Many people have asked me how I know when God is asking me to do something, telling me to write, etc. Discernment can be challenging! Every person’s relationship with God is special and unique. I do not claim to be any type of expert in discerning God’s will, but I am continuing to grow in understanding how to better discern, and I feel called to share some of my journey regarding discernment.
I think the biggest distinction for me is the difference between the head and the heart. When I think of making decisions with my head, I think of logic, lists of pros and cons, and weighing and measuring various outcomes. Those are all good things in moderation- God gave us our intellect and decision-making capabilities. However, I find that when I’m making decisions SOLELY from my head, I feel pressure, as if I am the one in control, and I have to align everything perfectly so that it comes out “just right.” (As if I have that kind of power!) There’s a sense of urgency and almost panic when I’m relying too much on my head.
When I talk about making decisions with the heart, I have learned to first align my heart with God’s will and God’s laws. I used to think that following my heart meant doing what I wanted to do, what I was drawn to do. As humans we are selfish and sometimes are drawn to things that are in conflict with God’s law, and sometimes we are drawn to good things for the wrong reasons. We are called to fight against the desires of the flesh and exercise temperance, though. So, I’ve learned that listening to my heart does not always mean doing what I feel like doing or following the path of least resistance. Rather, it means quieting myself and praying for God to pull my heart in His direction.
About 10 years ago while already sick, I was in a position where the treatment did not feel right. I had some reservations, and those reservations were based a lot on God-given logic. I used my head, and something didn’t seem right. I called and spoke to 3 different medical professionals about these legitimate reservations, but they all dismissed my reservations and told me that everything was fine- that I should not be concerned, and that alternate options would actually be worse. Something still didn’t feel right to me in my heart, but I dismissed that, as I thought I had done due diligence in investigating my reservations and needed to just move past this. Well, God was trying to tell me something in my heart at the time, and I missed it. I kept going down a wrong path, even though everything looked right on paper. What I was doing made sense, except that it wasn’t right.
The path I kept going down has cost me years of my life, and more physical pain and complications to my situation than I can put into words. I often wonder if I had known how to discern better at the time where I would be today. A mistake had been made in my care, and I wish I had put the brakes on much sooner. I’m still working on handling the regret of this situation. Live and learn, right? This example provided me with the opportunity to grow more in what it means to truly discern.
Fast forward to earlier this year when I was faced with another decision of much less magnitude. One decision looked almost perfect on paper, yet my heart was pulling me in the other direction. My mind told me to commit to the sensible choice, but my heart just wouldn’t let me commit. I stayed in an indecisive limbo for far too long, but then new information that I did not have previously have presented itself. The new information changed things drastically and made the decision that looked good on paper not look so good at all! My heart had been right all along, yet I had still been so hesitant to trust it. You’d think I would have learned by that point! Thankfully God is patient.
Now, I go with my heart no matter what, with prayerful consideration and the use of my God-given intellect, of course. If God himself if pulling me in a certain direction, going with that has always proven to be better in the long run. Now, that doesn’t mean that His path is free of suffering by any means, but it means that it’s the right path even when I can’t see all the reasons why.
Still, it’s a struggle to know when God is speaking and when it’s my personal desire that’s speaking. I anticipate that this will always be a challenging area for me in my humanness, but I’m working on it. When I feel pulled in a certain direction, I take some quiet prayer time to examine my motives and intentions to see why I feel pulled in that direction. Sometimes when I really examine the root of my desire, I see that it is of my own will and decide to scrap it. Other times, I feel like the idea didn’t even come from myself, even though it didn’t come from another person either, and that’s when I feel more confident that it’s from God. Often I do not see how I can personally derive anything from the direction in which He is leading me, but isn’t that the point? The funny thing is that when I don’t think I’m going to benefit from a certain direction, I end up growing spiritually from proceeding that way, even if I don’t see it at that time.
I’m making it a habit of asking God what He wants whenever I am faced with a decision. While some may think that is restrictive, I am actually experiencing it as freeing. Only my Creator knows the plan for and purpose of my life, so why wouldn’t I consult Him, the one who knows me and wants best for me, at every move? It’s taking practice to make this a habit, but when I see the purpose of my life as getting to heaven and helping others along on their respective journeys to heaven (as is the purpose for each of us), what could be more important than discerning God’s will at every juncture?