A little over a year ago, I reviewed a book about discernment, decision-making, and the will of God by a non-Catholic Bible scholar and teacher, Gary Friesen. I haven’t run out of things to discern in the meantime, though, so this year, I decided to share some Catholic advice. In the spirit of teaching to all levels and encouraging the wise stewardship of one’s time, I offer you a video by Fr. Mike Schmitz and an article by Peter Kreeft. Your first point of discernment is whether to learn from both or just one!
Since this is the 21st century and Internet attention spans are short, Fr. Mike Schmitz recorded a brief video to answer a question on many young minds (and some not-so-young ones). He is one of my favorite preachers, hands-down. Not all priests are good at giving homilies, and still fewer can also preach outside of Mass. He nails it. His main focus is campus ministry, but I never feel like he’s talking down to me. Yes, this is a vertical video, but in under 8 minutes, Fr. Mike manages to give 3 excellent guiding questions for discernment.
To recap (or skip if you don’t even have 8 minutes): God is already calling you to holiness. He calls everyone to holiness because he knows you and loves you better than you know and love yourself. To assess your efforts to know and love him in return, ask yourself these three questions:
- Am I in a state of grace? Do you expect God to shout through the mud and muck of sin? Clean up so he can break through your deafness. Go to Confession.
- Am I doing my daily duties? Honor your commitments. If you’re a student, go to class, do your homework, study, and graduate. If you have a job, go to work. If you care for your children full-time, make sure all their needs are met (including their spiritual needs).
- Did I pray today? If you aren’t used to building a relationship with God through prayer, how exactly are you supposed to hear his call? Let him speak to you.
When all three of those things are true, you just might find that your whole path looks much clearer.
If that’s not enough to direct you toward wise, God-focused decision-making, Peter Kreeft has some additional ideas. Like Gary Friesen, Kreeft offers a list of seven signposts that should be pointing you down the path you’re considering. If even one of them is a great big “NO,” you should turn back. Among the markers are Scripture, prayer, and individual desire. Friesen would be on board with those. Another signpost is Church teaching, though, so you know this version is Catholic. Kreeft further agrees that either God has a specific will for everything (right down to what to eat for breakfast) or he lets you make choices based on the gifts he’s already given you.
How do we know, then, that our desire is rightly ordered? How do we know that “following our hearts” won’t lead us right off a cliff? Kreeft recommends consulting (so to speak) the depth of your love for God, as exemplified by the saints; balancing the pull of head versus heart; and identifying the fruits of the spirit. The result of successful discernment should be joy, not anguish. “Most Christians, including many of the saints,” he writes, “don’t, in fact, have the discernment we are asking about, the knowledge of what God wills in every single choice. It’s rare. Could something as important as this be so rare? Could God have left almost all of us so clueless?” No. God has not abandoned us to poor decision-making, although he will allow us to make poor choices.
The key to remember in discernment is that we have the freedom and the power to make our own decisions. We have received grace upon grace. We have received wisdom and learned how to use it from sitting at the feet of our Father. As Kreeft writes, “God’s law is short. He gave us ten commandments, not ten thousand. Why? Why not a more complete list of specifics? Because he wanted freedom and variety.”
“But Lindsay,” you might say, “I did what I was supposed to and consulted Scripture. The Torah has 613 commandments! That’s way more than ten.”
To this, I would reply, “You are correct. However, that long list of commandments happened because the Israelites couldn’t actually handle only ten. They kept going back to idol worship. (That seems to be the default when following God gets too hard, then as now.) Jesus summarized those ten commandments into two, so you could argue that Christians, as followers of Jesus, only have two commandments, giving us more freedom than even God’s chosen people. How’s that for love?” I love rules, so it takes a lot for me to admit it when real love wins. Yet it does, every time. That’s the Christian way.
In conclusion, as you make (and re-make, at this point) your plans for the coming year, cling to Scripture and prayer as your guides. If you stay close to the Lord, you will know the way to follow. And when you realize you’ve made a mistake, he’s waiting with open arms to welcome you back.