“It’s a gradual process of opening up to God’s will, realizing this is where the Lord calls you, allowing yourself to get carried along and not control it,” reveals Fr. Luke Robertson, TOR, speaking of his own religious discernment. As an ambitious 26-year-old, Robertson had achieved “all the goals he had set for himself” in terms of the world, but he felt spiritually lacking, as though “there was something missing” even if he “didn’t know what it was.” This desire caused Robertson to step back and reevaluate his plan for the future when he realized an essential theme of his past: although he himself was a planner, God was most present in the moments he had not planned. Soon after, he left his job, joined the TOR friars, and “knew” the friary was where he was meant to be. An “inner peace and a sense of rightness” filled his spirit, and that peace and rightness are how he discerned God’s will.
An inner peace and a sense of rightness: these two qualities live beyond our control and can only come from God Himself. In His time, He will lead us to them, but until then we must discern how to reach them.
In our discernment, a powerful way to reach peace and rightness is speaking with a spiritual director. According to Robertson, a spiritual director is “someone with a deep and strong personal prayer life and faith” whose “role is to walk with the person they’re directing on the journey of faith.” Well-versed in faith and experienced in life, spiritual directors should hold a strong understanding of human dynamics and health through which they can guide those they’re directing closer to Christ. Furthermore, discerners must have a “huge amount of trust” in their spiritual directors because in order to grow from spiritual direction, discerners “must be ready to be vulnerable” and share “what they may not be most proud of.” Spiritual direction must be a place free of judgment and full of trust. Due to this trust, spiritual direction also requires “a certain amount of risk.” Just as with our faith, the journey with a director “is a two-sided coin: one side is trust; the other is risk.” In order to trust, we must take a risk, and through that risk, we learn to trust. These two sides “cannot be separated.”
In addition to spiritual directors, Robertson advises discerners to begin living a communal life. The communal life of a discerner should reflect the communal life of an order, even if that reflection is not exact. For the Franciscan TORs, communal life consists of “three schedules working throughout the day”: prayer, ministry, and fraternity.
Taken under a vow, the daily prayer schedule is the most important, and the friars’ day is structured around the office and the Mass. To live this kind of communal life, discerners “have to start with prayer…a solid, consistent prayer life.” Because prayer forms the foundation of religious life, those discerning such a life must “see it as the priority of their lives” right now. In absolutely every moment, they must ask, “Where is God in this?” Only by disposing themselves to personal prayer will they discover how the Lord personally speaks to them and therefore be able to discern His will.
Ministry is an ideal opportunity to learn to see Christ in others. At the heart of ministry is the desire to serve God in others and to put one’s God-given gifts to use for the good of the Church. Whatever this ministry looks like, even ministry “must fit prayer,” not the other way around.
In addition to making prayer and ministry a priority, discerners can live communal lives by fostering their faith with others. The first step is to find a spiritual director (or a mentor- check out the Values Outreach mentorship program here!). This person can help guide discerners into deeper continual conversion and transition into the communal life. Communal life means feeding the mind, body, and spirit with the help of others. Do not neglect the significance of quality time with others, whether that be over a cup of coffee or a shared meal.
Through the guidance of a spiritual director and imitation of communal life, discerners can gain valuable knowledge and assistance in discovering their vocation. Discernment is not something we can do alone. Discernment is something that requires us to share our hearts with one another, to take the risk of trust, to fall deeply in relation with God and each other. Only through time spent together with Him can we find a sense of inner peace and of rightness. Only through the help of others can we discern our next steps. God works through others to reach us.