Discernment: Open to the Will of God

The following is a partial transcription of a talk that Jim gave at the recent Leaders Retreat at Palisades.

How do we know if we should take on a certain job or ministry; or if we should continue to lead the prayer group or not continue? These major decisions need to be prayerfully discerned. There are three big "D's" of discernment to help us: Discern, Decide and Do.

Let¹s say you have to discern whether you should take a new job. You have just heard about this job and thought, on a lark, that you¹d apply for it. Much to your surprise, they are interested in you. Now what do you do? Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa gives some excellent advice. He says the first thing that you have to do is be sure that your heart is open to the will of God. Whether you take the job or not, you want your heart always to be surrendered to God. Through prayer and fasting, honestly try to completely surrender your life to God.

The second thing is to honestly say to God, "To the best of my ability, I¹ll do whatever You want. If you want me to take the job, I¹m fine. If you want me to stay where I¹m at, I'm fine. This requires a certain level of detachment. Detachment is the willingness to accept God's will. If you find yourself excited and interested in the new job, don¹t ignore that‹that is something to put on your discernment table. Even if you are saying, 'I want to do God¹s will, but I really want this job", that¹s not necessarily bad. That may be God himself putting the job on your heart. Or it might be because they are offering you $30,000 more a year. Be careful to pay attention to why you desire what you desire. Recognize that these desires are not necessarily bad, but look for the why to see what your motivation might be.

So, you are doing your best to have your heart open to God. You keep telling God that you¹ll do His will. The third thing is do your homework. Take time to get the background information to help your decision. Is this company going to ask me to do something against the Gospel? That¹s a huge help in discernment right there. You may find out that this company relocates people every six months, and you think that the Lord is calling you to be flexible to move often. That bit of information might be your discernment. You might find out the company has people working 60 hours a week, many times on Sundays. Do you think the Lord is calling you to work 60 hours a week and on Sundays? That might be your discernment.

Discernment sometimes comes from doing your homework, so find out what you can find out. Also, one of the factors we have to put on our discernment table is, How this will impact the key people in my life? When I walked across America, I wasn¹t married. I am now, and I have a nine-year-old son which will be
factored in if I ever felt that I should walk across America again. Most of us have key people in our lives to factor into our discernment. God will use our circumstances as part of our discernment.

As much as possible, try not to discern under pressure. St Ignatius of Loyola said we should never make a decision at a moment of desolation. If you are scared, frustrated, panicked, mad, or desolate, you will not have a pure heart and be able to make a right discernment. I bet at one time or another in our lives we have all been desperate and jumped from the frying pan into the fire. We tend to make bad choices under pressure. You¹ve prayed, done your best to do your homework, and opened your heart to God. Now you need to dedicate some time to discern it. Pray about it. Write your impressions and senses of your discernment in your journal. Come back to your journal a few days later. How does what you wrote hit you today? Go to coffee with a friend and read to them what you wrote in your journal. Ask them what they think. They might say, "Sounds to me like you are really doing this out of fear." You say "Thank you," and don¹t say another word. Go
back into prayer and say, "Lord, is there some fear here?" When you have the luxury of time, let it percolate. Don¹t try to force this thing to happen. See, over time, what God shows you.

After the prayer and the seeking and the talking to friends over coffee, you go back to the Lord and say, "Lord, I¹ve done my level best to be open to your will and I have to make my decision soon. Here's what I¹m going to do, Lord. You are my Lord. I love you and I will do whatever You want me to do. Based on everything, my best sense is that I should take the new job. You are God and if at any time between now and my first day at the new job you want me to change my mind, you go right ahead. If I don¹t hear something different or get new information, I am going to take that job."

Now you wait on the Lord to respond to this prayer. While you¹re waiting, lighten up. Take more walks. Do more bowling. Relax. I believe that God is speaking to us constantly and guiding our lives. We will hear God more when we relax, than if we are anxiously saying, "Come, God, I need an answer now." Sometimes, not hearing from God is our final discernment. God is able to get ahold of you if He needs to. Make a decision and don¹t keep second-guessing yourself.
One thing in life that can be paralyzing is the fear of being wrong. I think that God says to us, "Do something. I can work with it." When our lives are in motion God can steer us more easily than when we stand still. Fear of being wrong is worse than being wrong. If you have done your best, go ahead and make a few mistakes. After all, we are clinging to the promise of Romans 8:28: "All things work together for good to those who are called according to his plan." Even if you completely mess up, God can turn it to good. On one hand I am saying "Pay attention, do this right, have a good heart," and on the other hand I say, "Do your best and trust God with the rest."

Sometimes we don¹t have the luxury of a lot of time; we need to make a decision in 48 hours. Sometimes your kids say, "Hey Dad, can I go to that party," and you have about 30 seconds before his buddies are going to pick him up. What do you do? You have to trust that your life is built on the Lord. You have to trust that your foundation has been set in Jesus Christ. If you are really faithful to God, if you are a person of prayer, of scripture, and of sacrament, you have to trust that what comes out is pretty close to right. Even if it isn¹t, God has the capacity to work it out for good.

We move from discernment to decision. One of the things that drains so much of the energy from our lives and really retards ministry is that we are constantly second-guessing our choices. We try to keep our options open as long as we can. Maybe there¹s a person who feels like the Lord is calling him into a new ministry, but he¹s not quite sure and he feels guilty about leaving what he is doing now. For a while he tries to keep both going at the same time. He is running around six days a week, frustrated, resentful, and angry. What he needs to do is make a decision; put the information from his discernment process to work to choose one or the other.

If God had called you to be the leader of the prayer group, he's probably not called you to ten other things. If you are trying to be everything to everybody, involved in many different ministries, you will soon realize you can only give each one a little time. I can¹t tell you the number of prayer group leaders I meet who apologize for not doing other things in the parish outside the prayer group. Well, what's wrong with that? Most of the people in the parish aren't doing anything. You're leading a whole prayer group! Remember that your prayer group is part of an extraordinary movement of prayer that you are bringing to the parish.

Whatever God has called you to do, do it. Seek what God wants; decide what God wants; do what God wants.

Practice the three D's of discernment: Discern, Decide and Do‹and keep your heart open to the will of God. When you do this, you will be better able to
discern the Lord¹s will and to serve God and others more effectively.

Reprinted with permission.

Author: vcc   20000101   Category: article
Tags: discernment
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