(Learn to Discern, Principle #12)
Have you ever found yourself asking God to speak to you, while hoping He’ll only say one particular thing?
“God do you want me to take this new job? Please say yes.”
But then you worry that your desire for only one answer makes you not really open to listening?
“I know it could be not the right job, but it’d be really great if it were the right job so… yes?”
You’re in a spot where you want to “be open,” but you don’t really feel open. You feel like you know what you want to hear.
So you end up in this crazy loop of asking God to speak, and trying to listen, but unsure whether you’re actually listening.
“Is God calling me to x? Maybe. I’m not sure. But what if it’s because I’m not listening/ don’t desire x/ desire y which is mutually exclusive of x/ am not truly open? But it seems like maybe not x? But what if it seems like maybe not because I’m not listening / don’t desire it/ desire something else/ am not truly open?”
How do you know if you’re truly open, when you suspect your own desire might be getting in the way?
First, make sure you have a proper view of how Divine Providence works. We’re not robots. God gave us desire and free will as part of our humanity, and they must factor into our discernment.
Second, distinguish between passing emotions and deep desire. Surface level emotions or feelings are fleeting: they may be caused by a headache or loneliness or winning a bingo game. Even if they feel intense in the moment, they tend not to last or be tied to our interior life. Our deeper desires, on the other hand, are more lasting and intuitive. They are present regardless of external situations and often become clearer in prayer.
Third, recognise that it is possible for God to speak to us through our desire—but under particular circumstances, namely, when we’re habitually living in a way that is open to Him.
“Habitually” is key. It means that it comes as naturally to as brushing our teeth: we do it without thinking, and even when we’re tired, we do it anyway.
That requires us to be tuned into God and ourselves. It requires us to be leading lives that are generally oriented toward good things. It requires us to be familiar with sorting out surface-level emotions from deeper desires.
Truly “being open” doesn’t mean “lacking all deep personal desire”. It means living in such a way that the whole of our lives are given over to God, very practically, every day. We practice giving each moment and each experience to Him.
In short, “being open” means that we’re leading listening kinds of lives.
Are you? Are you in regular conversation with God? Do you live your days such that if God wanted to speak, it would be natural and easy for you to listen?
If you are, chances are that the positive desire you feel for a good thing is an indication to move in that direction. (It’s not a guarantee, but by using good principles of discernment, by trying on and trying out the good thing, the way forward will become clearer.)
If you aren’t, your desire is a lot more unreliable. You may be confusing desire with emotion. Or you may be drawn to things that aren’t good for you. You may have bad habits that interfere with your ability to really hear God speaking to you, either through your desires or some other way.
You either lead a listening kind of life, or you don’t. Of course it doesn’t happen overnight: it’s a habit and there’s always room for improvement, but overall, you know which way you’re facing.
So jump out of the crazy loop of “am I truly open about this specific thing” for a moment, and pause to consider your desire in the context of your life as a whole.
In Part II, we’ll dive into more specifics of what a listening kind of life looks like.