Not Alone Series: Discernment


Last week was a heavy topic. I’m glad for one that is not quite as personal… or at least not nearly as private.

We all agree that discernment is challenging. Figuring out what the Lord is calling you to do with your life can be frustrating and exhausting. Add on lack of family support, cultural pressures, and your personal expectations… ugh. This isn’t just in relation to vocational discernment, but general life discernment, too! How do you keep going? What helps you to push through? How can we encourage one another? What indicators have you experienced that lets you know you’re going down the right path?

I reviewed a Christian book about discernment for Austin CNM just two weeks ago. The big takeaway that I applied to my Catholic understanding of discernment was that God has given us the wisdom to follow him, but he generally does not give specific instructions. We have the foundations of morality and the Church to help us hold fast to those same principles in a changing world, but like an earthly parent, God the Father doesn’t make our decisions for us. He trusts us to make them ourselves.

I came across this spectacular article by Peter Kreeft about discernment recently. It echoes much of what I read in Decision-Making and the Will of God, but it has the added bonus of being a source whose authority I trust rather more (because we belong to the same religion). It will take you some time to read, but I highly recommend it. The takeaway there is that God wants us to live freely and make decisions for ourselves. He gives us various signs and abilities that helps us in our discernment, but ultimately, it’s up to us. Give God your reassurance that you desire what he desires for you, and then move on.

That is reassuring, but it brings up the paradox of choice. When we don’t have any choices, we feel trapped. We don’t feel free. God has freed us from death, so of course he has given us free will, too. On the other hand, when we have too many choices, we are paralyzed by the thought of choosing wrong. At least I am. With great power comes great responsibility. (Even Spider-man has wisdom!)

I’ve long since broadened my view of discernment beyond just my vocation to marriage or religious life, but whom to marry (a specific man or Christ) remains one of the greatest decisions I’ll ever make. This might be contentious among the ladies of the Not Alone Series, but I don’t think single life is a vocation. You can’t be born into a vocation. You don’t need confirmation from anyone to be single (as opposed to your spouse or your religious community). I think people can discern that they should be single for now or for life, but that’s not the same kind of vocation. That’s more like a professional vocation than a marriage vocation.

Having that broadened view of vocation hasn’t helped much on a practical level, though. These days, I have no idea what is in store for my life. I thought I would be a lifelong classroom teacher. Nope. Then I was convinced that full-time ministry was my calling. Nope—and that was never going to be compatible with the marriage and family I long for anyway. So I find myself stuck without anything special driving my life. I’m maintaining the status quo and trying to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open for whatever is next.

Sometimes that’s awful. I see 30 approaching and feel entirely unaccomplished. My mother had been married for several years (and I was a year old) by the time she was my age. My dad is younger than she is. Neither of them are religious; they never really have been. They don’t have degrees, but they have done very well for themselves. I’m proud of them. I just wish I could have that kind of direction in my life.

None of this is very encouraging, but it is completely real. My primary consolation is twofold. First, I encounter plenty of young people in my exact position. There aren’t as many career wanderers, but there are more single adults living outside of their parents’ homes now than ever. That includes the very religious, and you’d think that if anyone would be marrying young, it’d be us! I know that, in this respect, I am absolutely not alone. Second, I have had so many incredible changes in my life that part of me is just waiting to see what crazy/beautiful life change God has coming up next.

Will you wait with me?

Thanks to Jen and Morgan for hosting! Check out other responses on their blogs.

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