Learning to Discern
Patrick is 20 years old and originally from Prince Edward Ireland, Canada. Patrick served with NET Ministries Ireland on the Waterford team 2016-2017, from there he attended Holy Family Mission. Patrick now serves on NET Mission Staff and is also the Co-host of a podcast called 'Consistently Inconsistent'.
"Patrick, what are your plans for next year?” I came to hate these words during my final year of high school. It’s not that I didn’t have plans, I did, but I knew that my answer would confuse people and when I told them I was going to do missionary work, they would inevitably give me a lecture on why it’s important to go to college because I’ll never be successful in life otherwise.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time going to various Catholic retreats and conferences. As I was getting older and started to have to think about what I wanted to do with my life, I began going to the workshops that were based around discernment and how to properly discern God’s will in my life. Sure, I had my own plans of what I wanted to do, but above all, I wanted to do God’s will for me because if what those speakers were saying was true, it would make the happiest I’ll ever be.
This provides some context as to why it was so upsetting when people would give me the “if you never go to school, you’ll never be successful” spiel. I had a few colleges I was interested in, and the courses they offered were exactly what I was looking for! However, I knew that God was calling me to Ireland to do mission work for a year (at least I thought it would be a year). So, when people told me that the choice God had planned for me was a choice that would make me less successful, I began to question myself and God. I truly learned what it meant to put all my trust in God during that last year of high school. I also learned how to drown out the voices of the world and tune in to the voice of God, a skill that was amplified during my first year of NET.
This skill is something I can never take for granted. With it came the knowledge that while we should definitely discern the big things in life, it's also a good practice to God what He wants us to do in our normal day to day life. There are some things that God certainly leaves to our own personal choice, big and small, but I’ve learned that no matter what, it’s always good to ask God what He thinks just to be safe. To me, there are 4 major steps in the discernment process: 1. Our will, 2. God’s Will, 3. Action, and 4. Question. Keep in mind I’m not a pro, this is just what has worked best for me in my short 20 years of life so far!
To demonstrate the process, I’m going to use the example of what I’m going to buy/make for dinner. The process starts with my will: “what do I want for dinner? Do I want to make dinner or order takeout? I had a long day at work, and it would be much easier to just pick up some Chinese food on the way home. Yes, I have eaten out 3 times this week already, but I really just need to relax tonight.”
Now often I’ve found that when it comes to the will of God, it sounds like the voice of common reason. “Lord, what do you want me to eat for dinner? I know I’ve eaten a lot of takeout this week. Yes, I am trying to work on eating healthier. I know, I always complain to you about not having enough money. Ok, I’ll go to the shop and see if there’s anything I can make quickly.” Maybe I’ll go to the shop intending to buy a frozen pizza as a compromise. But as I arrive, I see that there’s some really good sausages and gnocchi on sale. “Oh, and tomato sauce is actually quite cheap as well! If I cook this tonight, there’s probably enough to take this as lunch for work tomorrow too!”
Then comes action. There reaches a certain point where you have to make a decision. I could stand around in the shop all night thinking about whether I should get the quick and easy option with a frozen pizza, or the homemade meal that will provide a number of meals and is far healthier. But I’m hungry and the shop is closing in half an hour. So, I go with the homemade meal.
Then after the decision is made, I question it. “Did I make the right choice?” This step isn’t super long when used in day to day life because it’s normally not a decision that will change your life in any drastic way.
Very quickly I’ll run through the steps again, but this time in one of my biggest life choices to date: the decision to come to Ireland and do missionary work. 1: “What am I going to do with my life? I’ve always wanted to do NET. I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland. But what will other people think? Will I ever be able to get a job? Should I apply to schools and ask to defer for a year?” 2: “God what should I do? What is your will? Yes, the idea of doing mission work in Ireland makes me far happier than the idea of going to school and studying something that I really don’t know if it’s what I want to do yet. I trust you.” 3: I fill out the application form for NET Ireland and send it. I get accepted a month later. That summer I leave my family and fly to Ireland. 4: “How did the decision change me? Was it the right decision? Am I still happy with what I’m doing?” It changed me for the better. It has shaped me into the man I’ve become today. It has led me to a job that I love doing and a passion that I truly desire to pursue.
I hope these help you in figuring out the wonderful plan that God has for you. Remember that in everything, God wants you to be happy. He would never call you to do something that would make you truly miserable. Even when Christians were being killed for their faith, they chose to be happy in doing that. God bless you in your discernment!