So, here I want to share what I think discernment really is about. And ultimately what I think it comes down to is relationships. The two most important commandments are to love God with all your heart, mind and soul; and to love others as you love yourself. The Christian faith is about relationship: with God, with self and with others. Being in touch with those relationships is how we discern.
Relationship with self
We've all heard a thousand times over that each of us is uniquely gifted and that we're called to share those gifts. We are. But knowledge of self has to be more than knowing what I'm good at. I'm good at spinning a basketball on my finger, but spinning basketballs is not my vocation.
So what's the deeper level? I think that at the depths of who we are God has implanted passions and desires. Those are dangerous words because our society uses them loosely and often. I'm not talking about things you like. I like chocolate (a lot!), but I don't think God would call me to eat chocolate every day for the rest of my life (I am open to God correcting me though!).
I think the key to understanding our gifts and our passions is how we relate them back to God and others: i.e. what are the gifts God has given me that I'm most passionate about sharing for God/with others? The act of knowing oneself is not about navel gazing or looking in on oneself. I think it's more about looking at your reflection in a mirror: the mirror doesn't just reflect back your image, but everything and everyone surrounding you. This is how we are meant to understand our inner self - in relation to God and to our community.
Relationship with others
This naturally leads to reflecting on the needs of our community. It's obvious that both our Church are our wider global community are in need of young, passionate, engaged leaders. At a local level we might be able to identify some immediate needs. Responding to the needs of our community is part and parcel of being a Christian.
Relating to others implies three things: dialogue, listening and responding. As a young person it can often be bewildering to find a practical way to engage in the world; so my advice is to ask. Ask for a job, ask if you can help, actually physically ask people in your community if there is something you can do. People often have needs, but they often wait for someone to offer help before asking for it.
It's also important to stop and listen. Vocation isn't discerned in a vacuum, and often those people that we trust the most will point out things about us we haven't already realised ourselves. Family, friends, teachers, mentors, co-workers: these are people who can offer an objective viewpoint and exterior wisdom to the discernment journey.
And I think in a world that is so fast paced and ever-changing, people long for commitment. The way that we relate to other, the way that we act in our community needs to be marked with commitment. If not then the people we serve simply become a feel-good task we can tick off our list of accomplishments. I think we are called to authentically engage in our Church and in our world.
Relationship with God
The Bible is full of images of God's voice leading, prompting and calling people...Why is it not the same for us? I think the "fast food" mentality is rampant throughout our society: glaring signs, multitudes of options and immediate provision. This mentality tempts us to settle for less, while our too-hard basket fills up. How easy is it to do the same with God?
The reality is that sometimes God's call is obvious...but a lot of the time it's not. Yet if we are to discover and live a calling prayer is vital. It's impossible to hear God's call without consulting God about that call. Asking God the question "where are you calling me?" is a very dangerous thing; dangerous because God will answer that question.
The answer might take the form of "signs" in our lives. I don't mean Moses-like signs of parting seas, but God's presence in the very realities of our life: through the words of those around us, through a change of circumstances, through a passion or deeply rooted sense of peace - God's call comes in many ways but is always present in our lives.
Why does this all matter? Isn't discernment only for those who are thinking about priesthood or religious life, or who take relationships too seriously? I think we need to stop talking about discernment as some sort of analytic process; discernment isn't just a process, it's life. Discerning is living: as we go through life and all it's different circumstances, as we live with others and as we seek God in the midst of all of that; we necessarily have to make decisions. The level to which we discern those decisions is the reflection of how authentically we are living out God's call. What is all comes back to is that God has a far bigger and far better plan for our world than what we're currently living in. We need to stop selling ourselves and our world short.