A couple weeks ago, our church’s T4 group (Thursday Theology Talk on Tap… I love alliteration, can you tell?) gathered at the Lost Dog Cafe around the the question, how do you decide? When confronted with a decision or a puzzle, what resources do you deploy to determine the right course of action? If you are a person of faith, how do you listen for the leading of the Spirit, or the inner guidance, or whatever you want to call that sense of knowing that helps us find our way? (The churchy word for that is discernment.)
As I thought about what to bring to that gathering, an article came across my social media stream: How To Know When You’re Trusting God… Or Just Being Stupid by Corey Nieuwhof. It’s well worth your time, even if you are not a theist. Nieuwhof offers two thoughtful questions to help you evaluate whether that leap into the unknown is a faithful decision that will allow you sprout wings, or whether you’re likely to plummet to the ground because you didn’t do your due diligence. It’s not foolproof—nothing in discernment is—but it’s good guidance.
I also shared with the group some of my own favorite discernment tools, and I asked some of you for additional ones. Here is a compilation:
The Daily Examen is that Ignatian (Jesuit) practice of looking lovingly at your life for grateful and “least grateful” moments. These places of consolation and desolation can be powerful guides. A great resource is the book Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life by the Linns.
Lectio Divina is a way of reading scripture prayerfully to allow the voice of the Spirit to speak to you. There are many guides to this practice on the Internet; here’s a good one.
I’m not a Quaker (though I like to joke that my spiritual “inner child” is Quaker), but I’ve long been intrigued by the Quaker Clearness Committee. This is a trusted group of wise listeners whose job is to hear the person struggling with the decision or difficulty, and ask non-directive questions. Parker Palmer has a great story about working with a clearness committee when discerning a call to be president of a college. When they asked what he would enjoy about the work, he made a list of things he wouldn’t like about it. When they reminded him the question was what he would enjoy, he was silent for a long time and said, “I’d enjoy having my name in the paper.” One of the people leaned in with a twinkle and said, “Do you think there might be other ways to get your name in the paper?” He didn’t take the job.
I have had a Spiritual Director for many years—this is a person (usually specially trained) to help me “listen to my life” and see the patterns, growth opportunities, gratitudes, and places that need healing. Pastors can function as spiritual directors for their congregants—I have played this role with people before—but I like being able to meet with someone every couple of months, and that’s a hard rhythm for a pastor to sustain.
A friend suggested Morning Pages as a tool for discernment—that’s three pages of stream of consciousness writing every day, written without stopping or censoring. Morning pages can bring to the surface buried thoughts and emotions that can guide us as we face decisions or difficulties. Read Julia Cameron’s books for more info, especially The Artist’s Way.
Another friend suggested developing a moral code or personal mission statement that decisions can be lifted alongside: is this opportunity consistent with what makes me come alive? (And remember, I like that question better than Frederich Beuchner’s words about vocation. No idea what I’m talking about? Here’s a post about that.)
Along the lines of the previous, this may be my favorite discovery. A friend directed me to the poem Where I’m From, which includes an exercise you can do to write your own “where I’m from” poem. I can see how such an exercise would help you find your true north when faced with a quandary. Check it out here.
What do you think? How do you decide? And what resources would you add?