Many a question starts with the words how do you know. How do you know when a cake is done? How do you know what oil to put in your car? How do you know the right thing to do? For the cake question I say use the old toothpick test. For the oil question I say check the owner’s manual. And, for the right thing to do question, I say try discernment.
Discernment is a time-honored practice of prayer and reflection that seeks to understand what God wills in particular circumstances. It is not for small questions about cakes and car oil. Rather, it is a prayerful search for answers for those big questions of life. You can find many different methods and theories about the way to do good discernment, but there are two starting points that always ring true. Number one: God is present and active in every moment of life. Number two: Discernment is part of everyone’s journey.
Four Steps to Discernment:
Step 1: Be in touch with yourself
Know your likes and dislikes, your fears and dreams, your hopes and interests, your abilities and limitations. Ask questions about what excites and inspires you.
Step 2: Be in touch with the Lord
Be faithful to prayer and the reading of Scripture. Look for the ways God is communicating with you. Ask God to pour the Holy Spirit upon you and animate the thoughts and passions of your heart.
Step 3: Make a decision
Prayerfully gather the facts about your decision. Consider alternatives. Make a list of pros and cons. Try to imagine what it would be like to live with passion. Pay attention to your feelings as you consider the choices. Talk with a trusted spiritual friend. Set a target date to make a decision.
Step 4: Check your decision
After you have made your decision let things settle and spend time in prayer. Does the decision feel right? There should be a sustained sense of inner peace and satisfaction. (This doesn’t mean you won’t have moments of worry and second guessing.) If your decision continues to feel right and is bearing peaceful fruit, praise God! If things don’t seem to fit that is not a sign of failure, it is part of the process. Revisit your decision. Go through the discernment process again.
So, the next time your how do you know question calls for more than a toothpick or an owner’s manual…try discernment.