The secret of discernment

st francis san damiano The secret of discernment

St. Francis at San Damiano

I’ve been thinking about the topic of discernment again lately (longtime readers know that this is a big area of fascination for me). How do I know what God wants me to do in this or that situation? If I have a bunch of good options in front of me, which one do I choose? This is the sort of thing I ponder when I’m loading the dishwasher.

Of all the stacks of books I’ve read on this subject, one vignette keeps coming to mind: the famous story of St. Francis of Assisi receiving the message from God in the church at San Damiano.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that this story contains the key to discernment.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the life of St. Francis, he was the son of a wealthy merchant in 12th-Century Assisi, Italy. After living a life full of worldly pleasures, he walked away from it all to pursue holiness. One day he was praying in the dilapidated church of San Damiano, and he heard the voice of God say:

Francis, rebuild my church, which, as you see, is falling down.

So Francis went to collect stones for this church. He gathered them wherever he could find them, even begged for them. For a while after that, he dedicated himself to the simple task of hauling stones.

Every time I come across that part of the story, I always feel like shouting, “No, Francis, you misunderstood! God meant capital-C Church!”

Francis lived in a time when the Church at large wasn’t in great shape. In his part of the world especially, corruption and apathy were big problems. And, as we now know, Francis did end up turning it around through his preaching and his radical simplicity. He was arguably the greatest reformer the Church has ever seen. Far be it from me to question the discernment of a saint, but…ya know…it really does seem like God meant Church, not church, in his message at San Damiano. It seems like Francis misunderstood.

Let’s contrast the way he responded to that message to the way someone like me would heed the same call:

Francis: [Gets up, walks out of the church, and gets to work  gathering stones.]

Jen: “‘Rebuild my church’? What church? This one? Or did you mean my home parish church? And what did you mean by ‘rebuild’ — are we talking a symbolic spiritual renewal or physical renovation? If the latter, exterior or interior? Or both? Or, wait…did you mean capital-C Church?!”

Basically, I would have analyzed it, thought about it, talked about it, and done whatever the 12th Century version of blogging about it was. And I would have taken no action until I felt like I had perfect clarity on it — which means I probably never would have done anything at all.

Contrasting my way of discernment with St. Francis‘, it becomes clear that mine is all about control: I feel like it rests entirely on me to get it right. The weight of the world is on my shoulders alone. I act like God is powerless to work things out without me interpreting his call with 100% accuracy. Yet again, my mentality is, “IT’S ALL UP TO ME!!!”

But St. Francis got it right, even if he did misunderstand that message. He understood that the secret to discernment (and, really, the secret to pretty much everything) is humility. He knew that it’s better to get a message wrong and proceed in humility than to get it right and proceed as if it’s all up to you.

I’ve had some big discernment issues come up lately, mostly regarding the next steps for the book now that it’s almost ready to send off. There are a few different directions I could try to go, some of which will close off other options if I pursue them. None of the options are perfect, but none are terrible. They all have drastically different pros and cons. I’ve been saying a lot of hand-wringing prayers, feeling frustrated that I don’t have perfect clarity about which path to choose.

But now, the more I look to St. Francis’ example, the more I see that knowing the mind of God perfectly isn’t necessary for good discernment (not to mention the fact that it isn’t even possible).  As long as I am not blocking out God’s voice through intentional disobedience or sin, as long as I am sincerely seeking his will, that’s what matters. Even if I misunderstand some message in prayer and end up taking the “wrong” path, the Lord will work it out, as long as I stay close to him. I pray that I might follow in the footsteps of St. Francis in my discernment with this situation as well as any others. After all, through his humility, God indeed lead him to rebuild the Church…after he rebuilt the church.

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52 Responses to “The secret of discernment”
  1. Another great post Jennifer. Thank you

  2. Leila says:

    Yes, yes! You are exactly right! Great post. I wrote something similar about discerning God’s will:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/04/knowing-gods-will-and-catholic-freedom.html

    Such an important topic!
    Leila recently posted..3 Quick Opportunities for Sanctification

  3. Michael King says:

    Hi Jennifer!

