I’m definitely not a major authority on discernment, but I was told something very important about discernment recently that I never heeded, and you very well may not be heeding, either, so please pay attention and honestly examine your mindset for discernment.
I was discerning for two years, and though it’s still possible I could become a Priest (Anything is still possible. I could become an engineer for NASA for all I know), I have collaborated with trusted sources that have all agreed I am likely called to marriage (But again, no promises. Don’t label my vocation until my vocation is truly revealed). I felt very bad when I realized this, as if I had failed God somehow. I felt as if I did something wrong, and that I was failing the Church, God, and everyone else around me. But this is because, all throughout my two years of discernment, I had the wrong mindset for discernment. I thought the end-goal of discernment was getting ordained or entering religious life. If this is what you think, or if this is not necessarily what you think but it is what you have been following in your discernment, stop. You are not properly discerning. But I think what can help us all is if I explain what discerning is.
Discerning means humbly submitting yourself to God’s will and letting Him lead you to where He wants you to be, whether that is the convent, the friary, the seminary, or to the holy sacrament of matrimony. Don’t assume you will end up a religious, don’t assume you won’t be. The matter of the fact is (That us discerners forget quite a bit), we do not know what we are going to be. Only time can tell. This is such an important thing to remember in discernment that I cannot possibly stress it enough. If you say the words “When I am a Sister/Priest” and you’re fourteen and won’t even have the opportunity to enter a convent or seminary for four years minimum, you are not discerning correctly. You are automatically assuming that which has not been revealed except in your own mind. I say this being a person that said that sentence all the time. If Phatmass documented your most used phrases, I would be willing to bet my number one most used phrase would be “When I am a Priest/Friar.” I assumed I would enter religious life or the seminary, and I crossed everything else out. Those were the end goals come hell or high water, and I even remember having ambitions of going even if I didn’t feel called at the time. It became about my ambitions, not about God’s call for me. I am a perfect example of what not to do while discerning. Not because I have discerned God likely wants me to be married – that cannot be further from the truth! Being able to say that means I’m discerning correctly! I discerned incorrectly when it became about me and what I wanted to do, rather than what God wanted. I discerned incorrectly when I said sentences like “When I am a Priest”. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you can have a pretty good idea that you are called. Part of discerning is getting a pretty good idea of what you are called to do and what you are called not to do, after all. But do not assume, do not speak to people as if you will be entering a convent, and do not discern with the end-goal of being a religious! This is incorrect and only leads to heartache, I assure you. Let me give you an idea of what it looks like when you assume you are going to be a religious or Priest and then the “stuff” hits the fan:
In November I visited the seminary for the first time, ever so hopeful that I would get all sorts of affirmations of my vocation. When I went there, there was nothing not to like: A beautiful campus, an astounding basilica that I could pray at and attend Mass at every single day, wonderful professors, and some of the nicest guys I have ever met. But despite it being so perfect, I didn’t feel like I was meant to be there. I felt like it didn’t matter which seminary it was, I would never be meant to be at it. It ended with me in the basilica praying five feet away from the tabernacle in utter despair and misery at the realization that my two year ambitions of becoming a Priest were my ambitions and not God’s call. I was numb the entire seven hour trip home, and I couldn’t believe it. In fact, six weeks later I would go into denial and get back on track with my ambitions to become a Priest again. I was so bent on becoming a Priest that God literally had to make me feel thoughts of despair and depression every time I thought about being one for me to get it through my thick ambitious head.
You don’t want this to be your experience, I promise you. Be open to God’s call, whatever it may be. Don’t have absolutes, don’t have ambitions. Let your only absolute sentence you ever utter when discerning be this: Not my will, Lord, but yours, be done.