From the turning colors of leaves to the fluctuating temperatures, fall is a season of change. If this season you’re considering making a change in your life – whether it’s switching careers, professing a vocation, going on mission or doing a volunteer year – its important to spend time in discernment.

Discernment allows you to more fully focus on, and recognize, God’s voice in your life. The word “discern” itself means to exercise judgment. It begins with a desire to do God’s will over your own. When thoughts and opportunities arise or remain elusive, discernment is the process of judging whether or not God is the source of the leading.

What characteristics are essential in discernment?

  • Openness: Abandon any preconceived outcomes you may have and enter into discernment with an openness to accept any possible result.
  • Humility: Recognize your imperfection and be willing to learn and be guided by God and others.
  • Selflessness: Put your own desires aside, especially those driven by passions, and open your heart – putting no conditions on what God might call you to be or do.
  • Courage: It takes courage to give up control and put the decision in God’s hands. Be ready to act boldly, if necessary, and be prepared to take risks.
  • Knowledge of Yourself: Seek to grow in knowledge of yourself, becoming aware of your own strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. The evil one will always attack you at your weakest points, so you must know your own weaknesses. By knowing yourself, you will also become more sensitive to the way God communicates with you personally.
  • Honesty: Be honest with yourself and your feelings. You may feel called to do something difficult or uncomfortable. If you discern that call is from God, embrace it in the same way that you would embrace an “easy” or “favorable” calling.
  • Patience: Understanding God’s will is an ongoing process. If you experience no feelings of consolation or peace while discerning, you must wait.
  • Quiet: In order to listen to God, you have to make yourself quiet. This includes quieting the chatter of your mind. Meditation and centering prayer are good methods to “become quiet” before God.

It is important to realize that only you can discern for yourself. You will never learn to discern God’s will if you expect others to tell you the answer. This does not mean that you should not seek help — you should, but the other person should only help you to discern through counsel, guidance, or direction.

As St. Ignatius Loyola reminds us, “One who earnestly strives to do God’s will is consoled by God.”

  • He defines this consolation as: Every increase in faith, hope and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly, and to the salvation of our soul, by filling it with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord.
  • He defines desolation as: What is entirely the opposite of consolation … darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness arising from many disturbances which lead to lack of faith, lack of hope, and lack of love. The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad, and separated, as it were, from its Creator and Lord.

Discerning a mission or volunteer program? Check back next week for specific questions on which you should be reflecting.