    I liked the post and it was nice to hear about St. Francis! Another thing that is interesting about the “repair my church” event is that the Latin is rendered “repara domum meum” – domum meaning house. Where is the house of the Lord? In the OT it was the Temple, but now that temple is us: Jesus is also saying to Francis, not just “repair this church” and “repair my Church”, but “repair yourself”. It is a call for self renewal and to strive to live a Gospel life more fully.

    It is interesting that you brought up the topic of discernment – I just came from a retreat day at Oxford on the Dominican vocation! The first part of three is up on my blog.

    Peace!
    Michael King recently posted..My Day with the Dominicans – Part I

  4. Andie says:

    Wonderful post. I know that I have struggled with discernment as well. It just doesn’t seem very fair if God has this master plan for us but doesn’t tell us what it is. It makes it feel like some sort of a game and I really don’t think that God plays those kinds of games. I think his will is that we are are with him, some of us take very interesting paths getting there, and some stay lost for a very long time. I think that if we do what we feel is right in our hearts and if we keep close to him in prayer, then he will make good out of our actions. Maybe I’m way off base, but I think that we sometimes put too much energy in trying to figure things out. Your words about control and humility are beautiful. Time to pick up some stones.
    Andie
    Andie recently posted..Our Hearts

  5. This is so true, Jen. Well put. I’ve spent about 2 years or so dithering over this or that, and just waiting for a voice from the clouds (I’d also have accepted a lightning strike or a 16 ton anvil) to tell me what I should do professionally… Finally, my mom said basically told me that you have to choose, and if it’s not what you should do, God’ll put a bend in the road, but you have to be on the road first. She gave me as an example – she was all set for photography school when she found out she was expecting me, and the chemicals would have been dangerous for me. Now, I’m finally making decisions and getting on with it, and I feel much less anxious about it all, and I trust that if I’m going the wrong way, I’ll have a curveball thrown in my direction.

  6. Magnificat says:

    Very good, and very true!
    Everyone who sincerely wants to do God’s will sometimes has problems in discerning. Waiting for 100% clarity seems soooo holy … but in the end may result in feeling “God’s making a fool of me”.
    Do the best you can do/discern/whatever in that moment (to much analysis causes paralysis!) and go on! God will not leave you.
    “Your faithful love endures for ever, do not abandon what you have made.”

  7. I think that in this day and age we want the light in the darkness to illuminate every shadow of doubt. But a pinprick of light in the distance is still enough to guide us. Sometimes that light is simply the stored knowledge of what (we think) might (maybe) be (sorta) the right way to go.

    We’ve had some gruelingly tough times in our family, and one thing I’ve learned from them is that when it seems there’s absolutely no way out, you do the next thing you *can* do. You take one step. And then maybe you stop and look around, and you stave off despair, and you consider what else you *can* do. And you take another step. And slowly you learn that walking with God isn’t always a brisk trot in the park, but sometimes a very halting, stumbling thing in the one-star-in-the-distance dark. When we can’t see as clearly as we’d like, we have to accept our lack of vision as part of the cross we are asked to carry, and draw on the light in our hearts.

    Personally, I’d love to have God up there with a megaphone shouting, “No, LEFT now! Go that way!” But since He doesn’t seem to communicate with me like that, on big decisions I often end up praying “Lord, make it clear to me what you want me to do.” If clarity doesn’t come, I assume God is okay with my not-knowing what’s next, shrug my shoulders and take the next best step I can.
    Julia at LotsaLaundry recently posted..Who wants to be a strong woman

    • Adell Neulander says:

      Julia I so relate to your comment. Many times we hear God’s whispers then question our understanding of the message. When all along we want it our way, to follow our will not God’s will. We are living in a time of very strong wills, and almost nil humility. It’s been said by many great theologians that the past century and the present century will produce an abundance of saints by overcoming the tremendous evil’s that dangle nearly everywhere in our society beckoning our attention. At present is is almost completely foreign to give up your will, but as Catholics we try to embrace God by doing His will. The more silence in our lives the easier to hear God’s gentle whispers, then maybe we will be able to discern his will.

  8. Jen,
    Regards from BRASIL!!

    What a delicious Post! There is a beautiful quote of one of my favorite saints: Teresa de Àvila also named Teresa de Jesus. Try it:

    If you wish me at home, / I stand for love. / If you command me to work / I want to die working. / Yes, Lord, what wilt thou do for me? / Tell me where, and how and when.

