Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Art of Discerning - Part II

In my last post I wrote about some of the lies we confront when discerning. In this post I wanted to look at some practicals.

Sometimes I feel a little bit bad when I go into schools and I ask Year 12 students "so, what's the plan for next year?" I mean, I remember when I was in school, I didn't have a clue! The truth is though, those questions are getting incredibly hard to answer. Consider this (from the Herald Sun):

JOBS for life are a thing of the past, with the average Gen Y worker holding four positions before they're 30.
The employment market is changing so dramatically that most of the jobs they’ll hold in their 40s haven’t been created yet.

I'm already up to my fourth position and I just turned 23! Discerning a vocation was never easy,  but the world is changing so much that even just figuring out your next job is becoming increasingly difficult. So, how do you discern in an ever shifting, always moving world?

Tip # 1 - Discernment isn't a solo gig!
Don't go it alone! This seems obvious, and it's pretty standard advice to get a Spiritual Director, Mentor or support person/people. But there's a  further step to take within this tip: too often we internalise the discernment process and we think in terms of "my calling". We need to shift this thinking a little bit because actually, it's God's calling. Put simply, vocation is the way to best live your life to serve God and to love others. Vocations arise out of the needs of the community, God calls people to serve those needs. Discernment shouldn't only be about soul searching or naval gazing! While we do need to understand ourselves to best respond to the call, true discernment looks out to the community and looks up to God to find its inspiration. 

Tip # 2 - The grass will always look greener on the other side if you're not taking care of the grass on your side!
OK, this tip has a long title, but I've seen it in many discerners (and even in myself) when more time is spent looking at other vocations than the one you're meant to be discerning! You can't serve two masters, neither can you discern two vocations at the same time. Discernment is about cutting away, not adding to the discernment load! For me, discerning priesthood meant I had to put all my energies into that discernment process. I had to spend more time praying about priesthood and less time daydreaming about marriage and children. Focusing on the formation process for priesthood helped me see that priesthood wasn't my calling, without having doubts about how engaged I was in that discernment process.

If you're discerning - stay focused!
Tip # 3 - Take the Leap!
That gorgeous girl sitting across the classroom or at the other end of the train carriage will never become your wife if the closest you ever get to asking her out is in your dreams. Likewise, you'll never know if you're meant to be a priest or a religious or single if you don't do something about it. You won't hear God's calling unless you put yourself in a place to hear it.

Tip # 4  - If you ask, then ACTUALLY LISTEN!
Too often when I say my prayers, I don't actually stop to listen and hear what God is saying back to me. It seems obvious, but listening with a discerning ear means seeking God's voice in every situation: how does God speak to you through the people around you and through the events of your life? God's call doesn't always come in signs or like a voice in our head: do you listen to God calling through the person who doesn't have a house to sleep in at night? Or through the single mother working three jobs to make ends meet? Or through the elderly parishioner who needs a lift to get to Mass on Sundays? The call doesn't always come in the way that we expect; and we're certain to miss it if we only listen to the call that we want to hear.

Really, what all these tips come down to is being intentional. We see those words a lot in Christian dating advice, but its a mind frame to adopt for how we approach the whole of life. Be intentional because every word and every action has the potential to change yours or someone else's life. When your intention in life is to love God and serve others, that's when discernment becomes real. 

The world is constantly changing, but one thing that doesn't change is that the world needs love. God is calling YOU to bring that love. Will you respond and how? This is what we discern.

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