Discernment: Is There an App for That?

Brother David Henley, Glenmary vocation director

August 2014

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like the dating apps such as Tinder have been in the news more recently, as a growing number of people try "to connect with new and interesting people" around them. In case you are not familiar with Tinder: Like other apps, it is supposed to simplify people's lives and make their decisions quicker and easier. It is a matchmaking app that is supposed to help individuals find people nearby to whom they are attracted and with whom they are compatible. After an individual is registered to the app, this person has the option to swipe right if he/she finds someone attractive and desirable, and swipe left if not.

I should disclose that I have not personally used the Tinder app, nor do I know anyone who has admitted to actually using it. So my knowledge is based on the app reviews in iTunes and other online articles. But the point of my rambling is to raise the following question: if there is an app for helping someone find a companion, why isn't there an app for discernment? Actually, I am aware of a few religious communities and dioceses that have flirted with apps for discerners, no pun intended. I think the difficulty in maintaining a discernment app for a single religious community is finding enough people to download it, thereby making it affordable. It also would need to have regularly uploaded fresh content with which users could interact. The other challenge in creating a discernment app is that discernment itself is more than a decision made with a right or left swipe. Apps can do a lot of things, but they cannot replace good discernment.

Discernment is prayerful decision making, not snap decision making that one likes or dislikes with the tap of a screen. Information a person gathers from apps can help in decision making—just as Web sites, magazines and books can—but they are not the end-all nor do they necessarily make the discernment process simpler or quicker. The most important step during the discernment process is not another app but prayer. To begin that discernment, the individual needs to be totally open to knowing and following God's will. That is, he/she needs to be "spiritually free" to listen and not inclined to one answer or the other before beginning. During the process, he/she may like or dislike options, but this step comes after sitting with questions in prayer and not swiping them away.

Asking God questions that are clear and precise is the best way to begin—questions such as "Am I being called to religious life?" The discerner takes one question at a time and stays with it for a day or a week, even takes the question on a weekend retreat, listens for the answer, and then proceeds with the next question: "Am I called to be a missioner?" or "Am I called to be a priest or a brother?"

Eventually after prayer and reflection, like a matchmaker app is supposed to do for you, you will want to meet a few religious communities to "see if you are compatible" or a "good match." For example, if your love is teaching, then you would want to find a community that has opportunities to teach. If your personality trait draws you to solitude, then a community that lives in a cloistered setting might be a better match than one that does not. If God is calling you to be a missioner, then you would want to visit missionary communities like Glenmary. Prayer is more than swiping away someone who is not good-looking enough. Instead, it is sitting with the answers that God gives you and being open to where God leads you. A person may be able to download the prayers on an app, but he/she still have to take the time to pray them!

God has a plan for each one of us. Are you open to God's call? Do you know where God is calling you? You can find out by talking with God rather than searching an app. As Psalm 139 says, "LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all." (Ps 139:1-4)