How do we discern God’s will for us?

“God calls. We respond.” With the opening words of “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reminds us that God’s call has been happening much longer than the Catholic Church has been in existence.

Kristi Bivens

Look at Sacred Scripture. God called Abraham. God called Jeremiah. God called Samuel. God called Mary. Jesus called his apostles and disciples. God calls us, too. Just like all the figures from salvation history, we need to hear the call and respond to what God is asking us to do.

According to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (“Lumen Gentium”) from the Second Vatican Council, all the baptized have the same common call: “that all Christians in whatever state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity, and this holiness is conducive to a more human way of living in society here on earth.”

God calls us all to live a holy life, to do the will of God in everything so that we may devote ourselves to the glory of God and to the service of our neighbors (“Lumen Gentium”). The way that we live out our call to holiness and service differs from person to person, as does how we respond to that call.

We often hear priests or those living a consecrated life asked questions about the call to their vocation. “How did you know that God was calling you?” seems to be one of the most common questions. The answers are as varied as the people giving them. But one thing is perfectly clear, it is often not a one-time call and a quick response. It takes time to figure out what is God’s will for them. We call that discernment.

So how do we do that? How do we figure out what God’s will is for each of us? If you Google the word “discernment,” you will receive many varied definitions and processes, both spiritual and secular. For discerning God’s will in my own life, there are four things I do that are helpful. All of these must be done with patience. While we live in a time of instant answers, God does not work that way.

  • Ground yourself in prayer.
    Ask God what his will is for you through your favorite form of prayer. Pray for the strength to do God’s will.
  • Spend time reflecting on your gifts and talents.
    In what way will they best serve God?
  • Talk to someone.
    Find a trusted family member, friend, priest or spiritual director who may be able to see things in a different light. Remember it took Eli’s help for Samuel to figure out the Lord was the one calling him.
  • Take time for silence.
    It is important to turn off all the distractions and listen for God’s guidance. Just be with God.

Once you have discerned God’s will for you, whether it has to do with a vocation, or a new job or how to make sure you are doing God’s will in your life, discernment begins again. Discernment is a lifelong practice, not a one-time event. Develop a habit of discernment, so that in all you do you are devoted to God and serving your neighbor.

Kristi Bivens is the associate director of lay leadership formation for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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