PHAM: On discernment and prayer

June 8, 2021

Photo by Therese Westby

Sometimes I wonder if the choices I make in life are in accordance with God’s will.

Will the decisions that I make lead me on a path to true happiness and a fulfilled life? I have come to the conclusion that, honestly, I will never know God’s will crystal clear.
However, I can train my ears to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in order to be disposed to seek His guidance and embrace His will in my life.

“The sheep hear His voice, as He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has driven out all His own, He walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow Him because they recognize His voice” (John 10:3-4).

Indeed, when we begin to see God as an intimate friend who cares about every detail of our life, we will begin to recognize His voice in subtle ways. Decision-making, guided by recognizing and responding to the voice of the Lord, is called discernment. It can only take place in the context of prayer, self-reflection and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit.
Prayer is the key to discernment. One needs to awaken to God’s gentle whispers that point to what is true and good. Discernment invites us to have faith, surrender control of our lives, seek His will and allow God to direct us in His ways.

God says, “I know well the plans I have in mind for you — plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me” (Jer 29:11-14).

Discernment is a way of life built on trust, humility and attentive listening.

In prayer, we familiarize ourselves with the ways of God and what most pleases Him. We listen deeply to hear the soft voice of the Good Shepherd leading us to the green pastures of life eternal. A discerning heart places God as the center of life and allows Him to take the lead in everything.

In self-reflection, one discovers the truth about oneself — one’s purpose, one’s destiny — and makes decisions based on these truths. It is crucial to foster a disposition of discernment so that we may recognize God’s actions in our lives and respond to His love and holy will.

Entrusting ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit will help us to discern God’s will. Often discernment involves a decision between two goods. The Holy Spirit will supply us with the clarity and courage to discern and choose the best option when we pray for the grace to be attentive to the inspirations God provides.

Remember that discernment requires patience, growing in relationship with the Lord, self-reflection and entrusting oneself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Firmly believe that God loves you, guides you and always has your best interest in mind.

Tips for discernment

  • Pray for the grace to desire to do the will of God.
  • Spend time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
  • Pray the Rosary and spend time with Mother Mary.
  • Frequent reception of the Sacraments (Eucharist and Confession)
  • Cultivate Christian virtues
  • Follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit in humility and charity.
  • Think about how to spend your life by placing yourself at the hour of death.
  • Reflect on how your gifts and talents can be of service to God.
  • Receive advice from a spiritual director.
  • Spend time with good Catholic friends.

Therefore, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit... retain what is good... The One who calls you is faithful, and He will also accomplish it” (I Thes 5:16-24).

I invite you to pray this prayer of discernment that I wrote before the Lord in adoration:

“O Lord, I cannot see tomorrow, but I know that You are already there. You know every one of my steps. You know the decisions and the path that will lead me to true peace, happiness and abundance of life in You.
I trust You with all my heart. Walk with me on this earthly journey and never leave my side. Enlighten and show me Your holy will, for it is in doing so that my life’s purpose will be fulfilled. In every moment, Your loving gaze is upon me — showering my life with overflowing grace, love and mercy.
I trust that You will provide for me no matter what happens in my life. Teach me how to pray, how to seek Your will, how to love and how to live.
I give my entire being to You: my desires, hopes, dreams, future, happiness, love and all that I am and will be. Let me not hold anything back from You. Let me know Your will, grant me the courage to embrace it like Mother Mary, and that is enough for me.

Sister Anna Pauline Van Pham, O.P. is a Dominican Sister of Mary Immaculate Province in Houston. She is currently a spiritual director at Gratia Plena.