    Jen: I hope everyone, like you said in your Post, be able to do exactly what God wants us to do. And the Holy Spirit stay above us so we will do it right.

    BE GOOD. You and all Your Readers!
    ~Ana Paula~A Católica recently posted..Se a morte não tem remédio Vamos morrer BEM então!

  9. Lynn says:

    Thanks for a wonderful post. I’m actually a Secular Franciscan, and followed the same thought-path during my vocational discernment. I converted from a Calvinist tradition, where everything was black/white, right/wrong, so deal with moving forward not knowing was very hard. Finally I realized that it didn’t really matter whether I knew for sure that God was calling me to the SFO. The formaation I was getting was excellent and helped me grow by leaps and bounds as a Christian. None of the time and energy I spent would have been wasted even if I had not ended up SFO. The beloved sister who provides most of my direction knew that it was a great investment no matter the outcome. So I finally settled down and just kept putting one foot in foot of the other until it was clear this was the path to take. When I’m not sure what to do these days, I just figure that if I can be be Christ to others in whatever situation comes up, I’ll be fine, and the bigger picture will eventually become clear. Thanks again for your post!

  10. L. Rogers says:

    A wonderful post. Thank you! But I tend to think that Francis did not really misunderstand God’s request. His immediate unhesitating “yes” to God’s request as he understood it then was the beginning of the reform God had in mind. Collecting the stones was part of Francis’ preparation for his life work or even the launching of it. Rebuilding San Damiano gave Francis an immediate focus and through it he learned to beg for donations, he started to gather followers, and he undertook the life of poverty and total dedication to God that achieved his sanctity.
    I think in discerning God’s will, you’re right that we want control. We want to see the entire picture and how it will all work out. This is a God’s eye view that is not possible or perhaps even good for us. What is important, I think, is to continually dedicate ourselves to following God’s will and then just take one step at a time, confident that God will work it all out. I think that like Francis, in following God’s will, we accompllish greater things than we can imagine. I’m sure Francis had no idea on that day in San Damiano that he would come to be the greatest reformer in the history of the Church. If he could see it, could he have achieved humility? God in his mercy kept that outcome from his sight.

  11. L. Rogers says:

    A further thought: If, on that day at San Damiano, Francis had understood that he was to reform the entire Church, what would he have felt? Wouldn’t he have felt completely overwhelmed? Wouldn’t he have wasted a lot of time wringing his hands about how to accomplish such an enormous task. He probably would have felt that he needed to go around scolding corrupt priests or writing inspiring books or berating an indifferent laity? How effective would that have been? Francis said “yes” to God’s request and understood it as a project that was completely manageable for him. He did the project and through it, God brought about Francis’ sanctification and through that the reform of the Church.

  12. Potamiaena says:

    I have to tell you. . .I have been in the San Damiano church in Italy. I traveled to Rome with the St. Cecilia Children’s Choir in 2003. The church is so small, you wouldn’t believe how small it is. It is the same building that is now inside a bigger church.

    While in Assisi, when the guide was talking, one of the thoughts that comes to mind is how “crazy” St. Francis was. Talking to animals and plants? Giving up his wealth and inheritance? Begging for food? Now we can look on him with admiration, but when his conversion happened, it was a different reaction.

    I love the lives of our friends, the saints. We learn so much from them.

  13. Young Mom says:

    Augh!!! This post was frustrating. We’ve been feeling as though we want to do certain things, but are usure of the best course of action. We have little children to take care of too, and many of the descisions we are contemplating right now involve religious and career choices that will impact them. Its funny that you wrote about hearing God’s direction because we’ve been fighting it for a few years, we’ve always been told EXACTLY what God wanted for us by our parents(full-time ministry for my husband and stay at home mom for me, large house and lots of money as well )In reality it was just what our parents wanted for us, as oldest kids we never really got that much of a chance to even ask “what we wanted”. Now I think we tend to have an allergic reaction to hearing about “what God wants”. But just this week we were talking about how “what God wants” for us, could look very different from whatever anyone has ever tried to tell us.
    Young Mom recently posted..The Church Calendar- Holy days- and Traditions

  14. Jen G says:

    I really didn’t understand discernment until I became Catholic. Up until that point, it seemed like everything in my life was “all up to me”. Up until now my vocation in life has been single in the world. I’m trying to be open to all paths that God might have in mind for me. However, there is a point when I believe (as you have said) that action must follow, because I am the sort who can sit and ponder all the possibilities endlessly. In speaking to people from married or religious vocations, the most common answer I’ve gotten is, “I just knew!”. I think part of me is also waiting for that feeling of certainty. Thanks for your words, as always!

