Discernment- How Will I Know When I've Made the Right Choice?
Have you ever felt confused about knowing your vocation, when a pros and cons list just doesn’t cut it? Does it seem that God sometimes becomes silent right when we need him to tell us his will? Do you worry that you’ll make the wrong choice or that you can't know God's will? If you’ve ever experienced confusion like this, I’m looking forward to sharing what comes next. I have such a special place in my heart for those who are discerning big decisions, and I sincerely hope this helps you…
Not long ago I received a question in my inbox from a young lady who was unsure of her next steps. This generous individual had given years of her life to God discerning her vocation and then entering a convent, but then felt called away a year after entering. She was hanging in limbo, unsure of what direction to take.
“How do I know if I’m called to a different order, or to married life, or single life? When do I know if I’m done discerning?”
I completely relate to her struggle. I used to be terrified of becoming part of what one nun jokingly called the “SPD,” the “School of Perpetual Discernment.” As I discerned religious life, I often wondered why God didn’t speak through a burning bush or something and definitively just tell me my vocation. I mean, I know I’m not that smart or that holy- if he gave me little hints I just wouldn’t pick up on them! Nevertheless, I kept reading into things, looking for signs and trying to interpret all the little ambiguities of everyday life. It was a runaround. I was listening so hard but I had no idea what God wanted. Maybe you can relate. Whether discerning a school, a move, a job, or a relationship, we all face epic decisions sooner or later that will change the course of our lives and there is a LOT riding on those decisions.
We are told as Christians that God speaks in silence; however, sometimes in silence he doesn’t even speak! What do we do when we need to pick a direction but are unsure of God’s will?
I’m no discernment expert (is there such a thing?) or relationship counselor, but I am happy to share what I learned during and after my discernment on The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns. While filming, my relationship with Christ blossomed deepened and I thought he was calling me to the convent. After I announced my decision to my family on national TV, I returned home to Long Island to await the airing of the show (we were asked not to enter the convent until after the final episode aired.) Confusion soon set in. I felt a squiggly unrest when I thought about joining the convent. I was frustrated, because after finally arriving at the understanding that God is the only one who can fulfill me, I was no longer sure he wanted me to be his bride. Instead, I began to dream about being married and having children. When I visited the chapel to pray I found myself crying for the spouse and children I would never have. What to do?
I don’t know if this is the best way, or even always a correct way, but after a few months of this torturous indecision I finally told God, “I’m giving you one month. I’ll go to daily mass and stay as close to you as I can, but if at the end of the month you haven’t changed my heart, I’ll be open to dating again.” By the end of the month, I wanted more than ever to be married and have a family. A few months later I met John, and five months after that we were engaged. Boom! How did I know so quickly, after so much indecision? Read on.
First, take great solace in this canticle from the liturgy of the hours, that God is beside us even when we don’t hear him speak: "In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace." Aaaahhhh. Reading those words is like a salted caramel latte for my soul.
Next, try to stay close to God while also picking a course of action and just moving your feet forward, even when the right path isn’t clear. God knows that you operate in finite space and time. He isn’t trying to trick you! If you make a choice and it’s the wrong one, then it was a detour you were meant to take in order to learn something valuable. He’ll get us where we’re supposed to go.
As long as we do our best to stay close to him, God won’t let us blindly choose something epically wrong without redirecting us.
God respects our free will. I believe that God wants us to choose because we are not his slaves. He can call out to us in numerous ways, too. Even though he may not speak to us directly in prayer, he has given us tools like intuition, good sense, and a conscience to help us know the right choice.
John and I both discerned religious life and throughout our individual discernment we never felt peace at the convents/monasteries we visited like the peace we knew in our relationship. John says he knew he wanted to marry me after our first date. It took me a little longer but I came around after a couple of months :) The peace is unquestionable and strong, and it has never wavered (even though we have been through our fair share of struggles with two babies in less than two years.) Ultimately, I knew my vocation was John when I felt a deep, undeniable peace in our relationship.
I believe that our deepest desires and God’s will for us are one and the same, and when they align we have peace. Sometimes if we are confused it’s because we don’t know ourselves well enough yet.
So, here are some actionable takeaways to help aid you when confusion sets in:
Pray, pray, pray and listen regardless of whether or not you hear God speak. Make time for silence. He is still working in your heart to align your desires with his. It never, ever happens on our timeline- always on his!
Know that the “aha!” moment may come outside of prayer, when something just clicks.
Tune in to your common sense and intuition. Those are tools from God too! Visualizing what your life will be like if you choose A or B, and paying attention to your gut feeling as you visualize living those choices, can be incredibly revealing.
Ask yourself, “do I feel pressure to say yes to someone?” God’s purpose is higher than any human purpose, and he doesn’t want you to choose something or someone out of pressure to please someone. It needs to be the right thing for you.
Look for ways to take steps toward one or both decisions without having to commit fully until you are more certain. Visiting convents or monasteries is a great way to observe religious life. Dating is also a discernment process. Perhaps you could ask to shadow at a job or school you are discerning.
If you have to make a decision now, take action and trust God will pull you back if it isn’t his will. He is on your side! You got this. Sometimes committing to a choice can immediately reveal to us whether or not it was the right one.
If you are hard on yourself for not knowing what to choose, relax. Be kind to yourself. If you have taken the time to read up to this point, you clearly care about God’s will for your life and want to do the right thing. As long as you are trying to listen to him, God can and will work despite any imperfections you have.
If someone you know is struggling to make a decision and you found this valuable, please pass it along. Now I want to hear from you! Let me know the answer to following question in the comments below:
What is one thing you read here that you can put into action to aid you in a big decision?