Ask Mary: Discernment (And other stuff…)

Happy Fat Tuesday!

Couple things:

First, if you haven’t read the “Diving Into Lent” post from Thursday, go ahead and check that out now.  (And remember: contrary to popular belief, binging today will not make the sacrifices you begin tomorrow any easier.  In fact, the reverse is probably true.  Just something to keep in mind :) )

Also, big thanks to Tara over at Impacting Culture for awarding Young And Catholic with the Versatile Blogger award!  To pay it forward, I’m supposed to come up with 15 links to other blogs I’d like to nominate—but I don’t have a list that long quite yet.  So just check out Impacting Culture for now!

Finally, a great question from a reader on discernment.  (And I’m linking to an even better answer from Peter Kreeft)

Question:

Hi Mary!
Lately, I have been struggling to understand what God expects of me. I have been praying a lot,and I know I need to be patient. However, the matter of discerning really confuses me. I am somewhat of an analytical person, so I tend to question every decision and thought.  This may not make sense, but I honestly struggle daily with separating what God is telling me from other thoughts. I feel hopeless and as if I will never understand exactly what he wants from me. Being in this struggle makes me feel as if I am disappointing God. I really just want to be at peace and know that I am serving him the way He has planned. I know that discernment is a personal relationship with myself and God, and that there is no magic formula, but I guess I am just asking for some advice.

Answer:

As a fellow analytical person, this question makes total sense to me.  I know God should be in control of everything (and I want Him to be!)—but at what point can my free will step in and make the decision already?  By far the best answer I have heard on this struggle you describe comes from Peter Kreeft:

Does God have one right choice for me in each decision I make?

When we pray for wisdom to discern God’s will when it comes to choosing a mate, a career, a job change, a move, a home, a school, a friend, a vacation, how to spend money, or any other choice, big or little, whenever there are two or more different paths opening up before us and we have to choose, does God always will one of those paths for us? If so, how do we discern it?

Many Christians who struggle with this question today are unaware that Christians of the past can help them from their own experience. Christian wisdom embodied in the lives and teachings of the saints tells us two things that are relevant to this question.

First, they tell us that God not only knows and loves us in general but that he cares about every detail of our lives, and we are to seek to walk in his will in all things, big and little. Second, they tell us that he has given us free will and reason because he wants us to use it to make decisions. This tradition is exemplified in Saint Augustine’s famous motto “Love God and [then] do what you will.” In other words, if you truly love God and his will, then doing what you will, will, in fact, be doing what God wills.

Do these two pieces of advice pull us in opposite directions, or do they only seem to? Since there is obviously a great truth embodied in both of them, which do we emphasize the most to resolve our question of whether God has one right way for us?

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