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Discernment, Part #5: Principle of the Path

Road

I have been in an ongoing discernment process, and also sharing about that process here on the blog.  For the most part, I have been following a process prescribed and laid out by St. Ignatius — the Spanish monk who founded the Jesuits.  I think it is a great process and simply going through it has been a great experience — almost irregardless of what decision I end up making.

But there is one cautionary note worth making in it comes to DISCERNMENT and it is, in the words of Andy Stanly, THE PRINCIPLE OF THE PATH.

In short, here is his thesis: DIRECTION, not INTENTION determines our DESTINATION.

In other words, if you are heading north, you will end up north even if you intended to go south.  

In fact, intentions are pretty meaningless when it comes to our journey.  All that matters is really the direction we are heading.

This is a pretty important principle to remember. 

My hope and prayer is that I am becoming a more fully devoted follower of Jesus every day.  My prayer is that I am maturing in Christ and becoming more like Him. More important than my job or vocation to God is my character — how am I growing as a human being?  How am I becoming all that God intended and created me to be?  How am I living in the glorious reality of being a created creator in the imagine of the Great Creator?

Am I on the right path to such character development?

If not, whatever intentions or decisions I make are pretty irrelevant.

I know people who INTEND on becoming DEBT FREE but are still on the PATH OF DEFICIT SPENDING (loans, credit cards, car payments, etc). Until they change directions (the literal meaning of “repent” is to “change directions” — really a 180 degree change) — because DIRECTION, not INTENTION determines our DESTINATION.

I know people who INTEND on breaking certain habits or addictions, but keep going on the same PATH that got them into the habit or addiction in the first place. Until they actually
change direction, they will not experience victory — because DIRECTION, not INTENTION determines our DESTINATION.

I know people who dream of doing world-changing great things, but quite frankly are still on the PATH OF THE ORDINARY.  And they will stay on that path until they change directions — because DIRECTION, not INTENTION determines our DESTINATION.

So part of the discernment process is an honest, in-your-face, ruthless evaluation of WHAT PATH ARE YOU ON? And where will it lead if you stay on it?

By nature, we are prone to be self-deceivers (or, at least I am).  So it isn’t always easy to really see the path we are on. But see we must — because THAT PATH WILL DETERMINE OUR DESTINATION.

So if I don’t want to end up THERE, I better change the path I am on. 

ARE YOU ON A GOOD PATH RIGHT NOW?

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Posted by on February 9, 2011 in Lessons Learned, My Story, Uncategorized

 

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Discernment, Part #4: People

Cafe

For me, the fourth step in the discernment process involves PEOPLE — my faith community.

This is less of a “next step” than an ongoing process throughout.

I share and process with other people and listen to their insights, questions, suggestions and ideas.

WHY?

Because we make better decisions in community.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people saved from terrible decisions by their community of faith — or have seen people pursue great opporunities because they were encouraged by their community of faith.

When I talk and process with people, not all people are equal in terms of the usefulness of their input.

For example, some people have secret agendas (often not that secret).  These people are not that helpful.

I remember in college, as I was trying to discern what I was going to do after graduation, I had two mentors with a campus ministry who I loved.  But they were so convinced that I was supposed to go on staff with their organization, they were completely unhelpful in my discernment process.  In fact, they were somewhat manipulative and a negative source of help during the process.  Avoid people who have an agenda for you.

Some people are so risk-averse that asking their advice is like asking an insurance agent what to do — you are always safer doing nothing and safety is the only metric they care about.  I also avoid these people.

Who do I look for?

People who know me, love me, and are genuinely for me — or at least 70% invested in me.

I also look for people who have the spiritual gifts of WISDOM, DISCERNMENT and ENCOURAGEMENT. 

People with WISDOM have the ability to ask just the right question that can really clarify some aspect of the decision-making process.

People with DISCERNMENT have the ability to sense the spiritual realities behind the decisions being made and are often the ones who can ask really good questions about motivations, etc.  As much as I would like to think I am always pure of heart and have pure motivations, that is not always true.  I need some good discernment people around me who can ask penetrating questions.  Without them, I am often tempted to choose the safe or easy path… or the path that will lead to the most verbal affirmation (which can be a vicious cycle!)

