How Do I Even Begin?
When we first begin to seek God’s will, the process itself seems scary. Human lives are maddeningly diverse. Even the lives of the saints are that way!
Discernment can take so many forms. And there’s no time limit! Some people seem to know their answer right away. Others take years and even decades to reach an answer. As much as we dread deadlines, we do worse when everything’s left open-ended.
We cannot force God to give us an answer on demand. It’s part of the divine plan that we grow through repeated asking.
But there are some practical steps we can take to make discernment a simpler and more peaceful process.
1. Pray. And here we don’t mean just make requests. You should mix it up a little bit. Follow a daily plan that includes such petitions — “Show me the way!” — but also includes times of prayerful reading, meditation, formal devotions, and liturgical prayers. Spread these moments out through the day, so you’re often proceeding from peace and returning to peace. Discernment is not just about you. It’s more about God. And your times of prayer will keep you focused on that fact.
2. Study. Learn about the states of life in the Church. Read the biographies of the great founders of religious communities. And take the time to research the many ways that Catholics are living their vocations today. What you don’t find in the library or local Catholic bookstore, you’ll probably find online. Seek, then, in reading and find in prayer. Pray to God about what you’re reading. Meditate on how you might live in the communities you read about.
3. Call. Make connections, by phone or email. Take that first step. It’s liberating to realize, suddenly, that you’re not alone. Someone knows what you’re up to. Somebody is praying for you. Somebody really cares. Most religious communities welcome such inquiries and are happy to give you guidance as you pray and study.
4. Visit. Some things have to be seen to be believed — and that’s definitely the case with the “families” you’ll find in the Catholic Church. Communities differ according to the gifts God has given them, and they live and express their mission and vision in very distinct ways. Always call first, just as you would when visiting a co-worker or neighbor, but definitely come and see (John 1:46). It’s first-hand experience that changed the lives of the Apostles.
5. Seek spiritual direction. Find someone who’s willing to meet with you regularly to talk about your particular struggles in the life of prayer, morals, and service. Travel in a foreign land is so much easier when you have a map and a guide. And discernment can indeed seem like a foreign land. With a good director, you’ll be able to set realistic goals and track your progress.
6. Get in touch with us. If you’d like more advice about taking any of steps 1-4, we’re happy to help.