Choosing is Not Discerning

pexels-photo-258510Any time we turn the page on a new year, our thoughts turn to anticipation, curiosity, and an evaluation of our place in life.

The coming new year often compels us to consider some spacious questions:

  • Where do I want to go?
  • What do I want to do?
  • Who do I want to be?

These are goood, tough questions that have within them significant implications for vocation. Such questions are complex, and they demand some complex work. Too often I see twentysomethings view these questions through the lens of choice, evaluating the options before them, and making the best decision.

But here’s the problem: to choose is to rely on preference. And our preferences can get in the way of the discernment. And, if we take these questions seriously. . . we need discernment.

Discernment is the quality to grasp and comprehend the obscure. Discernment is marked by insight and understanding.

Choosing is better for the simple quandaries of our day:

  • Do I want a gagel or cereal for breakfast?
  • Which shirt to wear to work?
  • Which TV show to watch?

Beyond the thousands of trivial choices in our days, we must make room for the truly important decisions that come with pondering the importance questions of our lives. This is the realm of discernment.  The deep questions of life require more than mere preference. They too require choices, but of a very different sort. These are the choices that arise from the cultivation of wisdom; and wisdom’s fertile ground is discernment. Thomas Merton once wrote,

“We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.”

Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Annie Dillard:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Discernment requires space amid the multitude of triviality to think, reflect, and ponder.

Discernment implores us to deeper questions that cultivate the wisdom we need for a year well lived, a decade well lived, and a life well lived:

  • How do my current contexts help prepare me for what’s next?
  • How do my own wants and wishes align (or not) with the needs that I see around me?
  • What do I need to let go of to truly understand who God has called me (and created me) to be?

These will, perhaps not right away, present options which will require a choice. I don’t have the answers for such discerning work, but I believe you do. Dig deeper than simple choice and discern. It takes time. It takes energy. But to embark on a discerning journey is a year well spent.

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