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Decision Making Tips and Tricks: Part 1

Posted on Monday, January 29, 2024
By
Melody

“I just don’t know how to choose!”

The above exclamation is one that I have both said and heard many times. Making decisions is hard! Making decisions about big life events, like what job to take or whether you should tithe your career through GoCorps, is even harder. We all want to make good choices and as Christians, we all want to follow God. But how do you know where to go and what to do? 

Thankfully, we don’t have to make these decisions alone.

As Christians, we believe that God is active in our lives. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:11-14a. 

When we are trying to make a big decision and turn to the Lord in prayer for help, this is usually called “discernment.” Discernment is more than just trying to make a decision; it’s seeking wisdom from God in that decision.

Discernment is more than just trying to make a decision; it’s seeking wisdom from God in that decision.

St. Ignacius of Loyola was a Spanish priest and theologian who lived and worked in the early 16th century. He is known for his methods of meditation and contemplation, about which he wrote a book called “The Spiritual Exercises.” In this book, St. Ignacius writes about methods for discernment. Even though St. Ignatius lived 500 years ago, his concepts and ideas are still relevant and contain great wisdom and truth. 

There are two methods he suggests for discernment that have been really helpful for me. I’ll explain one of those methods in this blog, and the second message in a follow-up article. However before we get into the specific methods, there is one very important principle that underlies true discernment that is important to discuss first. That is the principle of indifference. 

Now, this isn’t indifference towards ministry or God or anything like that! Rather, this kind of indifference actually means freedom and openness to any option. It can be tempting to say that you are discerning something, when really you already know what you want to do. We’ve all been there and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Even St. Ignacius says there are occasions when you simply know something as if by revelation. In these cases, you don’t need to discern, the decision is already clear. However, in many other cases you will have to make a decision between two or more equally good options and you won’t feel a strong initial pull towards either choice. In these instances, all the available options are truly good and you can easily see how any of the possibilities would help you know, love, and serve God more. It is in these cases that practicing indifference, or openness, is the first step for discernment.

Once you have affirmed that your desire is only to choose what will best lead to God’s true purpose for you, which is to know, love, and serve God, you are ready to begin the process of discernment!

It’s also important to note that each of the methods takes some time, but when you drag out the discernment process over months, often that only makes things more confusing. Ideally, you’ll want to set aside a designated period of time (something like a week is usually good) to engage this process with intentionality.

Let’s dive into the first method of discernment. Don’t forget to check out the second method here!       

Step 1: Clearly decide what it is you are discerning.

This might seem obvious, but it’s important to be very clear about what you are deciding! Write down what your options are and be detailed about what each of the possibilities would entail. If you find that you do not have very much information about one or more of the options, you would do well with a bit more research before entering the discernment process. If GoCorps is one of your options, our Mission Coaches are always happy to have a conversation with you where they can provide more understanding and information to help you in this process!

Step 2: Affirm your indifference for the decision and resolve yourself that the end goal is the same for any choice: to know, love, and serve God.

This concept was discussed above, but in the context of this particular method, “indifference” really means openness to any option. No matter what, you can trust that God will be with you no matter where you go or what you choose!

Step 3: Pray for enlightenment and that God would help you to understand how to live out God’s will. Ask God to help you trust your own intellect and ability to make this choice.

Sometimes, the hardest part of making a decision is trusting your ability to make it! Take some significant time in prayer, talking with God about this decision and your feelings about it. Don’t forget to also take some time to be still and listen for what God may already be saying. God has given you a brain full of wisdom, knowledge, and life experience. Trust God and trust yourself.

Step 4: List the pros and cons for each of the options.

Making an actual, physical list (not just on your computer or phone!) of the positives and negatives of each of the options you are choosing between can be super helpful. For this step, just write down as many pros and cons as you can without judgment. You may want to do this over several days to ensure you’ve really thought things through.

Step 5: Looking at your pros and cons lists, consider what things are more or less meaningful or important, writing them down or re-ordering the list as you go.

Every option will have pros and cons – that’s normal! However, is a con like “won’t be able to get a dog” equally important as “won’t be able to use my gift of hospitality?” Also, try to notice whether any of the items you’ve written down come from selfish or fearful intentions and carefully weigh the validity of those concerns. If you’re having trouble with this step, talking through the pros and cons with a trusted mentor or loved one may help.

Step 6: Looking at your lists and with prayer, consider a tentative decision. Take a few days imagining that you’ve made that decision and notice how you feel, asking God to help you accept and confirm this choice.

After these steps, your decision may be absolutely clear. That’s great! Move forward confidently knowing that you have carefully engaged in this discernment process and that any later fear or doubt is just a normal part of being a human. Alternatively, you may merely have an inclination towards the decision. In that case, you may want to repeat this process, asking God for confirmation. You may also want to engage St. Ignatius’ second method for discernment, which we’ll discuss in the next blog!

The discernment process can be done on your own, but it’s always best to discuss big decisions with others. The GoCorps Mission Coaches are always available to talk with you about any questions you may have, or just to be a listening ear as you go through this process of discernment. 

Want to learn more about calling and the discernment process?  Check out our article: How do I Know if I'm Called to Serve Overseas?

Melody

Melody is a GoCorps alum who lived in Berlin, Germany for two years doing arts ministry and then was a GoCorps Coach and Mobilizer for four years. Melody is now a seminary student at Virginia Theological Seminary and is studying Christian Formation for all ages. Melody lives in northern Virginia with her husband and giant fluffy dog and loves to read, dance, and drink chai lattes!

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