I’ve learned a lot about discernment over the last few years. Being a wise, discerning person is something to which I’ve always aspired. When I was very young I was taught the story of King Solomon asking God for wisdom. I was told then that this is a gift that we can ask for and God will always give it. Perhaps my motives were less than saintly (as most of my motives tend to be) but that seemed like a pretty sweet deal...I wasn’t going to pass up on asking for something that I would definitely receive.
Over the years I’ve continued to ask God for wisdom and discernment, and to be honest, I struggle with how to have humble confidence - see my last post - on whether or not this prayer has been answered. I feel that God is teaching me to see what’s going on around me, but I’m always a little nervous having confidence in myself. One of my greatest insecurities is the fear that I lack self-awareness - that I’m actually like Michael Scott in The Office and have no idea how people really see me.
A few years back, a friend commented on the value of communities of discernment - which was a new term to me at the time. He went on to explain that wise people take matters of discernment to their community and do not get overly confident in an answer before it has been subjected to prayer with others. This seemed wise.
Since that time, I’ve had several opportunities to engage in discernment processes with others - sometimes it is formally structured, sometimes less so - but each time the goal is to seek God’s guidance together.
This is going to be somewhat vague as I’m not ready to put specifics on the interweb just yet... but recently there was an issue that I’d been wrestling over for months, seemingly to no avail. I simply could not find any peace. The whole thing was causing me to feel disconnected - spiritually, emotionally, relationally - as if I was just floating along with little purpose or meaningful interactions in my life. I tried to approach the issue in prayer, with study, with logic, with imagination...but solutions continued to evade my grasp.
Finally, it seemed that I was discerning a response from God. It wasn’t as though God were sitting on the couch telling me what to do. But there was a response that kept coming back in my mind over and over and I felt like I understood that to which it was calling.
Typically this type of realization brings a sense of peace, even if the answer itself isn’t what I expected or thought I wanted. But this time I just wasn’t feeling it. I want to be faithful to the Spirit’s guidance, and this seemed to be just that...so why couldn’t I feel at peace with it?
I began making plans to take this issue to my community.
In the meantime, I continued to pray. I talked the matter over with Rachel, and she prayed.
Then, as I worked an over-night security shift, I spent time reading through the book of Acts and had some things stand out in very confrontational ways - ways which seemed to conflict with what I thought I was hearing. It wasn’t that what I thought I was hearing was in conflict with Scripture per se, but what I felt it was calling me to seemed counter to how this passage called out to my heart.
First thing in the morning I received an email from Rachel, with a text she’d read that morning and the comment, “I think this was actually meant for you.” Though it was a completely different context, the message was very much the same as what I’d gleaned from Acts the night before.
That afternoon I had a brief conversation with a professor friend of mine who made some seemingly random comments which once again connected with the previous night’s reading.
The next day I talked with my friend Anthony and asked him to comment on the initial issue of discernment. I didn’t go into the events of the previous couple days. He has been a trusted friend, coach and counselor for the past three years and knows my situation as well as just about anyone. His response, after hearing what I’d felt God was saying in the initial piece of discernment was basically, “I think you’re on to something, but maybe you’re interpreting it wrong.”
As soon as he said that, all the pieces fell into place. The scripture passages, the conversations with Rachel and Elaine, my own lack of peace...it all made more sense. Through this continued process and struggle with communal discernment it became apparent that the Spirit was leading me in a certain direction and I’d misinterpreted what that meant on a practical level.
And here’s where the whole process seems to get confirmation. Since those conversations, I haven’t really changed much of what I’m doing day-to-day, but suddenly doors for connection and conversation have been swinging open left and right. In the past couple weeks friendships have deepened - often at the other’s instigation - and people I barely know have sought me out for one reason or another. I’ve been given the honor of being asked to walk through confusing, painful and even frightening situations with people who have not known me long enough to trust me...or maybe they haven’t known me long enough NOT to trust me! ;)
My schedule is still just as hectic and stressful, an issue that needs to be addressed, but I’m not feeling so disconnected and lacking peace.
I’d love to know whether this experience resonates with your own. Have you had similar times of struggle and discernment? What was it that helped you find peace? How did you go about listening to the Spirit?