“It’s a gradual process of opening up to God’s will, realizing this is where the Lord calls you, allowing yourself to get carried along and not control it,” reveals Fr. Luke Robertson, TOR, speaking of his own religious discernment.
As an ambitious 26-year-old, Robertson had achieved “all the goals he had set for himself” in terms of the world, but he felt spiritually lacking, as though “there was something missing” even if he “didn’t know what it was.” This want caused Robertson to step back and reevaluate his plan for the future when he realized an essential theme of his past: although he himself was a planner, God was most present in the moments he had not planned. Soon after, he left his job, moved to a friary, and “knew” the friary was where he was meant to be. An “inner peace and a sense of rightness” filled his spirit, and that peace and rightness are how he discerned God’s will.
An inner peace and a sense of rightness: these two qualities live beyond our control and can only come from God Himself. In His time, He will lead us to them, but until then we must discern how to reach them. In our discernment, two powerful ways to reach peace and rightness are speaking with a spiritual director and living a communal life.
According to Robertson, a spiritual director is “someone with a deep and strong personal prayer life and faith” whose “role is to walk with the person they’re directing on the journey of faith.” Well-versed in faith and experienced in life, spiritual directors should hold a strong understanding of human dynamics and health through which they can guide those they’re directing closer to Christ. Furthermore, discerners must have a “huge amount of trust” in their spiritual directors because in order to grow from spiritual direction, discerners “must be ready to be vulnerable” and share “what they may not be most proud of.” Spiritual direction must be a place free of judgment and full of trust. Due to this trust, spiritual direction also requires “a certain amount of risk.” Just as with our faith, the journey with a director “is a two-sided coin: one side is trust; the other is risk.” In order to trust, we must take a risk, and through that risk, we learn to trust. These two sides “cannot be separated.”
In addition to spiritual directors, Robertson advises discerners to begin living a communal life. To do so, discerners “have to start with prayer…a solid, consistent prayer life.” Because prayer forms the foundation of religious life, those discerning such a life must “see it as the priority of their lives” right now. In absolutely every moment, they must ask, “Where is God in this?” Only by disposing themselves to personal prayer will they discover how the Lord personally speaks to them and therefore be able to discern His will.
The communal life of a discerner should reflect the communal life of an order, even if that reflection is not exact. For the Franciscan TORs, communal life consists of “three schedules working throughout the day”: prayer, ministry, and fraternity. Taken under a vow, the daily prayer schedule is the most important, and the friars’ day is structured around the office and the mass. Even ministry “must fit prayer,” not the other way around. Additionally, their “fraternity is so essential to accountability” in achieving their “goal” of “holiness.” Therefore, the friars also have meals and spend recreational time together. Through the overlap of fraternity, ministry, and prayer, they live out their calling of representing Christ on Earth both to those they serve and to each other.
Therefore, through the imitation of communal life and guidance of a spiritual director, discerners can gain valuable knowledge and assistance in discovering their vocation. Discernment is not something we can do alone. Discernment is something that requires us to share our hearts with one another, to take the risk of trust, to fall deeply in relation with God and each other. Only through time spent together with Him can we find a sense of inner peace and of rightness. Only through the help of others can we discern our next steps. God works through others to reach us.