Everyone asks themselves: What do I do with my life? We are free to choose whatever we wish, but, first, we should take time to ask the Lord in prayer: What do you will for me? How can I best use the gifts you have given me?
Posing these questions to yourself in prayer, with guidance, helps put you in a place where you can begin, in a certain sense, to see your life from God’s perspective. That’s the process of discernment.
Jesus told his disciples, “... the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.” (John 14:31) By God’s grace and the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, that commitment of Christ can become yours and lead to clarity, direction and joy.
How does this process work? Give it a time frame – a year, maybe two, depending on circumstances. (Don’t make a vocation out of discernment!) Ask for help from a trusted teacher, priest or sister.
Commit yourself to daily prayer. Read one of the Gospels (Matthew is particularly good for this). Read slowly. Some days you may read only a few verses; other days, perhaps half a chapter. Stop when something strikes you. Spend time on it. Let the Word penetrate your mind and heart. The goal is to allow God’s word to become your foundation of daily living and your rock of truth on which to make important decisions.
Read a psalm every day, especially Psalms 1, 5, 8, 9, 23, 24, 25, 51, 119 and 139. Let the truth of God’s word make the long journey from the head to the heart. In other words, let God’s word speak, not just to your intellect, but to your whole being. Only then can you begin to have clarity.
If the call is to marriage, to the formation and raising of children as mothers and fathers, then you and your fiancé or fiancée should talk to a priest about pre-marriage preparation – it takes nine months to a year, and there is good reason for that. Love and passion can blind us if we make the decision too hastily, and many couples attest to that fact. Respect the wisdom of the Church. Use the time of marriage preparation for continued discernment. Be honest about the challenges as you see them. Pray together. Make sure you are on the same page, spiritually and humanly.
If the call is to the single life, perhaps to care for elderly parents/family or to perform some service or good work that requires a great deal of commitment, then talk to other men and women who have made such decisions. Learn to understand the pitfalls, the difficulties and the joys. Make your decision prayerfully, weighing the cost and benefits.
If you are single and would like to be married but the right person has not come along, then ask God what he wants of you at this time. Don’t wait around and grow discouraged or depressed. Follow the steps outlined above, asking God to show you his plan for you.
If you discern that God is calling you to priesthood or religious life, then, in the process of reflection, prayer and inventory of your own strengths and weaknesses, ask to spend a week or two with a particular community. Visit religious communities when the opportunity arises for a day or evening event; take advantage of diocesan retreats or retreats of particular religious communities to further discern which community seems a good fit. In the case of priesthood, is the call to the diocesan priesthood or to a religious community in which you may be called to be a brother or a priest? Such visits can be an invaluable help in your decision-making.
If at all possible, make an Ignatian retreat sponsored by your diocese or some other group. St. Ignatius of Loyola was outstanding in laying out the principles and directives for making a good decision for your life.
Finally, in the case of religious life/priesthood, there will be plenty of time before a final decision has to be made. The Church is very wise. Preparation for diocesan priesthood usually is an eight-year process. Discernment continues during that whole time. In religious life there are several stages over a number of years before one makes a final profession of vows.
Do your part, seek wise counsel and then make the best decision you can. God and the community/diocese you enter will play a significant role in your final decision.
On a daily basis:
1. Thank God for giving you life. He is your Creator.
2. Offer to God your life, hopes and dreams.
3. Tell God you want to know his will. Recognize that his will is the most loving direction you could possibly have. (He created you; he knows you intimately – more than you know yourself.)
Make a plan:
1. Have someone help you evaluate your strengths, weaknesses and aptitudes – the gifts God has given you.
2. Talk to people in different walks of life; ask them about the challenges and the fruits, the joys and the hardships.
One caution: God gives us free will. Sometimes his call is very specific, but often he allows us to make choices in the process and he honors them. Again, the most important thing is to seek his will daily, to love it and then be willing to follow it wherever it leads.
Sister Ann Shields is a renowned author and a member of the Servants of God’s Love. Questions can be addressed to Sister Ann Shields, Renewal Ministries, 230 Collingwood, Suite 240, Ann Arbor, MI 48103. You can order her new book, More of the Holy Spirit, for $12 at www.renewalministries.net.