Sunday, June 23, 2024

Prayer of Discernment: Steps for Making Decisions in Faith

Twelve years ago, I was a happy camper working at Bishop McDevitt High School as the technology coordinator and teaching in the Business and Technology Department. I absolutely loved teaching! I always got a tremendous thrill when one of my students learned something new about a program that I was teaching and I got a “Cool!” from them. Their positive response was the highest compliment.

After ten years in this position, there was a restlessness within my heart. I knew that my Beloved was calling me to do “something else,” but I had no idea what it was. At the time, I was also the chairperson for the Diocese’s Technology Committee. This committee was in the midst of writing a grant that would create a fiber network that connected our schools and some of our parishes. Part of the grant work involved creating the job description for a new position on the Diocesan level called the Wide Area Network Coordinator. In the midst of one of the meetings, the IT Director at the time turned to me and said, “Sister, do you want a job?” I quipped back, “I already have one. I teach at McDevitt.”

I mentioned the hunger in my heart to my congregation’s leadership. Since I am missioned to a ministry from my vow of obedience, I was asked to talk to the IT Director about this new job. After interviewing for it, I was told, “Sister, if you want the job, it’s yours!” I seriously took this decision to prayer. Needless to say, I took a leap of faith to leave the classroom. I am often asked, “Do you miss teaching?” I can honestly say that I don’t. You see, I am still teaching how to use technology and how to love God more through my work with the Diocesan Permanent Diaconate Formation Program as well as through these articles for The Witness!

I share this with you as I turn to the next topic of prayer put forth by Father Eamon Tobin in his book, “13 Powerful Ways to Pray” – Decisioning Prayer or The Prayer of Discernment. Father’s chapter on this type of prayer discusses seven steps. The steps are his, and the explanations are mine.

First Step: Formulate a proposition – This step requires you to identify the decision that needs to be made. It is pretty basic, but once the decision has been “voiced,” you can move to the next step.

Second Step: Gather relevant data – This “gathering” requires you to put to paper the pros and the cons of your decision. Once you write those down, take under consideration how your decision would affect the relationships in your life: God, family and friends. Take notice of any inner leanings for each aspect of your decision. These “leanings” could indicate that you are attached to one aspect of your decision, an attachment that could complicate your decision.

Third Step: Bring the gathered data to prayer – “This is the heart of the discernment process,” Father Tobin writes. “It involves praying about the available options before the Lord with the purpose of seeing which option gives the greatest sense of God’s peace. As we pray, it is important for us to see if there is one option that we feel we want more than the others. If there is, then we need to ask: ‘How willing am I to let go of that option if it seems God is calling me to another decision?’ In other words, how free and willing are we to embrace any option that the Lord might offer? Often we are so attached to a particular direction that we are not free to move in another direction – hence, the vital importance of praying for the grace of inner freedom …. As a part of the third step, St. Ignatius suggests three imaginative exercises. First, we should consider what advice we would give another person faced with the similar situation. Second, we can imagine ourselves on our deathbed and ask what we would then wish to have chosen. Third, we can picture ourselves standing before God on the Last Day and consider what decision we would then wish to have made.”1

Fourth Step: Make a decision – After spending time in prayer, it now requires us to make a decision. This decision should be based on what gives us the greatest peace, even though that decision might not be easy. After I left McDevitt, as the new year started, I found myself parked in front of the school watching the students begin a new school year. Tears streamed down my face as I grieved the decision to leave the classroom and come to the Diocesan Center. Even though that decision brought tears at the time, in the long run, it has brought me all joy!

Fifth Step: Live with the decision – Once we come to a decision, we have to then “live with it.” By this I mean that you should, if possible, live as if the decision has been acted upon and you are “living in that reality.”

Sixth Step: Act on the decision – This step seems the most obvious, but it is often the most difficult because it involves letting go of something familiar and stepping out in faith to something new.

Seventh Step: Seek confirmation of the decision – Finally, this step involves reaching out to those you trust and telling them of your decision and listening to them as they advise you.

Moving through these steps does not guarantee that your decision will be fault free.  God sometimes uses those mistakes to teach us the lesson in humility and that He is in control – not us!

The grace that this process provides is an openness of our beings to the workings of God. This is how all of us should constantly strive to live, as it brings utter peace and joy even amid life’s storms.

Discern on!!

1Tobin, Eamon. 13 Powerful Ways to Pray. Beacon Publishing, 2016. Pg. 134-136.

By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, The Catholic Witness

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