‘You can do anything that you want!’ is a refrain often heard when we try to decide what to do when we grow up. Now that I’m older I have to ask ‘Why would we want too?’. I was given no hints on actual discernment. All I’ve learned so far is that I want to be an adult who doesn’t give kids crappy advice. ‘You can do anything you’ve set your mind too.’ is another one I heard, but how does one go about setting one’s mind? ‘Just follow your dream’ but nothing on how hard that may be or what they mean by dream (I’ve always wanted to be a wizard, that’s a dream right?). A bunch of spineless adults giving useless aphorisms (I don’t know how they managed that, unless they set their mind to it). You might think that growing up in a Christian community might be better, but ‘God has a plan for you’ only makes me cringe at the thought of messing the plan (that he didn’t deign to tell me) up.
This leads into my first piece of advice: God doesn’t give a shit (well He does, but not in the way you think). If God wanted everything to run perfectly like a well-oiled machine, He would have made us well-oiled machines. God wants us to get to heaven, so anything we choose to do has to glorify God. Remember the parable of the talents? Nothing in the parable says how they invested the talents the Master gave them, it was all about whether they used them in a way to increase the glory of their Lord, or not. If you are using your gifts to know, love, and serve God, that’s what God cares about.
Second piece of advice: know your gifts, desires, and passions. Perhaps you have a talent for figures, the only way to know that is to have done figures. The only way to know if you have a passion for cooking is by cooking. For example, I learned that I like to program because my brother gave me a how-to programming book and I worked through it. The joy I had (and still do) by building something through programming was something different than when I played with LEGO sets or Erector sets. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I had a passion for programming. Anything I end up doing for God, I want to show Him my love for Him through my love of programming. Once you know your gifts and passions, you need to know your gifts and passions.
My third piece of advice: practice. Gifts and passions will fade if you do not use them. Use it, at least a little, every day. Cook a meal or snack to develop cooking, write an essay or poem to develop writing. Get your friends and family to help critique you so that you improve faster. A little bit a day, is better than none, even better than a lot. If you do too much you’ll burn out, then you’ll need a break. Do a big painting once a week or once a month, and small sketches every day in between. If you feel like you can do more, do so, but don’t overstuff yourself.
Once you have a goal, give yourself a deadline. If you don’t have a deadline, you’ll never get done. If you do have a deadline, a month, or five years, then you can break the project down into bits. A novel (50,000 words) in a month is about 1,700 words a day, in five years about 200 words a week, without a deadline: 1,000 words a day for a week then nothing.
My final piece of advice is prayer. Without God at the center of your discernment it will all be fruitless. If a toddler draws a crayon picture then puts it on the fridge himself, it means far less than if daddy put it on the fridge. Remember for whom you make refrigerator art.
Joshua Fahey is a Chestertonian who is still discerning