  15. Great post, as always. It’s so hard not to over-analyze!
    That Married Couple recently posted..Why I cant completely demonize Big Pharma

  16. Thank you for this post, Jen. The work of discerning God’s voice is beautiful work, indeed. Thank you for the light you shed on the subject for me today.
    Tamara @ Living Palm recently posted..Monday Mix Tape- the all souls &amp all saints edition

  17. Claire says:

    St. Ignatius of Loyola gave us (the Church) a method for discerning God’s will . . . it is time-tested, easy to teach and to learn, methodical, and in my experience (using and guiding others) over the past 16 years works.

  18. Margo says:

    What a great post! I love reading about the saints and how their lives connect with ours. Discernment is something I have always struggled with and I think for me, the more anxious I am, the more I’m prone to getting all jammed up in trying to figure out what God wants me to do and be. Thank you for such excellent research, insight and beautiful writing! I always learn something from your posts:)
    Margo recently posted..Escape from Bondage – Part Two

  19. Shannon says:

    Fr. James Martin, SJ’s book, The Jesuit Guide to Understanding (Almost) Everything, lays out the Ignatian way of discernment in ways anyone can understand. Catholic understanding of discernment is a far cry from the “purpose-driven life” approach that seems to think God has a specific plan for each person, and if we don’t guess it right, we’re in trouble. The Catholic approach is much more that God has planted deep within us the seeds of our happiness and delight, and coming to know God and ourselves, we will be living out our vocation.
    Shannon recently posted..Tunnel Vision

  20. Craig says:

    Jennifer,

    First off – I tell this to every Jennifer I meet. Do you want to know why your name is so special? I know there are lots of Jennifers but here’s the thing. It’s the only name that ends in fer – the only one. And it’s three syllables – that is definitively feminine. And it’s lyrical – otherwise there wouldn’t be songs about it. And so what there are a lot, it’s still a rare name ’cause of the ‘fer. Diamonds are rare – and if you had a lot of them you wouldn’t complain right?

    Now for the decision making thing, it took me 25 years of walking with Our Lord to grasp this simple truth:

    Dot the i’s – cross the t’s (meaning do the research and work in order to make the wisest decision – check the Word, pray, get godly advice etc…)

    lay the plan before God (here’s what I want to do)

    Ask for his will in the outcome (please make what will happen be what you want – the thing which most closely conforms me to your image)

    Want his will above my own (nuf said)

    Accept what happens as his will (nuf said)

    It’s a way peaceful way.

    BTW – I’m not Catholic – love the stories of the Saints too – even have a favorite one. I didn’t leave a URL cause I won’t have one till next week – then I’ll have two. I’ve been sitting at the feet of some truly magnificent bloggers and learning how to write from the heart. You have been one. I’ve learned enough to get started. I’ve been lurking – sorry for taking so long to delurk.

    God Bless

    Craig

  21. I just love St Francis- and yes, even though he got the message wrong, he did a good thing. So- while we are discerning- and trying for perfection- we shouldn’t be paralyzed. The saints are such great examples (of course)
    priest’s wife recently posted..Praying for the dead

  22. Magda says:

    This story of St. Francis reminds me of how John Paul II, as a parish priest in oppressive communist Poland, kept putting up a cross, which the government would then take down. And how Mother Teresa went out and picked up one poor person. If they had waited for the great plan, as you point out in your post, the great plan would not have unfolded. Or if Paul had waited for mass communication. Or Benedict XVI had waited for Germany to be free before he entered the seminary. Or if the Little Flower asked for a contract before writing her “Story of a Soul”.
    Which is why they are saints and I am not.
    Great, inspiring post.

