Five Keys to Peaceful Discernment

Life is complicated, and the course we should follow is rarely presented to us clearly.

It can be difficult to discern just how much we need to stand aside and let God act, and how much we ourselves should be making things happen. We have to balance between two extremes: on one hand, doing absolutely nothing and expecting God to put everything in our lap,  and, on the other hand, running ourselves ragged trying to do everything ourselves.

When discerning major changes in our lives, we need to have complete trust in God. Sometimes, trust in God will require action, other times it will require peacefully waiting on Him. In this post, I would like to propose five criteria for discerning whether to take a proposed course of action or not. (These criteria are based on the Five Steps to Peace series that I wrote in the spring.)

  1. Make sure the action is motivated by trust in God’s Providence:

The first and most important thing to check is to make sure that your desired  action is not motivated by excessive trust in yourself. Ask yourself the following questions:

Will I be sincerely seeking God’s Will with this course of action? Or am I simply trying to force things to happen? Is this action motivated by trust in God, or by trust in myself?

Often, when we lack trust in God and try to force things to happen, we end up making a bigger mess. An example of this in Scripture is when Abraham was asked by God to trust that he and Sarah would have a child, despite their advanced age. However, they both lacked trust and, instead of waiting on God, they tried to force things to happen by Abraham having a child with Sarah’s concubine. They ended up going outside of God’s Will and causing more problems for themselves and for others.

2. Make sure that your proposed course of action has Heaven as its final goal.

The world that we live in constantly bombards us with the message that all that we have to live for is here on Earth. The movies we watch and the music we listen to tell us that we should be focusing on building up our worldly treasures because that is all there is.

For this reason, we need to constantly be purifying our intention and asking ourselves:

Is the proposed action motivated by my desire for Heaven? Or is it an attempt to make my life on Earth unrealistically perfect? Will this action help bring me and others closer to Heaven?

3. Make sure that this action will help you make the best of your circumstances.

Many things in life are simply beyond our control. The trick to finding peace is accepting the things that we can’t change. One of the circumstance that we cannot change is our God-given vocation in life, so it is important to make sure that new courses of action allowed into our lives correspond to our respective vocations.

For example, a mother of young children may have a desire to be an famous actress. In discerning whether or not to pursue that dream, she will have to make sure that the actions she takes are compatible with her vocation as a mother. If it is probable that it will take her away from her children for unreasonable amounts of time, it may not be something that God is calling her to do. He never calls us to live mutually incompatible double  lives.

So the questions we need to ask ourselves are the following:

Will this action help me live my God-given vocation in life? Or am I trying to create with this action a lifestyle that is unrealistic given the circumstances and vocation in which God has put me?

4. Make sure that the action will help you live each moment to the full.

We live in a world that presents us with infinite possibilities. Thanks technology, it seems like everything is literally at our fingertips. Want to learn a language? Get this app. Want to write a book? Get that app. Want build your body to have model-perfect proportions? Get that other app.

 Although technology certainly facilitates self-improvement and the accomplishment of personal goals, we can be fooled into thinking that we can do it all. We end up dissipating our time and energy trying to achieve more than we actually can. Although we should never settle for mediocrity, at the same time, we have to be careful not to overextend ourselves. We have to make sure that we are living our lives to the full, rather than wasting them trying to live up to unrealistic self-imposed expectations.

So, before taking on any significant new commitment in our lives, we should ask:

Will this action add value to my life? Will it help me be present in each moment and live it fully? Or will it needlessly dissipate my energy and distract my attention from what is really important?

5. Make sure that you are not grasping and clinging to the results of the action.

All too often, we cling and grasp to the way we expect things to turn out. We forget that God is in control. Before following any new course of action in our lives, we have to make sure that we are detached from the outcome and ready to change our plans. This gives God the freedom He needs to direct our lives according to His Will. So we should ask ourselves:

Am I excessively attached to this plan of action? Am I ready to peacefully let go if God wills it?

When it comes to making major changes to our lives, we should take our time to discern them well and never rush into them. According to the magnitude of the decision, the questions listed should be calmly pondered over the course of days, weeks, or even months. We should seek advice from close friends and from prudent and holy people. Above all, we should peacefully open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and trust that He will show us the way in which to go.

It’s not a matter of if He will show you the way to go, but when.

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