Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? Most of us are familiar with this job interview cliché. Will you be moving up to that executive position in the firm? Buying your first house? Married with a kid on the way? Personally, I’ve always struggled with projecting what lies ahead in my near future, and each time it’s always been, inevitably, wrong. Very wrong. Growing up I’ve never really had anything that I wanted to do or become, no goal that I set out to accomplish. I just tended to keep my head down and live in the moment, to focus on getting the most out of the present. But part of growing up is about is deciding on what you want to do with the time that is given you. It’s about careers and lifestyles and loans. It’s about friends and family and obligations. It’s about choices. And because no matter what you do life will still throw big, life-changing decisions your way, these choices have led me to a much scarier experience – discernment.
The mere idea of sitting down and contemplating my plans, life goals, and desires in order to best navigate the way forward, whilst also calling on the Spirit of God to help enlighten me in the process is, well, horrifying. It’s not the fact that I can’t even decide on whether I want to buy the americano or intenso blend of fine instant coffee (I can’t even tell what the difference is), let alone big decisions like “is this the profession I want?” or “should I marry this person?” that worries me. It’s the fact that we rarely ever get an acknowledgement on whether or not we’ve made the right choice. For most of us there isn’t some overwhelming sense of conviction about it. No social consensus saying you’ve done everything the way you were meant to. No divine word from above patting us on the back. You make a decision, you trust you’ve made the right one, and you move forward. You hope for the best. And it’s here that we really start to delve into what discernment is all really about – trust and hope.
The truth is, in my experience, most of the time there is no right or wrong choice. Become a teacher or a lawyer. Marry or remain single. Get the arctic blue or the space grey. One sugar or two. In many cases there is no objective right or wrong, there is only what is right or wrong for you. And these are by far the hardest decisions we make, and with the least guarantees. What if you don’t find a good job in that career? What if your spouse gets terminally ill very young? What if you invest all those hours and they cancel season three? You just don’t know. You just make a decision, and all you can say is that’s the decision you’ve made. There’s no accurate prediction. There are no guarantees. Because you can risk it all and win the world, and you can play it safe and still lose. This is life, and life is not often fair.
So what is the purpose of discernment then? Personally, it’s been about allowing God not to dictate my steps, but to focus my attitude. What motivates my choices? Do I make decisions based on what I’m afraid of? Am I trying to please myself or someone else? What’s the bigger picture, and how do I fit into it? In my experience discernment has been less about specific details and logistics and more about interior movements. Am I moving out of a negative energy, trying to avoid mistakes? Or am I moving towards something, out of a deep inner drive? All our motives can be broadly categorised into one of these two areas – a moving towards, or an evading from. It’s my belief that ultimately what makes us content with our decisions is the spirit in which we make them. Regardless of what we choose, we have no guarantees of the future. There is no one “right way”. But when I look back I think the only thing I can hope to say is that I did it because I chose to, and I did it out of love.