  23. Hi, Jennifer. I just wanted to agree with those who made a reference to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. They are a set of beautiful discernment techniques that can be done in a wide variety of ways via spiritual direction. I’d highly recommend the “19th Annotation” version, which will be much easier for a busy person like yourself. God bless.

  24. Kathy says:

    Don’t know if you’ve read Authenticity: The Biblical Theology of Discernment by Thomas Dubay. If not, you might really enjoy it. My husband found it very helpful and has been handing it out to every leader in our church since.

  25. Gina says:

    This was so helpful to me. Thank you.

  26. Brenda says:

    This is fantastic. Thank you!

  27. Emily (a.k.a. Smoochagator) says:

    Jen, THANK YOU! This post is especially helpful to me at this point in my life. (Although, I have to admit, up until the last paragraph, I was just kind of la-dee-da reading along, thinking that your subject DIDN’T apply to me, since God hasn’t been telling me to rebuild churches lately and I haven’t written a book!) You see, my husband and I are facing some serious money challenges (the result of a lot of selfishness and denial on both of our parts) and I’ve been wringing my hands asking, “What to do? What to do?” and praying, “God, what do you want me to do?” and asking my husband, “Honey, what are we going to do?” I’m not sure about God, but I know my husband is pretty sick of me constantly fussing about this. Your post reminded me that I don’t have to wait for a big heavenly pronouncement or a drastic solution to start moving forward. If I can proceed with humility in a positive direction, that’s loads better than sitting still.

    Again, thank you!

  28. Karen says:

    I also love the topic of discernment. I also am a control freak and want a lightning bolt answer that is unmistakable! I like what you wrote about St. Francis; I, myself, always think about Father Ciszek (I believe I read about him and his book on your blog – “He Leadeth Me”, wonderful, wonderful book!) who always said “just do the next right thing.” I don’t know if that applies to your book options but it usually helps get me through my day. I love your blog and can’t wait to read your book. Can it be preordered? Do you have a title?

    • Yes, isn’t He Leadeth Me awesome? I LOVE that book. And unfortunately my book can’t be preordered quite yet — I’m just about to send it to my agent, then he’ll need to sell it to a publisher. I have a title but I’m not supposed to say what it is since it might change. Thanks for asking!

  29. Pam says:

    Thank you for the fabulous post. As a person who is facing some big things to discern right now, and feeling like it’s not going all that well, this really struck a chord with me. My spiritual director suggested reading up on Ignatian methods of discernment, and I just felt like throwing my hands up when none of it felt like it “applied” to me. But your words help a lot in not being afraid to follow a path if I’m not sure, so thank you so much!

  30. karyn says:

    Saint Francis is my patron saint and I got to choose him as an adult, since I’m a convert, so I have a special affinity for him, of course. I know people argue that he got the message wrong but I disagree. Maybe he had to go through the process of repairing a physical church in preparation for repairing the Church. The work must have been tedious and boring – he would have had much time to learn obedience, humility, patience, and how to “do small things with great love”. All of these qualities would lead him to sainthood and would help him in his ministry. And maybe that’s something to consider for ourselves; as long as we’re trying to follow God, it doesn’t really matter what we’re doing, God will work with us.

  31. DorkusAmongus says:

    I’ve never replied to your blog, but thought I’d weigh in. I’ve enjoyed several of your posts, this one among them.

    I am horrible at discerning God’ will, I’m sure for a variety of reasons. However, I have learned that one can never go wrong, while actively waiting for clarity, to let love rule.

    Vague, I guess. I suppose I mean that since “the greatest of these is Love”, we can’t go wrong by keeping ourselves at the ready with kind words, works, and the like.

    I used to get so wrapped up in waiting for clarity that I got snappy in the meantime. Not good, dorkus, not good.

  32. Ann says:

    …the secret to discernment is humility….

    that’s what I’m talking about – great stuff!

    Also – maybe in the future would you be willing to write about motherhood & ego? I have heard more times in the past 6 months mothers talk about a future thanksgiving holiday in 20 or 30 years that they are living for, for those who consider themselves “matriarchs”, as many do, that would be the apex of human existance. thanks for considering it.

