Rosemary Donovan, Diocesan Adviser on Women’s Ministry and Vicar of Epsom Common reflects on the discernment process.
The concept of discernment is a familiar one to most people. We make judgements about things all the time. However, discernment is more than just good decision making when it takes on a moral or virtuous outlook, and is often seen as the beginning of wisdom. In Christian circles, it takes on an extra dimension referring to the process whereby God’s purposes are sought in situations, especially within the area of vocation as an individual determines God’s calling.
"We all want to be able to say: 'I was created for this. I am doing what God wants me to do.'"
We all want to know we are on the right track. And that’s what a calling really implies – it’s more than just a job or task. Whether your primary work is in a professional sphere, the home, or a combination of both, everyone seeks the assurance and resolution of being able to say, ‘I was created for this. I am doing what God wants me to do.’
Unfortunately, there is no magic wand and rarely a thunderbolt from heaven that makes working out what God wants of you an easy task. We must practice listening to God’s voice through prayer, studying the Bible, relationships with others and the natural world.
"Hearing a voice telling me to be a priest seemed an odd suggestion for a 13 year old girl and one I tried to ignore."
I first got a sense of God’s call when I was teenager. I guess I always felt different. I was an only child and grew up in a Christian family where church and God talk were natural and part of everyday life. I had Christian friends, went to a church youth group and was perhaps slightly earnest about my faith. Nevertheless, hearing a voice telling me to be a priest, at a time when it was not allowed for women to do so, was not only unexpected to but an odd suggestion for a 13-year-old girl and one I tried to ignore. However, no other career path really interested me. I kept getting drawn back to this phrase, ‘I want you to be a priest.’ So, I tested it out and to my surprise other people didn’t think it was a mad idea. They helped me get practical and theological experience. They supported and encouraged me and the more I prayed about it and discovered further about what being a priest meant, I just knew it was for me.
Testing out a vocation is a discernment process. This often lengthy and rigorous course of action is hopefully also robust and affirming. Yet it doesn’t stop once you have identified a role, whatever this might be for you or even once you have been ordained. I have discovered that discernment is not only a spiritual discipline but also a gift and one that I need to continually be honing as I remain in touch with the God who challenges, excites and transforms me more and more each day.