Buckle in, this is going to be a blunt one.
The direction of one’s life is not an easy endeavor. Where do I attend college? Or do I attend college? Where do I live? Do I become a priest? How many children do we have? What brand of coffee should I buy? Do I eat two pancakes or one?
All life altering choices. Every decision you make enacts an effect on your present and future . . . and if you think about this truth, can give you an overwhelming sense of importance. So what tool has the good God given us to navigate such involved problems? Discernment.
Google definitions 1. Perceive or recognize (something). 2. Distinguish (someone or something) with difficulty by sight or with the other senses.
Are these meanings sufficient? Of course not. However the merit that those meanings are shown in google dictionary point to the very reason for this post. We need to relearn what it means to discern. Rhyme intended.
If you also look at the usage graph in the google word analytics, discern was used quite frequently through the nineteenth century. For some reason it seems to lose popularity . . . but then with what seems to be an adjustment from the pilot on the aileron . . . leveled out and started to regain some popularity beginning at the turn of the twenty-first century. In complete seriousness . . . I attribute this uptick on our current young adult catholic generation.
Since my exposure to that which is the faithful Catholic congregation, discernment is easily considered one of the top 3 buzz words that is slung around in normal Catholic conversation. Jokingly I tell people (but there is truth in the jab) that since my confirmation there probably has not been one day since that the words Catholic and Discernment have not been a part of a dialogue. Either through words with friends ( . . . not the game) or my internal dialogue throughout the day, these dictions just happen.
Another running joke is to what degree people discern a problem. So much that even to the point of laying out your shirts on the bed in the morning to properly discern which to wear that day. Nonetheless, there are very serious situations that arise which we must truly discern what path we will take. Religious life, marriage, what career to pursue, etc.
This is where the hiccups start.
DISTINCTION: There are two major types of discernment. (as seen through the mode of Ignatian spirituality).
- the discernment of spirits – I.E. the discernment between good and evil. ignatianspirituality.com/making-good-decisions/discernment-of-spirits. This is not the focus of our reflection.
- The discernment of the will of God. – I.E. discerning between goods to determine which to you are supposed to choose.
Discerning between spirits which are good and evil should be fairly simple. Separating and examining between them to distinguish differences in the minute contrasts. You know the saying “the devil is in the details” ? That’s a spinoff from discernment of spirits . . . 😉
Now discerning the will of God . . . examining the distinguishment of two goods. Distinguish – dis-tinguere – apart & push; semantically to push apart.
And even though distinguishing between options is a part of discernment . . . IT IS NOT DISCERNMENT. This is the negative problem that I think most young adults do not see/realize. And here is the key difference:
Discernere – dis-cernere – apart & sieve/sift; semantically sieve/sift apart as to separate desired from undesired material. Ex. You sift water from noodles when cooking macaroni and cheese. Sieve scripts filter real from junk email. Essentially a filter/sieve to utilize your labor in separating what you want from what you don’t want.
Did you notice the difference? The reason for the action . . . and also that desire is the hinge that connects the reason for your discernment to the end product. Desired vs. undesired. However another distinct character between these two words of dis – distinguish only pushes items apart, discern is an action to separate . . . in which only one item remains at the end of the process.
Even the title of this article. Right now I’ve got seven options typed up at the top of this word doc, and as others come to mind they get added to the list. I’ve distinguished between them, however in order to only have one remain I can’t simply sit back and appreciate the impact of them all. I’ve got to discern (sift) until the desired remains.
Soooo here is the current problem. Young people today are so wrapped up in the word/idea of discernment that we are doing it wrong. Instead of discerning we are really just intently distinguishing. We have lost sight of the fact that discernment requires active participation, active deciding, and ownership of that decision.
And the kicker is we have become so wrapped up the question “what does God want?” that we forget it is Jesus who asked the blind man “what do you want?”
We’ve become a culture of feelz instead of a people of thought. Dr. Sri wrote a convicting short blog about this phenomena. How we have thrown the word “feel” into the discernment process. Check it out Here. The thesis statement of the whole article glows like the reflection of discovered gold from a miner’s lantern – paraphrase – “we blame God for our decisions instead of owning it ourselves.”
