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Takeaway Wednesday: 8 Characteristics of Discernment


It’s National Volunteer Month with Franciscan Mission Service! Get excited, be inspired, and serve others during April.

In today’s post, Program Coordinator Natalie Helfrick writes about the importance of prayerful discernment when considering both service opportunities and life-paths. In the joyful Franciscan spirit, Natalie advises us that the most important aspect of discernment is inviting God into our lives.

Discernment isn’t like a game of hide-and-seek where God is the hider and we are the seekers. It’s not a test to see if we can find His hidden will and “figure it out”, “make sure our intentions are 100% pure” (they probably won’t ever be!) and “pick right”.

Rather, it’s a process of uncovering the Goodness and Will of God as He uniquely knit them into our deepest desires and inner-most selves.

I recommend checking out this article called Praydreaming: Key to Discernment by Fr. Mark Thibodeaux (S.J.). In it, Fr. Thibodeaux highlights an exercise called “prayerdreaming” that he introduces in his book on discernment called God’s Voice Within.

He shares:

“How, then, do I tap into these great desires? I daydream, that’s how! I fantasize about great and beautiful futures. I let God dream in me and I sit in silent awe and wonder as these holy dreams come to life before the eyes and ears of my soul.”

God doesn’t want us to be fearful and worried in the dark. Rather, the waiting, unknowing period can be clarifying of the goods we’re choosing between, purifying of our intentions, and increasing of our trust as we invite God to direct our sails.

I once heard the anecdote: “A man came to a fork in the road and said, “Which way, God?” 

God replied, “I am with you.”

“…what matters is that we’re inviting God into our plans and decisions….”

Franciscan Mission Service offers a resource of materials for discernment on our website.

Here are some essential characteristics for discernment:
  1. Openness: Abandon any preconceived outcomes you may have and enter into discernment with an openness to accept any possible result.
  2. Humility: Recognize your imperfection and be willing to learn and be guided by God and others.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Patience: Understanding God’s will is an ongoing process. If you experience no feelings of consolation or peace while discerning, you must wait.
  8. 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.

So, what matters is that we’re inviting God into our plans and decisions, asking to be led and accompanied. Thus, while we’ll rarely have crystal clear certainty before we choose, we’re called to trust that God knows our hearts and will bless us and make good of our sincere efforts to do God’s will, even if we “miss the mark.”

Natalie Helfrick is Program Coordinator for Franciscan Mission Service. A native of California and graduate of the University of Notre Dame’s Echo program with a masters degree in theology, Natalie comes to Washington D.C. having spent a year-and-a-half in Bangkok, Thailand through Heart’s Home, offering the “charism of compassion” as a sign of hope to those experiencing despair and desolation.

We prepare and support lay Catholics for two-year international, one-year domestic and 1-2 week short-term mission service opportunities in solidarity with impoverished and marginalized communities across the globe.

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