Discernment is a process of making a decision or finding direction in one’s life. At its very heart, discernment is a conversation – with God, with friends, with spiritual mentors and guides – a conversation which leads to more clarity about God’s call for you. Discernment brings into focus one’s deepest life questions:
- What is the purpose of my life?
- With whom do I want to live and how will I express my love?
- How can I use my gifts and talents and whom do I want to serve?
Benedict’s emphasis in discernment is on listening with both the head and the heart. His Rule begins: “Listen, child of God… with the ear of your heart”. We are called to listen to Scripture; to the Spirit’s movement in our hearts; to our communities, friends, and the wise guides in our lives.
Benedictine’s listen to Scripture in the practice of lectio divina, a prayerful reading of Scripture. As we practice reading slowly and savoring the words, the Word may stir us, challenge us or move us to new ways of being and behaving. Benedictines are immersed in Scripture throughout the day at the Liturgy of the Hours. If you are discerning the next step in your life, spending time reading and praying with Scripture each day can help you become sensitive to God’s longings for you.
Psalm 4:5 says: “Attend to your heart.” (International Committee on English in the Liturgy translation) Attending to our hearts is an important aspect of discernment as we seek to know God’s desire for us. God’s basic desire is to give us abundant life. Benedict knows that God’s call to abundant life is marked by joy, persistence and desire. He describes God’s call in the Prologue: “What is more delightful than the voice of the Lord calling to us?” In discernment, you may ask yourself, does this choice give my heart joy? Does it lead to abundant life?
Finally, discernment cannot be done in isolation. We need the wisdom and feedback of others who know us well such as family members, good friends, a pastor or spiritual guide. They can help us see those places in us where we are yet free to make a choice. We need their help to perceive where our gifts may best be used. A wise guide can also help us attend to God’s movement in our hearts.
Discernment takes time and patience, prayer and support. These lines from a prayer by Thomas Merton are often a comfort and inspiration at times of discernment:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.