Discernment doesn’t have to be some heavy, serious, complicated process. Just this week I was reading a denominational booklet designed to help churches discern their growth strategy, and it was exhausting to read all the intricate instructions. It even suggested that groups spend time discerning whether or not to use that particular discernment model. You can see how such instructions can easily discourage people from moving forward.
I like a good process as much as the next guy, but I say use a process only if it helps you and makes you feel like you are covering important information. Just remember that the most critical part of discernment is listening to your inner core of wisdom around the question you are facing. If you consider options that increase your joy, enthusiasm and energy and rule out ones that feel oppressive, anxious and life-crushing then you will be on your way to making a choice that, as Jesus might put it, “gives you abundant life.”
So here are some helpful, simple questions you can ask to draw you closer to God and closer to choices that are in line with that relationship.
When I consider this option, am I feeling a deep sense of peace? (Also ask about joy, energy, enthusiasm)
If not, what is in the way? (You will want to determine if what is in the way is real or a distraction.)
Does the option I am leaning toward feed a true longing within me?
What is my deepest desire in this situation?
If the desire seems selfish or petty, ask yourself what is behind the desire. What do you really, truly want in life? Which option leads me closer to what I truly desire in life?
Does the option I am considering contribute to repairing the world in some way?
Is the option I am considering life-giving to my significant others? (“Count the cost” as Jesus put it.)
Look at each option and ask “What if I don’t choose this path—how might I feel?”
Who would I be making this choice for and why? Am I making it freely, or do I feel compelled, guilty, pushed or in some way “unfree?”
These are wonderful questions that a spiritual director can help you explore. When we do our discernment with another–especially someone who has no vested interest in the outcome—we are less likely to railroad ourselves into a choice for the wrong reasons or disregard important information that may be uncomfortable to consider.
For more about spiritual direction as I practice it, check out my website. If you have questions or comments about the content of Spiritual Direction 101, please let me hear from you in the reply section below.