jam. Holding it up, she repeated triumphantly, “fruit preserves! See?”

The Italians then very kindly explained that “preservativi” in Italian does not mean “preserves.” It means “condoms.”

Talk about a learning experience.

Speaking the language through trial and error led my friend to discover “false friends”: words that sound similar in two languages but in fact mean very different things.

“False friends” are dangerous when learning languages, but they show up when we are learning to discern, too. They masquerade as something helpful, so we use them eagerly. Unknown to us, though, they are leading us away from our true purpose.

Fear is a false friend.

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