When pondering this question about deciding between becoming a nun and having a family, I couldn't help but think of that famous song "Dueling Banjos". Discernment is a process where sometimes there are dueling ideas fighting for prominence in our mind and heart. As the Jesuits remind us in the Ignatian process of discernment, it is always a choice between two goods. That’s what makes it so hard. Neither option is bad, and we can often see ourselves doing either one. Thank God we are not figuring this out by ourselves!
We are not unaided in this important life choice process. Recall the verse from Isaiah, “Although the God gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Isaiah 30:20-21) I just LOVE this word from God. How reassuring to hear that we shall hear God’s voice in our ear! So knowing that the Spirit is working with us to guide our important choices, we can trust that the Spirit will move our hearts.
One of the key discernment guides is the consolation/desolation tool. Presuming we have committed our decision to God for assistance, and that we are listening regularly and seeking wise outside help, we can use the desolation/consolation practice. Try on the thought of marriage and family for a while and see what you hear in your heart. Does the thought of this option bring great peace, a lifting of your heart, a deep peace, a desire to be even more faithful to God? Or does it bring your spirit down, a feeling of discouragement, restlessness, or like something is missing? Now do the same process with the choice of religious life. Does something move you toward this way of expressing your love for God? Does it bring a quiet peace even though it may be challenging, or a desire or yearning for God that might not make complete sense? Or does it bring a feeling of desolation, darkness, or heaviness?
In this time of discerning, work with a wise spiritual director or guide, and listen over time to guidance that comes from nudges, conversations, books, dreams or daydreams. And most importantly listen in regular prayer to the stirrings of your heart where God is speaking to you.