People with ENCOURAGEMENT give me the courage to pursue God’s best vision for me.  It is amazing how deflating and discouraging some people are when you present ideas to them… it is soul-killing!  But encouragers increase your courage and it is soul-feeding!

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2011 in Lessons Learned, My Story, Uncategorized

 

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Discernment, Part #3: Process

Journaling

I have been posting this week about the discernment method I am working through as I face some big questions about WHAT IS NEXT FOR ME in the coming months and years.  You can read Part #1 here and Part #2 here.

This third post is about PROCESSING THE INFORMATION & EXPERIENCE gained in step #2 (prayer).

After my prayer times, I write down in a journal (or Google Doc, Evernote, etc) everything that I said to Jesus, how I felt during the prayer time (consolation of spirit? desolation of spirit?) and any senses, promptings or feelings I got during the time.  I also write down any other questions or issues that I want to talk to Jesus about the next time we meet to talk about this option.

I do this each time after I pray through one of the options.  I will pray about each option for several days — and then I can look for trends, flags, etc, in my response, feelings, etc.

During this process, it is likely that some of the options will kind of drop out, while others will rise up.  

Some may wonder if we can trust our feelings about things.

I think the answer is yes.

Jesus is not out to torture us. If one option seems soul-killing it probably is.  If another seems laced with fun, adventure, excitement — it probably is.  I have spent a long time in my life trying to hide and ignore my feelings, believing that they were not trustworthy.  The past 18 months, I have reversed that process, believing that FEELING IS OK.

And in this process, as I pray for a pure heart, I trust that the Holy Spirit is leading the process and prompting my heart.

Tomorrow, I will post about the last step of the process… PEOPLE.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2011 in Lessons Learned, My Story, Uncategorized

 

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Discernment, Part #2: Prayer

SaranacMenemshaVincent-beach

The next part of the discernment process is PRAYER.  Simply put, I am going to spend intentional time talking to God about each of the four options.

For this kind of prayer time, I try and find a quiet space with little distraction.  I will begin with some breathing exercises, centering prayers and silence.

When comfortable, I will begin to visualize a place where I feel happy, safe, fulfilled.  I try to visualize this space as vividly as possible.  For me, this space is almost always one of a few places: Dutcher’s Dock in Menemsha, MA; Lucy Vincent Beach at 5AM in Chilmark, MA, or the Boathouse Dock at Saranac Village, Saranac Lake NY.  But it could be anywhere.

When I have that picture in my mind, I then invite Jesus to be with me.  I visualize where Jesus is in the picture… is he sitting next to me, holding me, dangling his feet in the water while laughing… again, I try and be as detailed and vivid as possible.

Then I simply tell Jesus what I want to do in our time together.  In this case, I would say something like “I want to figure out the best option… I need your wisdom and input.”

After that, I will pray simply for purity of heart — if I need to confess anything I will, and I ask that indeed I would truly want what Jesus wants.

Finally, I will take one of the options and start to talk to Jesus about that option.  I will talk about all the positives and exciting things about that option — and also any concerns or fears or worries I have.  But mostly, I will talk to him about the positive things… remember, all these options are good ones.

As I share with Jesus, I will be conscious of my own feelings — consolation or desolation, energy or tiredness, excitement or boredom.  Later, I will write down all that I shared with Jesus, how I felt, etc — this journal will help me process later.

At the end of the time I will thank Jesus and tell him that I will be back.  I may go through this process for each option for several days before moving on to the next option… and I will tackle one option at a time.

Hopefully, by the end of this process, at least one or two of the options will have kind of dropped out and one or two will have risen to the top… 

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2011 in Lessons Learned, My Story, Uncategorized

 

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Discernment, Part #1: Presumptions

Decisions

As I posted yesterday, I had a great meeting with my spiritual director.  He is big on Ignatian Spirituality and the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and often we will use these tools.

