If there is one constant in working with college students, it is that they are all trying to figure out what life has in store for them. Many are discerning big questions – “should I be married or celibate”, “what career should I seek”, “where should I live”, “what should my major be”, and many more. Another constant is that many will hit obstacles in their discernment. Below are a few common ones and some strategies on how to overcome them.
3 Obstacles to Discernment and How To Overcome Them
1 – Fear of making the wrong decision. I talk to young people all the time who are afraid they are somehow going to “mess up” discerning God’s will and “make the wrong decision”. Let me put you at ease. You are not big enough to mess up God’s plan. Furthermore, God is big enough to straighten out all the crooked paths that we walk. He is powerful enough to lead us to our destination. If you don’t give God your fears, then He is unable to help you with your decisions.
SOLUTION – Turn your fears over to Jesus. If you don’t know how to do this, start by telling God what your fears are and then tell him that you don’t want to be afraid any longer, ask him to help you, and then offer your fears to Jesus on the cross. Ask him for courage in the face of fear and the wisdom on how to move forward. Tell Him the desires of your heart. If you are still struggling, then talk to someone who might help you. It is also good to meditate on Bible verses that are encouraging. Knowing God has a plan means you don’t have to discover something He doesn’t know, you just have to figure out what the adventure is going to be!
2 – Failure to act. Because there are so many things that keep us from making decisions (e.g. fear, ignorance, etc) many will just stay in their comfort zone or current state of life because they aren’t sure how to move forward. But, the problem is that if we fail to choose to act, we fail to say “yes” to anything or anyone. Too often today, we stand paralyzed in making a choice, because there are too many options. We leave our options open, waiting for the “best” one, but we end up not committing to anything and then the moment passes us by and we seem unsatisfied – afraid we “missed out” on something better. Sometimes it is a consequence of being afraid to make the wrong choice, in the face of so many options being presented. So, the only decision made is to not make a decision, and therefore not have to live with the consequences of missing out or making the wrong choice.
SOLUTION – Take the next step forward. If you are thinking about seminary and feel a tug at your heart, then talk to a vocation director about it. If you feel called to date, then put yourself in social situations where you can find people who would make good dates. Take it one step at a time. The way to conquer the failure to act is to choose small things and make small steps forward, without worrying too much about the end of it all. You should also be patient with yourself. You don’t need to have life figured out on an arbitrary timeline. Sometimes there is a lack of clarity in God’s will, so God can change your heart through the waiting to make you more holy. After you make a decision, then examine the fruit. If it is good fruit coming from your decision, then continue to move forward.
3 – Lack of prayer. The first step in anything you discern is prayer. So, if you aren’t praying every day, how could you expect to know God’s will? If you don’t know how to listen to the voice of God, then how will you learn how to do so without trying? I have heard many say they don’t know what God’s will is, because He doesn’t just give a sign or speak audibly to them. But, why would we expect this to happen? Jesus wants to draw us into an intimate relationship, not force us to listen to Him. So, He will speak into the facts of our current situation (I you are a student, you don’t need to discern whether you should study – you should study). He will speak in our consciences.He will speak in the Sacred Scriptures. He will speak in the teachings of the Church. He will speak through others in your life. He will speak in the created order. But, do we listen?
SOLUTION – Learn to pray and listen. Learn to have the habit of daily personal prayer. If you don’t know where to start, then find someone who can help you learn how to do so. Find a spiritual mentor, a good friend who has a good prayer life, a vocation director, a spiritual director (if you are ready for it and have a steady prayer life), or just read books on prayer and try it out. No matter what you do, don’t wait to be perfect to mess up prayer. If you haven’t struggled in prayer, you just haven’t prayed long enough yet! So, join the rest of us in trying, falling, and then getting up to do it again.