We young people find ourselves at the crossroads of life with so many paths to pursue — in our education, work, relationships, and perhaps even a religious vocation. We pray and pray but somehow, God doesn’t seem to reply. We ask for advice from  every wise and holy person we know, but somehow everyone gives a different answer!

In his Confirmation video series Decision Point, the motivational speaker Matthew Kelly proposes a simpler approach to discernment. As Kelly states, often, the Divine Author has already written his will in us and around us, in what we will term as the three requisite signs of God’s calling.1

1. Legitimate Needs

“You can never get enough of what you don’t need,” says Kelly. So if we spend our lives pursuing our wants instead of legitimate needs, we will never be satisfied.

What are our legitimate needs? Kelly defines four areas. These are physical needs such as food, shelter, rest, and exercise; emotional needs; intellectual needs that are fulfilled mostly through mental stimulation and recreation; and finally, spiritual needs for silence, prayer, and Sacraments. We have to be careful not to neglect any of these needs over another!

At the same time, remember that your neighbour has those same legitimate needs too. The call to “love your neighbour as yourself (Mk 12:31)” compels us to provide for the legitimate needs of others as best as we can. We must be equally discerning and refrain from giving in to every want — especially destructive wants — because “to love is to will the good of another (CCC 1766).”2 For this, we can consult the list of corporal and spiritual works of mercy,3 which include providing for the material needs of the poor, counselling the doubtful, and comforting the afflicted.

2. Talents and Abilities

After we have identified a legitimate need, we must assess if we possess a relevant set of giftings.

Surely, God had some purpose in mind when he chose which charisms to plant in you? Let’s not play dumb about our calling, as did the servant entrusted with one talent.4 We are stewards of our God-given gifts and are called to invest them in loving service to God and our neighbour.

“Your talents and abilities are vocational. […] They hold clues about your mission in life,” notes Kelly. Take comfort when you find yourself with what you might think as just a few gifts. It is precisely in the scarcity of our gifts that the Lord reveals to us more clearly our special calling in life.

That being said, from time to time, God invites us to step out of our comfort zones and develop new talents. We should be open to this. Nonetheless, where legitimate needs coincide with your current giftings, you are  just one step away from confirming a calling.

3. Deepest Desires

“Deep in your heart, you have desires for good things — and God has placed those desires in your heart to guide you toward the life he has imagined for you,” says Kelly. But what distinguishes a shallow desire from a deep desire?

Our shallow desires “are often selfish and pointless,” he explains. They include laziness, pride, self-glorification, fear of rejection or failure, as well as the greed for cheap thrills. God invites us to look beyond these things and discover the deepest desires that He has planted in our hearts.

Prayer is the best way to discern our deepest desires. When we set ourselves before Jesus, his Sacred Heart burns to ash all the lies we tell ourselves about our calling, and His loving gaze soothes us of our fears. When we pray, we allow the Lord to set us free to explore the deepest desires that He has sown in our hearts.

Making a decision

Where these three requisite signs converge, there is a calling. It is time to take the next step.

This next step could mean asking someone out, attending a vocation retreat, consulting your ministry leader about an initiative, or going for a job interview. Once you surrender your control over the outcome, the Lord can begin to work and put you exactly where He has called you.

Remember that the crux of discernment is not about knowing how it will all end. Rather, discernment is about entering a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. It is about allowing yourself to discover the providence of your Heavenly Father.

[1] This article adopts the framework prescribed in Session 11.3 of Decision Point, but the content has been adapted for the purpose of discussing discernment as a methodical process.
[2] Here, the CCC quotes St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II,26 4
[3] Corporal Works of Mercy (1) Feed the hungry (2) Give water to the thirsty (3) Clothe the naked (4) Shelter the homeless (5) Visit the sick (6) Visit the imprisoned or ransom the captive (7) Bury the dead.
Spiritual Works of Mercy (1) Instruct the ignorant (2) Counsel the doubtful (3) Admonish the sinners (4) Bear patiently those who wrong us (5) Forgive offenses (6) Comfort the afflicted (7) Pray for the living and the dead.
[4] See the Parable of the Talents, Mt 25:14-30

Written by Louis of VITA Scribes.