I wear reading glasses these days, especially when the light is low or I’m particularly tired. Without them the words tend to blur on the page, but when I pull them out (sometimes letting go of the embarrassment of needing them in my 30s) everything comes into focus and whatever I’m trying to read comes to life instead of being a chore.
Discernment is a way of seeing.
Ruth Haley Barton describes discernment this way in chapter seven of Sacred Rhythms: “It is a journey from spiritual blindness (not seeing God anywhere or seeing him only where we expect to see him) to spiritual sight (finding God everywhere, especially where we least expect it).” Discernment must become a habit, something that we practice throughout our everyday, ordinary life so that when God nudges us, we are ready. We already know how to hear from Him.
There are decisions in our lives that feel weightier than others. Big moves, the person we will marry, the school we will attend. Reflect with me about your call to ministry, to cross-cultural life. We could probably each share the ways God pushed us in this direction, the quiet whispers and the in-our-face moments that showed us that this was what He had next for us. Those journeys each look very different, don’t they? What did God teach you about discernment in that process?
I highlighted and starred and underlined this phrase: “God’s will for us is generally for us to pursue that which gives life (John 10:10) and to turn away from things that drain life from us and leave us debilitated”. I’m a slow learner when it comes to paying attention to what is life-giving. I have focused for so long on doing what needs to be done. I’m a “serve behind the scenes” kind of girl, so if tables need to be set up, or files need to be typed up, or the phone needs to be answered I’m right there to jump in and help. I have approached my ministry decisions this way too- what’s the need? What needs to be done? In the process I stopped paying attention to the condition of my soul.
We leave our comfort zones and follow on the Holy Spirit’s adventure for us which often means looking around for what the needs in the world are. My story involves a decision to leave the field because too much life was getting drained out. That might not be your story. But here’s the thing, what I keep coming back to in this chapter on discernment: we need to pay attention.
We pay attention to the ways God has used us in the past, the creative and brilliant ways He formed us from the very beginning. Your enneagram number? Your love language? Those are parts of you that matter. What moves you to tears? What stirs up anger or zeal so deep in you, you just have to do something about it? We don’t make decisions based purely on our emotions but I am learning we shouldn’t ignore them either. We pay attention to the stirrings, that sense that something might be changing. We pay attention to what is happening in the world, in our backyard.
I thought Barton’s suggestion to sit with a decision and think about how I would feel if I chose one way over another was really helpful. I can get bogged down feeling like I have to make the right choice but this felt like a good way to “test the waters” before moving forward.
I love this quote toward the end of the chapter:
“Ultimately, discernment is about falling in love and letting that decide everything. It is about falling so deeply in love with God that nothing else matters. It is about trusting God so much that all we want in this life is to abandon ourselves to the goodness of his will. It is about knowing God so intimately that we can tell what he wants just by turning our heart toward him. It is about loving ourselves and God and others so much that we will wait until we understand what love calls us to and then give ourselves to it, even when it costs us”.
Have you approached discernment as a way of loving God and others? What were your thoughts as you read this chapter? What small thing would you like to put into practice?
We are almost finished reading Sacred Rhythms together! Where did the time go? Here’s the schedule as we wrap up.
April 23: Chapter 8
April 30: Chapter 9 and Appendices