1. Give yourself time to make a good discernment
Think of your discernment as a journey in which you will grow personally and closer to God. The best discernments aren’t rushed, but lived in openness and surrender to God.
What kind of a timeframe should you set? On the one hand, you don’t want to be stuck in indecision, waffling back and forth endlessly; but rushing isn’t helpful either. A reasonable timeline is a year to two years, although there are reasons for a discernment to last longer. Why so long? To put it briefly, you will need time to research, to pray, to benefit from spiritual direction, to grow in your relationship with God, to test your vocational choice. This is a lifetime decision you’re making!
2. Use the resources you have to learn more. God wants you to use your head as well as your heart.
Gather information and knowledge about what you are discerning. Talk to the real experts. If you are discerning religious life, gather information about several communities that appeal to you. Visit their websites and learn about how the sisters live, their prayer life, and their mission. Call a sister and ask for more information. Visit their community or make a retreat with them. Can you picture yourself living this life?
If it’s helpful, make a list of pros and cons. The length of the list doesn’t matter, but try to focus on which pros and cons are most important to you, and spend time praying about them.
3. Pay attention to what’s going on in your heart.
Even after you’ve weighed the pros and cons intellectually, you might need space and time to understand how your heart was moved. Did something particularly attract you, repulse you? Why? Did you feel at peace with one thing more than another?
Bring your experiences to prayer. You may want to keep a discernment journal. Does what you see in the religious community fit with what you know about yourself, or hope for yourself? How do you feel when you are with the community? At peace? Energized? Joyful? How do you feel about the community after you have returned to every day life?
4. Ask for guidance and insight by seeing a spiritual director or vocation director.
Directors are trained in the ways of discernment and can help you to recognize the ways God is working in your life. A good director will be understanding and help you to discover a sense of freedom in your discernment. The decision you make is yours, not your director’s. Ideally, a director will encourage you to examine the many options you have, to become more aware of your own motivations, and to bring your experiences to prayer.
You may find it helpful to talk over your discernment with other people your trust. A parent, mentor, and wise friends can help us to see things about ourselves that we may not.
Ask Jesus the Divine Master for the grace of listening to God in his Word and in the Eucharist. Ask Mary, Queen of Apostles, to inflame your heart with the desire to say a “Yes” as big as hers at the Annunciation. (To do this, you might take out your Bible and pray with Luke 1: 26-38, asking Mary to teach you to recognize God’s invitation in your life, and to respond generously.)
And remember: your vocation is not just God’s invitation, but your response. Without your “yes,” there is no vocation.