As you enter into a conversation with God about your life’s direction, here are some things to keep in mind:
Know what you are asking for
Sometimes our requests to God are quite open ended. When it comes to making a significant decision, ask God for what you truly desire, and be specific. Try to focus on one key statement regarding your decision. For example, “I’m looking for a place to volunteer.” or “I want to go back to school for my teaching certificate.” or “I’m curious about religious life and wonder if it’s for me.”
Let go of the outcome
If we go into prayer with a preconceived idea of what we think the answer should be, we’re not in a position to receive the gift God wants to give us. God has our best interests in mind, and that requires a lot of trust. We must let go of everything in order to become free!
Freedom in the spiritual sense does not come naturally to most of us. We often equate the word “freedom” with independence. We think about doing whatever we choose, speaking our mind, not needing to be accountable to anyone else. Spiritual freedom, however, means acting in such a way that everything depends on God. Each one of us has the ability to choose and make our own decisions. God gives us the free will to do this. Spiritual freedom means that I am freely responding to God’s offer of love, and not merely making decisions based on what I want.
Consider all possible alternatives
As you begin to weigh a decision, give yourself permission to put everything on the table. Allow yourself to imagine all sorts of ideas where nothing is impossible or out of the question. Pay attention to your fears and objections, and listen for the things that excite you. Maybe God will reveal something you had not previously considered. And if your gut reaction was correct, it gives God the benefit of offering it to you as a gift, and receiving it with gratitude.
By now you might be asking, “What does all of this internal list-making have to do with prayer?” Remember, prayer is a conversation where you’re honestly speaking to God and listening for God’s response. Prayer is about paying attention for God’s presence. Some people call this “listening with the ear of the heart.”
How does God speak to us and what are we listening for?
Moments that bring us great joy and experiences of deep consolation are sure signs of God’s presence. Consider as well, moments of sorrow and struggle and how God is speaking to you then. When discerning a particular decision, listen for a sense of affirmation from God. This might manifest itself as a moment of clarity, a strong attraction in one particular direction, or a sense of deep inner peace. God also speak to us through other people. Listen for those who affirm your response or see something in you that you may not recognize on your own. Furthermore, pay attention to an abundance of reason. For example, fears begin to dissolve, obstacles are overcome, and details begin falling into place.
Make a List of Pros and Cons
Go through each of your options and reflect on the pros and cons of each. What are all the good things that could come of this? What are all the challenges it presents? Remember, this is not about tipping the scale in one direction or the other. Ask yourself: Do I feel a sense of peace in one direction or another? Do I feel optimistic about overcoming obstacles? Am I left with a sense of clarity or confusion? Are there any new insights that I gain?
Imagine the Decision
After you’ve had a chance to narrow down your options, imagine yourself having already made the decision. Spend time living as if you’re ready to take the next step. How does it feel? Are you excited, nervous, doubtful? After giving yourself some time, find another day to imagine making a different decision. How does it feel now?
Talk with a Catholic spiritual director or a trusted friend
Pay attention to your feelings as you share the decision making process. Are you energized by one option over another? Do you find yourself withholding details? Are you afraid of how they might respond? Ask them to help you identify any blind spots. Sometimes we fail to comprehend all of the potential risks. Other times we get stuck in fear or doubt and cannot see a way around it.
For some, the best prayers are the ones we know by heart. Our traditional prayers, reading the Bible, going to daily Mass, reciting the Liturgy of the Hours, praying the Rosary, or sitting in God’s presence during Eucharistic Adoration are all great options. Before you begin, take a long pause. Seek God’s guidance in making this particular decision. Then listen for God as you pray. Perhaps there will be a word of scripture that strikes you, an insight during a homily, a new question that arises, or a feeling of peace. All of these are worth paying attention to.
In addition, some good companions for discernment can be found in scripture, like Jeremiah or Moses or Mary.
Take the Next Step
Finally, we only ever know God’s desire for our life once we make a decision and begin to take action. Can we ever be 100% sure? Sometimes we have great clarity. Other times, we’re forced to make a decision without absolute certainty. Either way, when you’re ready, take one step forward, always coming back to listen to God who is constantly guiding you along the way.
We know a decision is right when we experience peace over time. We make our decisions knowing we have gathered information, talked with others, taken time for prayer, and feel a sense of peace and joy. It will feel like you are your “best self” in making this decision.