A Discernment Prayer
by Thomas Merton
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 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, I will trust you always though
I may seem to be lost 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.
What is Discernment?
Discernment is a process by which we are helped to reach a decision in the light of faith and in the realities of our life and in the context of the world in which we live and serve. Discernment involves trying to understand and clarify what is God’s will for us.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit religious order, whose spirituality is shared by many, described discernment as “finding God in all things”. This involves trying to listen to God in every aspect of our lives. When we live a discerning life we seek what is God’s will in small and larger matters and decisions. We want to know what will draw us into closer union with God, our true selves and others in all of creation.
We are often prompted to discernment by circumstances in our lives when we sense:
- an inner disquiet or restlessness;
- frustration with the present situation;
- a lack of personal integrity;
- a feeling that I am not living my life fully;
- disillusionment with things as they are in society;
- being entrapped in a conflicting situation;
- other’s decisions are impacting my life or choices;
- increased desire for “the more” in life;
- a deep longing for God;
- an “as yet” unidentified call from God
- a desire to live more fully into a call.
Some Helpful Hints for Discernment
- Discernment isn’t easy and it takes time – real life is complex so be patient with yourself and with God;
- You may find it helpful to keep a journal so that you can record your thoughts, feelings and reflections;
- Come to your process of discernment with an open heart – be prepared to be surprised by God!;
- Remember that choosing one way means letting go of another no matter how good it is;
- It’s always hard to choose between two goods.
Some Steps in the Discernment Process
- Place yourself quietly in the presence of our Loving God who wants only your wellbeing and happiness. Make some silent time and a special space for prayer. Listen to your heart and to God in the movements of the Holy Spirit in you. Reflect on your vocation. You may find it helpful to pray in your own room, in church in front of the Blessed Sacrament or in the quietness of nature. Ask God to speak to your heart and for the grace to listen and to be open.
- Find a spiritual director or wise and trusted soul-friend – someone with whom you can be really open and honest, a person who can help you deepen your relationship with God and know yourself better.
- Pray with Scripture – let the Word of God speak to your heart – how are you especially called to “follow Jesus”?
- Pray for the freedom to understand and choose what is in harmony with God’s will for you.
- You may find it helpful to write down what you think the possible alternatives are for you and then consider the advantages and disadvantages of each one for you and for others. What sorts of vocation are open to you in the Church? Reflect on your reasons for choosing a particular way. Which reasons best lead you to love of God and care for others? In relation to each alternative ask yourself how you best need to be loved and how you can best love in response.
- Realistically consider your gifts and limitations, your deep desires and needs and how they my fit well with possible life choices.
- Listen for and to words of confirmation or affirmation from others involved in your process.
- Where are you feeling peace? What most draws you close to God?
- Gently, and with patience, come to a decision and in prayer and action search out further confirmation of your decision. Offer the fullness of your choice and life joyfully to God.