Training in Discernment
Prayer, Service and Spiritual Direction: Three Essential Components of "Discernment Training"
Recently I checked off an item on my bucket list: To run a half-marathon! I spent four months training for it. That training helped me finish the Flying Pig Half-Marathon at a decent time of 1:48:40. And it gave me an enjoyable, injury-free running experience.
Looking back, I recognize that one lesson that I learned during my training can be valuable for discernment: Commit to one regimen and stick to it for a few months! This lesson taught me to become more disciplined and motivated. Running after work became a daily routine. A break from it even for a day felt like something was missing! Afterward, this lesson has inspired me to continue to lead an active and healthy lifestyle.
I personally believe that having a regimen can help us discern better. Praying, serving and seeking spiritual direction are three important keys to having a fruitful discernment. Regular participation in an activity that improves each will be like training and benefit a discerner to help him complete the race.
PRAYER: Praying trains you to hear Jesus' voice much more clearly. I regularly hear from discerners who admit to having both a mediocre prayer life and struggling in their discernment. There is a strong correlation between the two. Praying does not have to be too daunting to simply set it aside. It is reading your Bible. It is praying the Liturgy of the Hours. It is reciting the Rosary. It is going to Mass. It is spending a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. It is sitting in quiet reflection. I suggest that you recall one spiritual activity that made you fall in love with Jesus and inspired you to grow deeper in that relationship through prayer. Commit to it again and stick to it for three months.
SERVICE: Serving trains you to love as Jesus loved. You may argue that you do not have time for it due to work or school commitments. But serving does not have to be too time-consuming to simply abandon it. It is cleaning your closet and donating your unused clothes to St. Vincent de Paul. It is skipping a Starbucks coffee and putting that money in the collection basket at church. It is lending a listening ear to a friend who is going through a tough time. It is signing up to be a lector or altar server at Mass. It is writing or calling your representative to make your voice heard about social injustice. I suggest that you recall an act of charity that brought you joy and moved you to care about the people Jesus cared about. Commit to it again and stick to it for three months.
SPIRITUAL DIRECTION: Seeking spiritual direction trains you to stay focused on the path Jesus may be leading you. I often hear discerners complain about their priests being too busy for spiritual direction. This may be true, but I also know that priests are very accommodating if they know that you are discerning a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Spiritual direction does not have to be limited to the once-in-month meeting. In the initial stages of your training it can start by reading a book about your favorite saint, going to confession or paying attention to an elderly parishioner who approaches you after Mass to say that you would make a good priest or brother. It is listening to a podcast about a conversion story of a faith-filled person. It is talking to a religious sister or brother about their vocation story. I suggest that you recall one spiritual activity that made you aware of Jesus' unconditional love for you and moved you to share it with someone you trust. Commit to it again and stick to it for three months.
Discernment training will teach you to become much more disciplined and motivated. Commit to an activity that improves your praying, serving and seeking spiritual direction and stick to it for a period of time. I guarantee you that each will become a part of your daily routine. And a break from it even for a day will feel like something is missing! Even St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians "Every athlete exercises discipline in every way ... I do not run aimlessly ... I drive my body and train."
Our spiritual training will help us to be able to say like St. Paul, "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."