Discernment

I was originally interested in getting a book named “Prayer in the Digital Age” and I wanted to get it with another book so I could get the free-shipping deal from amazon. And then I thought it’d be nice to get a book that talks about discernment to prepare for my silent retreat. But before I placed the order on amazon, a friend told me he just got a book on discernment recently and I ended up bought no books from amazon, and have been reading “Weeds Among the Wheat” instead.

I find the book to be very enlightening.

I first encountered the term “discernment” in the 加東 context. It’s a one-day meeting to “discern whether you want to work for God by serving in the committee for the upcoming year”. (That’s my interpretation of the meeting anyways, most likely not correct.) My idea of discernment was pretty much limited to this particular context. It wasn’t until more recent years that I heard from friends around me mentioning this term in casual conversations, that there is a need to “discern” before making certain decisions.

In the past, I think I have only tried “thinking things through” or “analyzed the pros and cons”, without truly discerning what God’s will was for that particular moment in time, for that particular decision that I had to make. I definitely didn’t know what discernment was really about.

This book “Weeds Among The Wheat” is much more readable and practical then what I imagined it to be. My purpose of writing this blog entry is actually an attempt to help me summarize what I’ve read so far.

Discernment is, according to the author, “the meeting point of prayer and action”. This phrase alone is inspiring. What makes more sense than acting based on what you’ve heard in prayer? How does prayer count if it has no effect on your day-to-day actions?

In chapter 1, the author has stated some important distinctions to grasp to really understand what discernment is about:

…one must be able to make certain important distinctions: for example, between working for God and doing God’s work, between discerning and deciding, between listening to one’s feelings and relying on one’s reason

One thing that definitely surprises me is the significance being put on one’s feelings. I have heard about consolation and desolation before, other than accepting them both as “normal states of one’s spiritual life”, it doesn’t seem to have any other significance to me. But this book has shed much light on it.

What I appreciate about the author’s approach is that he has spent time on laying some important ground work before talking about discernment. He discussed a few possible views of God: “the watchmaker” – whose involvement with his creation ends when he has finished making it, “the puppeteer” – who has absolute dominion over humans, or “the father of adult children” – who finds fulfillment and success in the responsible independence of the child come of age. Discernment only makes sense in the third worldview.

There are a 3 crucial qualities that the discerner should possess:

  1. A desire to do God’s will
  2. Openness to God:  the counter examples quoted are the Pharisees –

    “They could not properly discern the person and mission of Jesus, and his call to them, because they were blinded by their own preconceptions, their own attachments

  3. A knowledge of God: this third point is (very sadly) one that I’ve never paid enough attention to. The author has provided a very good analogy of what this really means. He recalled an occasion of accompanying his mom shopping for a tie for Father’s Day. His mom quickly selected 4 or 5 that he would like, and then picked 1 or 2 that “would please him most”. And his mom did pick the ties that his dad would link.

    “How? Only because she had shared his life for 40 years, because she had that love-born “knowledge by connaturality”

#3 has sort of helped me clear my question of “why do people need a spiritual director?” The author explains that the director is someone who has more experiences with God. “In the immediate crisis the director can interpret for me what the Lord desires, but his or her primary role is to guide me to that personal knowledge which will enable me to become a discerning person myself.”

The author describes a few more essential qualities of heart of the discerner: humble, charitable and courageous.

“He or she must be humble, because faith situations are obscure, and because our discernment is always impeded to some extent by our own sinfulness… the genuinely discerning soul should always be marked by a healthy self-doubt and by an openness to be guided by the Lord through others.”

“The true discerner must be charitable, since as a mature pray-er, such a person knows well his or her own weakness and sinfulness and capacity for self-deception. Thus he or she will be very slow to judge others harshly because they happen to see things differently. Even if my discernment is genuine, what I discern is the Lord’s will for me here and now… I do not usually discern for someone else, unless the Lord has made me a prophet, a co-discerner, in their lives.”

“Such a person must also be courageous. That is, the healthy self-doubt in the genuine discerner’s heart does not lead to timidity or paralysis, but rather to the courage to risk. Actually, the discerner does have a certain “certitude” concerning the Lord’s will for him or her. It is a certitude of faith and not of reason; and it is a practical certitude rather than theoretical; that is, I feel sure, after prayer and openness to direction, that I should act in this way here and now, and I am convinced that such action is the only honest, loving thing for me to do. I may not know the reasons why. Objectively, I may be mistaken. But the Lord does not ask us, (thank God!), to be always right. What he asks is that we be always honest, always true to the best understanding of his will that we can attain to.”

I have read 7 chapters so far, I’ve only covered till the beginning of chapter 3… I will continue with summarizing in my next posts.

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I went to see the movie “Soul Surfer” earlier. One day, I could relate a scene from the movie in the context of discernment. The father said to the daughter. There is a way to tell if a wave is coming. If you remain calm and feel the water, it will tell you about the wave. The signs could be very subtle, but if you remain calm and clear, you will be able to feel it. During the last phase of the competition, the daughter remembers what her dad told her. She could feel a wave is coming from the other side of the sea. She paddled to that other side alone. No one else knew there was a wave coming. And she was right in the end.

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