For the past six years, Laurie Nick has been on a path of discernment. The 20-year-old junior is studying education at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, but those courses only cover what she would need for a career as a middle school math and science teacher.
Her spiritual guidance to recognize God’s call in her life is being nurtured through Listeners of the Lord, a women’s discernment group she leads.
“Discerning a religious life is something that’s a little bit against the grain, not going with social norms. So it’s really hard to know if what you’re experiencing in your discernment is normal to discernment because you don’t meet many discerners in your day to day life,” Nick said. “I was 14 when I attended my first discernment retreat. This awesome older girl took me under her wing and helped me discern. Even when she entered an order, she continued to write me letters and really support me in that journey and that was huge to help me form a foundation for my discernment. I’ve been mentoring younger girls in discernment and thought maybe it’s time to form a group.”
The group had five attendees at its first meeting March 18 at St. John Center in Little Rock. The group will meet one Saturday a month from 10 a.m. to noon with Sister Joan Pytlik, DC, minister for religious at the Diocese of Little Rock, as an advisor.
Nick, who has attended four or five discernment retreats through the diocese, said she chose the name “Listeners of the Lord” because paying attention to the Lord’s voice in their lives is a key part of discerning.
The meetings will be relaxed, but with a structure. Nick said the women talked and mingled for a little while before opening prayer. They discussed the highs and lows of discernment and the topic of the month, “daily choices to help you actively pursue God’s will for your life not only for your future vocation — what is God calling you to that day.”
“Everyone creates a challenge for the upcoming month for themselves, kind of based off of what we talked about that meeting,” she said, related to how they’ll “grow in your love for the Lord over the next month,” and help keep each other accountable if they chose to share their challenge. There is “no real guidebook on how to discern,” so Nick said community support is important.
Sister Johanna Marie Melnyk, OSB, who serves at Christ the King Church in Little Rock, discussed religious life with the young women and Nick said she’d like to have a religious sister at every meeting. Sister Johanna said she was impressed at their happy nature, but also their serious relationships with God at such young ages, as some were still in high school.
“There are a lot of people who can talk to you about marriage, family life, relationships, but not a lot of people who can often advise you on religious life … I think it’s going to be a big help to them” to share knowledge and be supportive, she said.
It is not the first time a group of women discerners has gathered in the diocese. A Little Flowers discernment group met several years ago.
“It’s so good to have someone else going through that process trying to increase their love for the Lord and figure out God’s will in their life whether it’s for the religious life, married life, single life,” Nick said. “They don’t have to be in any sense discerning the religious life. It’s about discovering God’s will for your life … some people may feel called to religious life but then God may call them to something else.”
Sister Johanna, who has been a nun for 14 years, said while St. Paul fell to the ground from God’s great light, which led to his conversion and following the Lord, discernment isn’t typically that simple.
“I think a lot of people would love it if it was that easy and clear. But it isn’t, God is much more subtle and works through the experiences of our daily lives,” she said. “… It is usually a lengthier process than maybe people appreciate.”
In the future, Nick said she’d like to see the group expand to more areas in Arkansas.
“I just really hope that this group becomes what the mission statement says it is — a group of young women who gather as a community to pray and support each other as they discover God’s will for their lives,” Nick said.
For more information, e-mail Nick at .
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