Discernment — It May Not Be What You Think

There’s a phenomenon known as “analysis paralysis.” In essence, it refers to being so caught up in thinking about a decision that you face that you never actually make the decision. You go back-and-forth over alternatives wondering “what if” and “why not” and never actually make a move.

It’s a phenomenon which causes headaches for businesses, families and (especially) those who are trying to discern God’s will for their lives. And not just those discerning religious life, but all of us who feel called to God and aren’t quite sure what that means. It is all too easy to fret away our lives wondering whether or not we’re doing what God wants.

If all you’re doing is fretting, I’d venture to guess that you aren’t doing what God wants. Over at Aleteia, Meg Hunter-Kilmer takes this idea and runs with it. She describes herself as a “hobo missionary” who travels with no set agenda or fixed destinations. Her practical, lived advice on discernment is as refreshing as it is startling.

It’s a life of near-constant discernment, trying to figure out where to go and when, how long to stay and what to speak on. But I don’t spend a lot of time sitting in prayer waiting for angels to descend and hand me an itinerary. In fact, I discern in just the same way I tell others to discern: I’ve largely quit seeking God’s will.

https://aleteia.org/2019/01/28/if-youre-discerning-you-have-to-read-this-it-will-change-what-you-think-you-know/

Meg expands on the idea, giving some practical advice which is simultaneously simple and difficult to follow. At the end of the piece she takes a gentle, self-deprecating tone as she contemplates her ultimate encounter with God.

It’s entirely possible that I’m going to go to my judgment and find the triune God standing baffled before me, wondering why on earth I thought I ought to be homeless and unemployed for the sake of the kingdom. There’s a reason people don’t live this way, and perhaps I’ve gotten it totally wrong and I was really supposed to be an accountant in Idaho or something.

Still, I expect to see pleasure mixed in with the bafflement. “Oh, but honey, well done. It was a weird life you chose, but you tried so hard. You got it wrong, but you sure were seeking me.”

https://aleteia.org/2019/01/28/if-youre-discerning-you-have-to-read-this-it-will-change-what-you-think-you-know/

So, if you’re not quite sure what God has in mind for your life, join the rest of us confused human beings and follow Meg’s sage advice on discernment.

— Dad (of Evan)

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Decisions, Decisions

© Copyright P L Chadwick and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence 2.0 attribution and sharealikeTwo roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…

Robert Frost perfectly captured the agony of choice in his poem The Road Not Taken. Each choice we make closes off others, each represents a commitment of sorts … a path we have chosen to follow knowing that there may be regret for the path left unexplored.

This came up recently on the Word On Fire Show with Bishop Robert Barron. The particular episode was a discussion called Heroic Priesthood. After spending some time talking about what it means to be a priest and how the ordained priesthood differs from the priesthood of all believers, Bishop Barron spends a few minutes talking about discernment. He suggests several useful tools including listening to the voices of others and finding a spiritual director. At the end of that he says:

Realize that life is short. One thing I find with the millennials a lot is they have this thing about keeping every option open all the time. That I have all options open all the time. Well you don’t. Life is short. It goes by fast. And so you can’t just keep everything open, you’ve got to say, “Jump in.” Jump onto a path. It’s not going to be perfect. You will have some regrets, but everybody does.

(The whole episode is worth your time, so click on over to listen to it as it includes some advice for the parents of discerners as well.)

So, what’s the antidote to indecision? Decisiveness. Easier said than done, though. What do you do if all options seem equally valid?

There was a good answer in a profile piece that ran on the Washington Post. It explores the discernment journey of a seminarian in DC. Anthony Furgeson felt drawn to the life of an artist and only gradually heard the call to priesthood.

He describes his early sense of being called as “horrifying”. He talks about waffling between being thrilled and terrified by the idea of religious life. Eventually, just before Christmas of 2013, he arrived at a moment of clarity.

“I felt like there was a fork in the road,” he recalls. “I could either choose life with this really nice girl, or I could apply to seminary. I knew I had to decide, and I knew if I decided one way, it would kinda close off the other path.”

At a Sunday Mass he prayed for guidance. “The response that I really sensed back — and I’m not going to say it was a Charlton Heston voice — it was just very gentle, quiet, placed-on-the-soul interior realization that it didn’t really matter which way I chose. The Lord would be there either way.”

Knowing that made it easier for Ferguson to consider what he truly wanted. “And when I thought about going into the priesthood, I really did feel that there was a warm sense of peace,” he says.

I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by a couple of priests — God is not going to be angry if you choose one good over another. Conversely, God will be with you no matter which path you choose. So, as Bishop Barron says, “Jump onto a path.”

For parents, this means being willing to give your child the space to discern and let them know that they have your support either way. No matter what, they will still be your child and you can be confident that God will be with them.

I don’t think Robert Frost was speaking of religious life, but he made a good point when he finished his poem with:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

— Dad (of Evan)

Advice from a Seminarian

A few weeks ago an article entitled The Inside Scoop on Seminary: 3 Things You Should Know Before Entering turned up in my feed.

It makes interesting reading, so I’ll encourage you just to follow the link above and see what those “3 things” are.  I will tell you that I shared the article with Evan and he said it was pretty consistent with his experience — and the experience of his Paulist brothers.

What is most encouraging about the article is the end.  After dispensing insight and advice, the author finishes with:

In short, be the man God made you to be and then He’ll make you into the Priest He wants you to be. Don’t worry about anything, because if Jesus Christ wants you to be His priest, then no power on earth or in hell can stop that from happening.

— Dad