This article was originally published in the Observer by Joey Jegier and is republished with his full permission.
Before coming to Notre Dame, I had never heard of discernment. Now, I would be lost without it. Discernment has not only brought joy and clarity, but it has also become the subject of my senior thesis.
My research investigates the nature of discernment at Notre Dame, so I have become familiar with the theories and practices of discernment, as well as the manifold ways discernment is manifest on campus. The purpose of this biweekly column will be to explain the whys and hows of discernment. I will argue in favor of taking time to discern, and I will provide concrete methods for you to practice discernment.
But first, I want to tell you a story, the story of my own discernment journey. Then you may appreciate why I think so highly of it.
Coming into college in the fall of 2018, I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, fresh and full of confidence. After all, I had succeeded in achieving and accomplishing all the accolades in my high school days. Why would anything be different now?
As many first-years, I was full of confidence and ego. I rushed through Moreau reflections. I procrastinated on my homework and hurried to complete assignments before the midnight deadline. My motto was: “Due tomorrow? Do tomorrow.”
Aside from competing on the track and field team, I was inactive in my dorm, clubs or other extracurricular experiences. On the weekends, I went to parties on Friday, tailgated hard before football games on Saturday and played video games on Sunday. In general, I took a utilitarian approach, seeking to maximize the apparent good.
Later, I learned that what I perceived as good was not always so. Conversely, what I thought to be worthless was of highest value.
Needless to say, I neglected discernment.
I avoided discerning probably because I subconsciously knew it would be painful. I knew the path I was heading down was not the one for me, so I steered away from this realization.
Throughout my first year, I successfully suppressed the quiet voice of my conscience, but that strategy was bound for failure. In my second fall semester, a series of events left me vulnerable and confused. Though I still projected an aura of confidence, I felt more uncertain than ever. There were so many questions. “What is my purpose?” “What kind of life do I want to live?” “What kind of person should I become?” These questions broke through my hard heart and overwhelmed my stubborn mind with doubt and anxiety.
Back then, men did not address mental health so candidly. I did not seek support but instead self-isolated. I skipped class because I felt that everyone would discover the imposter I really was. Eventually, I became quite depressed.
Soon thereafter my loving parents paid me a visit. They knew something was off. After opening up with them, we decided that I would withdraw from the University and reapply next fall.
That year away from college was the best gift I could have received. Indeed, God was seeking me before I could seek Him. I got a job at LifeTime Café, took classes at UNC Charlotte and attended therapy sessions with Dr. Mermelstein. I enjoyed the time at home with mom and dad. I cooked dinners, baked bread and gardened.
Most importantly, I was compelled to reflect on my withdrawal from school. I was forced to discern. Thank God.
After taking a quasi-gap year, I returned to Notre Dame, switched from engineering to philosophy and quit the track and field team. I explored different courses of study and career paths, decided to reflect deeply and began to embody the values toward which I aspired.
Since then, since experiencing that failure, since walking through a valley of darkness, I have experienced the most fulfilling years of my life. I discovered my interests, found my calling and became more discerning in my everyday judgments. As I was living in darkness, I saw a great light.
The message of this story is twofold. First, take time to discern. Take time to reflect with yourself and with others on those big life questions. Second, if you are living in darkness, you may soon experience a great light. It was not until I had experienced darkness that I could appreciate the light.
So, do yourself a favor and don’t delay discernment. Don’t do what I did my first year, letting life pass by unexamined. Instead, think about what is truly important to you. Think about what you really want in life. Think about where God is calling you to go and who He is calling you to be.
Whether you are choosing your major, choosing your career or choosing ways to spend your free time, discernment is for you.
Joey Jegier is a senior at Notre Dame studying philosophy, ESS and German. He enjoys coffee, conversation and taking time to be still (when possible). Areas of interest include mysticism, education and discernment. Joey loves the city of South Bend and regularly visits the farmers market, his only source of milk and eggs. He would love to chat about anything and can be reached at email@example.com.