Fear is a normal element in the process of discernment, and it is not bad. We need to be able to deal with our fears, however. Saint Ignatius offers this advice in his Spiritual Exercises:
“When we attempt to live a good life and seek the will of God, the evil spirit offers all kinds of problems and obstacles to just do so. He attempts to create in us a false sadness for things that will be missed; he will try to arise anxiety about our perseverance when we see we are weak, and he will suggest numberless obstacles. The evil spirit uses discouragement and disillusionment to prevent us from growing in the life of Christ… the evil spirit will subtly generate dissatisfaction with our own efforts, will raise doubts and anxiety about the love of God and our own answer….
The good spirit, however, strengthens and encourages, comforts and inspires, establishes peace and sometimes moves us to a firm resolve. To lead a good life gives delight and joy and no obstacle seems so formidable that we cannot overcome it with the grace of God…the good spirit thus continues the progress of a good person in his or her answer to the constant invitations from God…”
But fear not always comes from the evil spirit…How can we tell between fears, doubts and questions that are not healthy and come from the evil spirit and those which don't?
- We could be asking ourselves:
- Is God calling me to the religious life?
- Is God calling me to a life of celibacy, poverty, and obedience?
- Does my call rather reflect my strong desire to create a family?
- Could I be truly happy being celibate?
These are valid questions, but they can generate fears and leave us more and more confused. How can we know?
Saint Ignatius says that we have to look inside of us and see if these questions lead us to deeper desires. However, if asking these questions leave us more and more saddened, confused, anxious and paralyzed, that means they are not from the good spirit.
Some examples that can help:
Let us think that a person in discernment has felt joy and consolation for some time but, when reaching the time to make a vocational decision, he or she suffers a type of resistance that leaves him or her full of doubt, fear, sadness and confusion leading nowhere. In that case, the evil spirit is at work. If, on the other hand, what he or she feels is that the feelings lead to deal with deeper questions or issues, the source is the good spirit.
So if we feel hopelessly stuck in confusion, doubt, fear or sadness after having been joyful in looking at a particular decision, those fears are not from the good spirit, because no one would advise us to follow our fears. If, on the other hand, because of these fears we feel called to deal with unresolved issues, then it is the good spirit.
In either case, what we need to do is:
- Engage in prayer daily
- Seek spiritual direction