How many times have you and I heard sermons about “Finding God’s will” or “How do we know what to do with our lives?” And, how many times have these sermons or other churchy conversations resulted in the same answers like “Pray more” or “Find more quiet times?” Or just, “Trust God more. It will all work out.”
When I got to seminary, the conversation went to new heights with the word “discernment.” We discern God’s will for our life as we center our hearts and truly listen. If we do such, we’ll always know what to do next. At least this is what I got from my professors.
But is this really true? Does discernment have to be such a thing? Is the calling of Christians– followers of Jesus– to take such time a part in meditation that we can arrive at the answer for the days of our lives?
As a pastor, I even taught a course once in discernment. Using the Companions in Christ series by Marjorie Thompson, a group of us at the church met at the church weekly to talk through topics such as deep listening, finding God’s best for us and wrestling with the big questions of life. At the end of the study, I found myself with more questions than answers. Some of the class members were frustrated. I told them, “Keep listening.”
I was having lunch with a friend this week and she just came out with it: “I know in the church we are told to spend time discerning, figuring out our calling and all the rest. But in the end we just don’t know. Life all a crap shoot.”
And I appreciated her honesty more than I could say at the time.
It’s not that “discernment” is a word that should be thrown out of a faith vocabulary. I believe in intentional decision-making. And how are we not going to keep repeating the same bad choices if we don’t take time out from time to time to reflect, confess our mistakes and change course.
But discernment can really blow because sometimes we can go through the most spiritual process we can muster up only to arrive with empty hands.
There are some situations for which one choice is not better than another.
There are some situations when we find the “right” answer only to be thrown a curve ball at the last-minute like wacky weather and a canceled flight, a death in the family or the diagnoses of illness that remind us that none of us are really in control of our destinies.
There are just some seasons of our lives where what we do or reason can not change an outcome– even if we willed it with all our might.
Life happens and all we can do is respond in the moment.
We don’t get the job.
Our beloved breaks up with us.
We get a infection that just won’t go away.
But, I take hope from a quote that I have on a bulletin board in my kitchen taken from Rainer Maria Rillke’s Letters to a Young Poet. Maybe the frustration and the trying and the trying again is a part of the process.
“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
So if you’ve discerned and discerned and walked in faith on new paths only to find yourself falling flat, take hope. Someday there will be an answer. We can hope together on this one.