Discernment is experiencing with understanding and commitment
the presence and guidance of God in my whole life….
Ernest Larkin, O.Carm
You are looking into your future, and you are wondering where you should be, what you want to be, what God wants of you.
Because you have contacted the Carmelites, you may be thinking of religious life – and perhaps the priesthood too. But discovering what God wants – discernment – is exactly that: what God wants, whatever God wants. He may want you to be a Carmelite, but he may also want you to be married , or a single person with a career.
Starting a process of discernment demands a willingness to be open to whatever God wants: so it means not deciding before you start! Leave your heart open to God: whatever the decision you and God come to, God will give you the strength and the courage to follow it through.
The process of discernment consists of four steps. But they are not necessarily sequential; they are interconnected and overlapping and they are on-going. Now that you are trying to find what God wants of you, and throughout your life, you and God will continue on this journey of discovery.
Step One: Getting to Know Me
Knowing myself is much more that knowing what I think. It is being in touch with my thinking, and with my feeling and behaviour. It means being in touch with my life, my experience.
So it is more contemplative than analytic, more receptive than introspective. It is looking honestly at me: what I think about things, what I hold strongly; how I feel, about me and about others; how I act, and what motivates my activities.
Step Two: Getting to Accept Myself
If I apply myself to it, knowing myself maybe a comparatively easy exercise. Where the crunch comes is in looking at what I see and accepting it, all of it.
Accepting myself means owning my whole self – the good and the bad and the ugly. It means loving myself, not in a self-centred and exclusive way, but in the sense of accepting myself as God’s gift. St Paul put it well when he said ‘ we are God’s work of art’.
It means loving the whole me, accepting my reality. And it means beginning to trust myself, basing that trust on the fact that God trusts and loves me, and having a great sense of wonder and gratitude for that.
Step Three: Being Whole and Loved and Loving
As I begin to accept myself as a whole, I can begin to allow myself to be accepted and loved, perhaps especially by God. The first two steps haven’t been walked alone – God has been there, and I have been in touch with God through prayer, asking God’s help.
Now I am beginning to be integrated, beginning to accept my whole self. I am beginning to be open to God, open to what God is asking of me. I am beginning to see what God is asking of me.
I can do all this because I am real before God. I am accepting the real me – that good and bad and ugly – and beginning to love it, and because of this I can be honest with God and open to what God wants. I realise that God does not call the perfect to whatever God wants, but the real – the real me.
I may be encouraged in this realisation if I remember those first friends of Jesus – not perfect, but real.
And so I can be open to God. Herbert Alphonso SJ says:
We are called not to struggle towards God,
but to be receptive to God’s action in us.
Step Four: Checking it Out
Although your discernment is a personal process, it is carried out in context of a living community. Ernest Larkin says that the living community is the place of all discernment.
My living community is my family, friends, my total environment; it is Scripture, the people of God people in the church, people who journey with me through this process – a spiritual director or someone else with whom I have shared my searching.
My living community checks out my decision, and confirms it. And I continue to keep in touch with God, telling God of my decision and asking God to be with me as I seek to be what God wants.
A Gospel text that might help you
Although there are many biblical quotes that can help when you are trying to discover what God wants, perhaps one of the most helpful is from the first chapter of John’s gospel (John 1:35-39):
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!"
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?"
They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?"
He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying,
and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon.
One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
For further information please contact Carmelite Vocations.