What is discernment?
• observation,
• making distinctions,
• learning to see more clearly,
• the art of paying close attention,
• understanding,
• wisdom,
• sometimes just plain common sense,
• insight and awareness,
• a Spirit-filled way of thinking and acting that forms the fabric of an individual’s life.


When discernment becomes a way of life for you, when you are willing to always tread the path between two essential questions: “What is right for me?” and “Where am I willing to be led?” your life stops being about black and white decision-making and starts being about really truly listening for that still small voice (of God, of Spirit, of the Truth – whatever your language is). And then the yes or no decisions stop mattering as much as the journey of discernment – the little signposts in your life that show you the next step. And in the map of your life, signposts come together to point you in a particular direction.

Presuppositions for Discernment

As we begin any discernment process, it is crucial that we come before God as people of prayer.
We know that God’s desire for us is that we be healthy, happy, holy people. The deepest desires of our hearts let us know what is most meaningful for us in life.
You may be wondering what personal qualities you need to bring to such discernment. The most important qualities are the ability to be honest with yourself, openness, and a lot of inner freedom.
It is important to realize that we need others to help us in this process because they may hear what we can’t and see what we have missed.


Thomas Merton, a 20th century Trappist monk and writer, wrote this prayer for discernment. You may find it meaningful in your discernment process.

O Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think
I am following Your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe
that the desire to please You
does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
for You are ever with me.
And you will never leave me
to make my journey alone.
Source: Thomas Merton, Pax Christi, Benet Press, Erie, PA.

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