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. Continue Reading

Try It On

(Learn to Discern, Principle #3)

Have you ever gone shopping and found an item on clearance that you really want, but are too tired to try on? You buy it, (because it’s on clearance! What a deal!) then you get it home, only to discover that it looks terrible on and can’t be returned? Me too.

Now I have a rule: If I don’t try it, I don’t buy it.

This little mantra works for shopping and for discernment. In fact, it’s a key part of discernment: you’ve got to try the thing on. Continue Reading

Pay Attention to Your Body

(Learn to Discern Principle #2)

Has this ever happened to you? You have a big project coming up, and you’re nervous, even if there isn’t much, logically, to be nervous about. You’ve planned well, you’ve done your homework, and you’ve prepared for the unexpected as best you can. And yet, you have a stomach-ache. Or a head-ache. Or you can’t sleep the night before.

No matter how much you know, logically, in your mind, that you shouldn’t feel nervous, your body will not seem to listen. Continue Reading

Sometimes You Don’t Need to Pray About It

(Learn to Discern Principle #1)

In my university years, there was a popular phrase that was always thrown about in Christian circles: “I need to pray about it.” Did someone ask you to join a club you didn’t want to join? “I need to pray about it.” Were you chosen for a project you didn’t want to be a part of? “I need to pray about it.” Asked out on a date by someone you weren’t into? “I need to pray about it.”

Often, instead expressing an actual openness to discern God’s presence in the invitation, the phrase acted like a “get out of jail free” card.

Finally, one of my friends told me that she had used it with her spiritual director, who responded, “Ruth, there are some things you don’t need to pray about.” Continue Reading

Decisions and Discernment

In my younger years, I spent a lot of time agonizing over all kinds of decisions: what I should study? Should I go to graduate school? Should I accept the job offer? Are skinny jeans really universally flattering? … the list goes on.

In truth, there are many decisions I still wrestle with, but I’d like to think that over the years, I’ve become a bit better at navigating difficult ones. (Migrating to skinny jeans? 5 years. This season’s wide-legged cropped trousers? Purchased.)

Decision making and discernment are actually a bit different, though: a decision has to be made when you have options to choose from: do I go to this university or that? Should I leave my current job or stay in it? Is cutting my hair short a good idea? Making a decision is a particular act.

Discernment, on the other hand, encompasses the whole process of making a decision. It can start any time you start wondering if something should be different, even if you can’t articulate what or why. Continue Reading