  33. Ginnh says:

    I share your fascination with discernment. I’m currently reading “Walking With God,” by John Eldredge. The book is his journaling of a year’s experience of seeking to hear God and follow him. It’s encouraging me as I seek to maintain a dynamic, intimate relationship with God, and confirming what I already know to be true, but often forget. Highly recommend it!

  34. April says:

    “…it’s better to get a message wrong and proceed in humility than to get it right and proceed as if it’s all up to you.”

    You have no idea how much those words spoke to me just now. I have been a (protestant) Christian all my life, and suddenly in the last few months, I have been overwhelmed with doubt. And I feel like I can’t do anything, spritually speaking, until I get it all figured out. I can’t open my heart to God because some days I don’t know if He’s even real. I can’t obey His commands, because I’m too confused by all the different interpretations of what they mean. So here I sit, analyzing, reading, researching, *not* sleeping, *not* praying, *not* seeking with my heart. And after reading this, I think that perhaps it’s okay to take a step in faith, even if I don’t feel like I have any. Maybe it isn’t up to me to have it all figured out. Reading this certainly didn’t cure my doubt overnight, but it opened my heart a little, so thank you.

  35. totustuusmaria1208 says:

    Oh man,did I need to hear this. Everyday of my life I think! I tend to over-analyze even the smallest things. Thank you for the beautiful and insightful post!

    Are you familiar with the prayer of Thomas Merton? http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/12009.htm Someone gave it to me when I was freaking out about my major, and it helps me put things in perspective.

    Good luck with your book! I’m sure whatever direction you choose, God will do amazing things through it!

    God Bless,
    Jenny

  36. Kat says:

    Beautiful post with very useful wisdom. Your reflection reminded me of one of my favorite prayers from Thomas Merton — you may be familiar with it, but either way I love sharing it with others, since it rings so true!

    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.
    Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
    I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

    - Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”

  37. Ana says:

    I was fortunate enough to visit the church of San Damiano, where I learned the prayer of St Francis before the crucifix. Countless times since it has eased the over analytical brain and anxious soul

    Most high glorious God
    Enlighten the darkness of my heart
    Grant me right faith,
    firm hope,
    and perfect humility
    With wisdom and perception,
    that I may do what is truly your Holy Will

    Thankyou for your beautiful, thoughtful blog

    Ana

  38. Shannon says:

    Here’s a picture of San Damiano, outside the city of Assisi.

    http://www.bellaumbria.net/Assisi/san-damiano_eng.htm

    One of the posters above referenced a “church within a church” and that would be La Porziuncula, the place where Francis died. It is a tiny (6 person) chapel that is now inside Santa Maria Maggiore in the modern town of Assisi.

    You can see it here: http://www.franciscans.org/porziuncola.cfm

  39. Minkykat says:

    Thanks.
    I needed that!

  40. Hi there Jennifer,
    I loved the contrast between the action of St. Francis and your conversation with God. It hit too close to home… so much so I linked from my blog posting today back to your posting. It’s me to a ‘t’… the wanting to ‘see’ the big picture, to choose the ‘right’ answer. I so love that everything about God is so refreshingly not like me. Thank you for continuing to lead us to the truth.
    Love,
    Lesley-Anne
    Lesley-Anne Evans recently posted..Thursday- all day

  41. Rebecca says:

    Thank-you for this post. I recently asked a question regarding this very topic and was given almost this exact answer – thank-you for giving more detail on it. It does make it so much easier/simpler this way.

  42. Kathy says:

    In the last 8 years after my Dh lost a job, we moved intra-state twice, choose home schooling, then public, then Catholic schools, and other huge decisions, I have begun operating under similar wisdom to what you have posted. God is good. He is not tricky. I can trust that when I sincerely pray (beg) for direction and the path is still unclear I can be confident that my decision is “correct”. If I am sincere about seeking God’s will it’s all good. It’s easy to get caught in “analysis paralysis” and isn’t that a place of weakness & ineffectiveness?

  43. Lisa says:

    Excellent post, as usual. Thank you

  44. Diane says:

    Amen. Thank you for your posts. I often question what God wants from me, and try to take control. He always wins over me in the end. Good lesson in humility.