I am in a season of discernment, trying to figure out what’s next for me.  After 18 months of trying to take it a day or week or month at a time, it is now time for a longer perspective — what will this next season entail?  Where will it lead me?

At this point I have four clear possible pathways that I COULD pursue.  The question is, which one SHOULD I pursue?

How one figures this out is what discernment is all about.  Over the next month or two (or however long it takes) I will be going through an intentional process of discernment, roughly following the Ignatian Exercises.  Because I think these are helpful tools for all Christ-followers, I will be posting about the process (and, I am sure, results) here.

Today, I just want to post some PRESUMPTIONS that one must hold in order to work through this process:

PRESUMPTIONS:

1. I presume that I WANT WHAT GOD WANTS for my life. That is, I want MY WILL to match HIS WILL for my life.

This, of course, is harder than it seems.  Part of the ongoing process is the constant prayer for purity of heart and that this presumption would be true.  At all times in the process, we should act AS IF it is true.

2. I presume that ALL THE POSSIBLE CHOICES ARE GOOD CHOICES.

That is, all of the choices are within God’s permissible will. You cannot discern between what is evil or sinful — we know that we are not to do those things.  That is not an issue of discernment, but obedience. Discernment is about determining among good options what is the best option.  For this process to work, all options must be within the scope of God’s Will and Kingdom Agenda.

3. I presume that amongst the good options GOD HAS A PREFERENCE.

This is why I am asking God what to do — because I believe He has a preference for me. I believe that He is involved with (and wants to be involved with) every aspect of my life.  All the options are permissible — all our good — but God prefers one amongst the others.

Because I believe that GOD WANTS WHAT IS BEST FOR ME — SO I WANT WHAT GOD WANTS.  This is the most basic presumption of the process.

This entire process is predicated upon a real and dynamic relationship with the God of the Universe — a God who listens, who speaks, who prompts, who cares, who loves and who knows.

One of the hardest things about decision making is that we never know all the relevant factors. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, we don’t know what unpredictable things will happen to us.  There are always more unknowns than knowns.

But God knows.  He knows all that can be known. So His PREFERENCE is based on all factors — not just the ones I know. Remembering this makes it easy to trust in Him.

  • Do you believe that GOD WANTS ONLY THE BEST FOR YOU?
  • Do you WANT WHAT GOD WANTS FOR YOU?
  • Are you willing to SEEK OUT GOD’S PREFERENCE?
  • What helps you DISCERN and MAKE CHOICES?
  • Any advice? (much appreciated!)
 
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Posted by on February 1, 2011 in Lessons Learned, My Story, Uncategorized

 

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Discernment in Community

Panera

Discernment is an activity that best takes place within the context of authentic community.

As we pray and listen, we share what God is doing in our lives with others, seeking feedback, affirmation, encouragement, warnings, corrections, questions and further insights.

A few weeks ago I was meeting with my spiritual director and we set a course of some specific areas to seek discernment in this month.  As I have gone through that process, I believe God has been moving me and speaking to me.

I have shared some of this with friends and today spent a couple of hours talking it through with my pastor at Panera Bread, while it snowed outside.  It was actually quite beautiful.  

God used the conversation this morning to refocus in a slightly different direction than I was sensing — actually, a pretty significantly different direction.  But during the conversation, it felt right.

I will continue to pray, reflect, journal, blog and dream.  I meet again with my spiritual director next week.  I will probably also call some friends and mentors this week or next, just to process some more.  Different insights are always helpful.  Each person will bring an important perspective to the process.

But at the end of the day, others provide input and we individually need to decide — but God uses community to direct and guide us.  And to also protect us from bad decisions.  Beware life-changing decisions that are made without community input or contrary to the input you are getting.  Sometimes the community wisdom is wrong — but I find rarely so.

What next?

More discernment, prayer, dreaming and journaling.  Maybe some “low cost probes”.  Perhaps broadening the circle of input.

And then… waiting on God to direct the next step.

That is the discernment process.

Slow, deliberate, communal, intentional, prayerful and faithful.

HOW DO YOU GO THROUGH THE PROCESS?

 

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2011 in Lessons Learned, My Story, Uncategorized

 

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