(Learn to Discern, Principle #9)
Have you ever found yourself looking for help with difficult decision, only to leave the conversation feeling like the other person’s ideas just didn’t fit? Or worse, have you ever followed a piece of advice, only to realise later that it was terrible advice for you, even if the person giving it meant well? Maybe you’ve received good advice, but were in a place where you just weren’t ready to hear it?
It seems like there are very few occasions in life that are helped by direct advice: either it doesn’t really work for our unique situation, or we need to move forward on our own in order to discover our own best path.
Of course, sometimes in the process of discernment, we can get stuck in our own heads, trapped in a circle of thoughts that don’t seem to lead anywhere. Our position as an ‘insider’ to our own situation can make us unable to see outside things. Sometimes we can even miss things that are glaringly obvious!
(Here’s a silly example of my own ‘insider’ blindness: our kitchen door required several door stoppers to remain open, which slowly failed to work over time, requiring us to stack more and more stoppers on top of one another. One day a friend came over and casually just turned one stopper over on its side… thereby making it tall enough to hold the door open perfectly! Talk about missing the obvious…)
Suffice it to say, there are times in life when inviting an outside person into our discernment process can be really helpful.
The key is finding someone who is a good fit for us.
I’ve noticed that sometimes people who are facing a very difficult question seek advice and guidance in the form of someone they believe can act as a kind of “medium” for God: whatever that person says, it’s like hearing it directly from God, and then the discerner can just follow that direction.
The problem is, that kind of guidance goes against the whole process of discernment! Christian discernment happens within the relationship of the individual and God. It is only in extremely rare circumstances that someone else could tell us exactly what God wants for our lives- and even then, we’d have to discern if the message were true.
Certainly we can know what God doesn’t want: a life based on hatred, fear, or other sinful and negative behaviours. And we can know generally what He does want for us: a life based on love, joy, and service to others. But when it comes to the specifics, it’s almost impossible for someone else to tell me the exact thing I should do.
Wise guidance – whomever it is from – is going to be respectful of us as individuals, and will not try to usurp the place of our relationship with God. Instead, wise guidance will offer us an opportunity to have a better conversation with God along our way of discernment.
So how do you know if someone is offering wise guidance? Here are three characteristics to look for.
|| ONE || The person is a good listener. He or she doesn’t spend the majority of time talking at you. Instead, he or she offers a space where you can voice, in total honesty, what is going on inside.
|| TWO || The person asks good questions. Rather than offering solutions to every problem you have, a wise guide will get you thinking even more deeply about your own situation – opening up new perspectives that you might have missed as an insider.
|| THREE || The person is disinterested. That doesn’t mean uninterested, of course! But he or she doesn’t have a vested interest in you choosing one thing or another. At the very least, they should be able to set aside their own interests in order to be more objective. (No easy thing for many people.)
Wise guidance can be hard to find. It’s often a matter of trial and error – many unhelpful conversations until finally discovering someone who helps us know ourselves better. Of course, we can always ask for Divine help in finding a wise guide, too!
Can you identify times in your own life when you’ve experienced wise guidance? Have you considered what made it so helpful?
P.S. I love talking through the discernment process with people. If you think it might help you, please do get in touch!