  45. Lauren P says:

    I love this post. I have not read the comments, so others may have touched on this – however – I think the key here is that the obedience (and/or humility, as you so accurately phrased it) *opens* the person to receive further inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Just like JPII reminded us in his Theology of the Body, all our actions have a language of response to God. Responding to God with *sincerety* and *seeking* to do His will, coupled with a God who does not abandon or disappoint, means that He will continue to communicate with us, and in time, reveal FULLY His purposes. It is a process of patience and trust as well as obedience and listening. As a favorite theology professor often reminded us, the Trinity reveals that Love is a dialogue. This also why the teeniest prayers prayed with a sincere (or, like the Psalmist says, contrite) heart, even if “mistated” or understood with a limited view, can be the beginning of a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit. Our God is awesome and He can be found in the littlest places.

    Thanks for the great thoughts!

  46. nuntym says:

    +JMJ+

    Jen! Such a wonderful post! Thank you.

    If I may suggest a very wonderful book that answered all of my questions regarding discernment. It is titled “The Gift of Oneself,” authored by Fr. Joseph Schryvers. It contains such gems as:

    “They are ready to do the Will of God when they see it; but how are they to recognize it? And their mind, with a kind of fever, seizes upon this object of the present moment, examines it, turns it about again and again, scrutinizes it, weighs it, analyzes it, to make very sure that it contains te Divine Will…Poor scrupulous soul, learn to serve God in peace and tranquility! The obligation of the present moment ceases to be a duty for thee when thou dost not recognize it. If thy mind does not perceive it, for thee it is no longer the Will of God…Peace of heart is so great a treasure that God will change His order rather than cause a soul to lose tranquility.”

    Another:

    “To sanctify an entire life—this means to consecrate the actual present moment to God. The past is no more; the future has not yet come; only the present is real, and brings with it a duty. Ah, how unreasonable it is to weigh down one’s spirit by the consideration of thousands of actions to be performed for God, of sacrifices to be incessantly renewed, of numberless difficulties to be surmounted!”

    I cannot recommend the book highly enough! Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/Gift-Oneself-Surrendering-God-Life/dp/0895558335/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1289025693&sr=8-1

    God bless!

  47. I can relate. I actually ask God to help me discern what to wear in the morning and what to cook for dinner! ;-) I figure if He’s counted the hairs on my head and knows when a bird falls to the ground that He does care… And in the end I always wind up concluding that it doesn’t matter what I choose to wear or to cook, just that I care enough to consult Him and acknowledge that He is Lord of my life. I too, Jennifer, am working on resting in the uncertainty that being a disciple brings. I pray wisdom for you on your journey and, God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll see you when you get there!

    Your post reminded me of Thomas Merton’s prayer:
    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 I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
    But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you.
    And I hope that 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.
    Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
    I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

    Peace, sister!
    Allison Welch recently posted..The Power of Prayer

  48. Dawn says:

    I really don’t need to know the “big picture.” But it would be nice if God would just make direction A a clearer choice over direction B. I don’t know to know the next 10 years of my life, but it would be nice if I felt I could trust that I’m stepping in the first direction at all…It has nothing to do with wanting “control.” I am willing to surrender every ounce of control for clarity. I don’t in any way enjoy the hazy, nebulous “I THINK this is what God wants….” that comes from the discernment process.

    A friend says that even when things go disastrously wrong, we may be exactly where God intends us to be. That is a rather tough pill to swallow–that we can do everything right, be prayerful and humble and STILL have everything go wrong and terribly. My Protestant-about-to-be-Catholic friend says this is “Prosperity Gospel,” where we think we can avoid suffering through obedience. Instead, the only thing promised to us is that being obedient BRINGS suffering.

  49. Kathy says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    I’d just like to say that this was a much needed post for me today. Not that I need to discern on something right now but I think I have been running into some discernment issues as of late. Well, I thought I was discerning things pretty well until I’ve been experiencing great difficulty finding my anchor back in God especially after numerous circumstances that have become a little bit unrestful.

    Your post encourages me to keep on walking and not doubting the goodness of God in my situation and to keep believing in His plans for me.

    Thank you.

    Blessings,
    Kathy
    Kathy recently posted..Pondering with Sylvia Plath

  50. Katie says:

    Beautiful. Simply Beautiful. And I thought I was the only one who ever thought about the difference betweent the Church and the Church!!! :)