Where Do I Begin?

Step by Step Discernment

Discernment is a word Christians often use instead of “making a decision” or “picking a choice,” although it means more than that. Discerning something means taking the choice to prayer and asking where God is leading you. Taking time to pray over a decision, instead of shooting from the hip, is vital for larger, more important decisions, like which job to take, whom to marry, or whether you should go on a mission trip. In those situations we want to ask God what he’d like us to do. And for that, here’s a handy guide.

Prayer for Guidance

The discernment process is one of listening for God’s direction and guidance for our lives. In order to hear him, we need to be tuned into his voice through prayer, Scripture, and the sacraments. If you haven’t already, add time for daily Scripture reading into your life, try to go to Mass often, and make sure to pray 20 – 30 minutes every day.

We also need to ask God for his help. He’s ready and willing, and just waiting for us to bring the situation up and say please.

An Example Prayer from St. Charles de Foucauld

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve, and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father. 

Remember: It’s important not only to start off in prayer, but also to stay rooted in prayer and ask for God’s help every step of the way.

List Your Options

A list of your options will help you survey the choices in front of you. This will be the list you work from during your discernment process. I suggest an actual, physical list. Grab a piece of paper, flip to a fresh page in your journal, or whatever works best for you. Write down all the possible options. Treat this like a brainstorming session: no eliminations right now. That will happen later. Leaving a little space between options will be helpful for later steps.

Ask Questions

Start examining the options. The answers to these questions will (hopefully) start pointing you in some direction. We’re discerning through these options with God, so don’t blaze through these questions on your own. Take them to prayer, and ask God what he thinks. Ask him to help you answer these questions. Be with him in silence, read Scripture, give him a chance to talk. You can start with the questions below, and ask others as they present themselves. If some answers are eluding you, be patient and keep praying. Also, consider asking a priest, spiritual director, or friend who knows you well to help you with any tough or ambiguous ones. At the end of this step, some options may seem weaker, or even eliminated, and others may seem stronger.

Some Questions* to Get You Started:

  • Is ______ moral? Does it fit in with the Commandments, Beatitudes, etc.?
  • Will _____ assist my conversion of heart/bring me closer to God?
  • What are the current needs of the world/Church?
  • How does _____ address those needs?
  • How will the gifts/talents God has given me be used in _____?
  • How does _____ answer Jesus’ Great Commission (“Make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19)?
  • Do I feel a draw to any of these options more than others?

…And whatever other questions come up.

Next Action Steps

For the choices that remain (or strongest choices if you have a long list), what are the next steps you would take to explore those options? What actions can you take to check them out? Write these next steps below the matching option on your list. These small actions will help you “feel out” the choices and keep doors open until God decides to close them or asks you to pick one.

Example Next Action Steps

  • Fill out an application
  • Go to an interview
  • Ask some questions of someone already doing it

Proceed (with Prayer)

Now that you’ve identified some next steps to take, start taking them. Fill out some applications, go to some interviews, and remember to step it up in the prayer department. This is discernment after all, and you have to be praying. Certainly pray about what’s ahead of you, but don’t dwell on it; God wants to spend time with you outside of discernment, too.

Taking these next steps can give you a taste of each option. It’s important that you’re not only tasting, but also reviewing the options along the way. Take your experiences into prayer, and keep asking questions with God.

Some Questions* to Get You Started

  • Have any doors closed? Which remain open? Has there been any external confirmation (acceptance or rejection, job offer, interview offer, etc.)?
  • Are faithful Christians I know very supportive or not supportive of a particular option?
  • Have there been any extraordinary signs? (Can be very helpful, but not necessary or typical.)
  • Do I feel especially drawn toward a particular option? Is there peace regarding the choice of a particular option? Do any of these choices just feel like the right one, even if it will be hard?
  • Am I totally confused and need to talk this over with someone? Who would be a good person to speak with?

Choose and Trust

Hopefully, an option has risen to the top. While it’s certainly helpful if all but one door is definitively closed, that’s not needed. You don’t even need to be 110 percent convinced that this is exactly the will of God and the absolute best decision you’ll ever make in your life. As long as you’re spending time in prayer, remaining close to the sacraments, and following God’s peace, you aren’t going to screw up his plan for your life. Now make your choice, and trust in God. He loves you and wants only what’s best for you. If you’ve faithfully discerned with God, you probably won’t make a choice that will ruin your life. In fact, your final choices were probably all good and helpful for your salvation and that of those around you. Trust that God will lead you through these next steps of your life. And remember: if you do happen to get off track. God’s grace will always get you back on.

*Partly adapted from What Does God Want? A Practical Guide to Making Decisions by Fr. Michael Scanlon, TOR

Text by Jonathan Teixeira from the FOCUS blog. FOCUS, The Fellowship of Catholic University Students, launches college students into lifelong Catholic mission. Learn more about FOCUS at focus.org. Learn more about serving as a FOCUS missionary and apply today at focus.org/apply.