The culture of feelz has completely changed the way we approach every decision.
- I feel like God is calling me to this.
- I don’t feel God is calling me to that.
- I feel pressured to make this decision.
- I feel this would be a great way to proceed.
Think about this, and it may seem like a contradiction . . . but stick with me. If the sacraments of service are supposed to be about your primary way to love others . . . why does how you feel have to have principal merit as to your decision to love another person? The culture of feelz is a culture of self.
Feelings of love, feelings of appreciation, feelings of being desired are a REACTION YOU HAVE to someone else’s gift of love to you. It is a reaction to affection.
Affection – movement or impression upon me from another person. Ex. Hug, warmth, belongingness. Something you either offer as a gift to another person, or receive from another person.
Inspirations to be affectionate toward someone is a natural mode of human courting. Why? Because we are called to respond to stimuli. I.E. the title of Karol Wojtyla’s great work “Love and Responsibility.”
We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19.
However we have begun to treat discernment with that of a mode of selfish effect. I.E. if I do this, then surely God will bless me with what will give me the most pleasure (what we mask with “the deepest desires of my heart in which the Lord wants to bless me). We don’t vocalize this, however if we truly do some examination . . . can admit something to that truth. (the whole my/God’s desires conversation is one for another day . . . a few close friends will know what I’m talking about . . . looong unresolved conversations at the TOBI dinner tables).
Effect – movement or impression from a person/object onto an object. Ex. Cause and effect. A pebble in a pond makes a ripple effect. An reaction that proceeds from an action upon an object.
We approach relationships with the mentality of “in order for me to be able to love this person, I must also be equally loved by them.” If we don’t have some type of pleasurable feelz about something, we don’t even give it the time of day.
Some young people (guilty sometimes) usually won’t even go on a date with someone unless they have experienced the butterflies. To have feelings for someone even though they have done nothing more to you other than flash you with those beautiful blues (also guilty). We’ve got to feel “the spark” (guilty yet again) before investing self. Where have all the beautiful women gone?
In a very insightful conversation with some family at lunch we were discussing the conundrum with modern dating and reflecting on our parent’s relationships. If the modern dating principals were applied to our parents while they were dating . . . do you think they would get/still be married? Ponder that. And this adoption of the feelz mindset is what I believe is a huge influencer in the high rates of divorce for couples who have been married for 20 sometimes 30 or more years today.
Our parent’s generational perspective on marriage was very simple: Are we attracted to one another? Yes. Can we get married? Yes. Ok, let’s get married. It was not uncommon for people to be engaged in less than a few months.
Even to the point where subtle social aspect differences are very noticeable between generations regarding their marriage. (again will write about this in the future)
My uncle brought up the point that the early church fathers had a fairly straight forward approach to discernment of Vocation. (I wish I could quote the source, searching and will edit once found). However he shared the fathers spoke of three criteria when discerning big V Vocation (sacrament of service):
- That you are capable of living the Vocation. – essentially no major obstacles that would hinder you from living it fruitfully.
- Do you desire the Vocation?
- That you choose the Vocation.
And this isn’t the fluffy “God will bless your freedom” buzz line that is included in Vocation videos. This is an active participation in which you choose the sacrament to serve others in seeking beatification.
Discernment requires that you decide. Discernment isn’t allowing God to roll the dice and you just say “ok that sounds good!” A soldier doesn’t simply distinguish what weapon he brings to battle, he discerns what weapon is appropriate for the battle he is called to fight.
Why have we made discernment so complicated? Why are we afraid to choose? We all desire happiness, joy . . . but why don’t we have it as discerning young people? Because we haven’t done it. We are so afraid of not making the perfect decision, that we end of making no decision. We are not discerning, we are simply doing a glorified distinguishing.
“Happiness is not a state of mind, it is an action.” Aristotle.
The greek word that usually gets translated into happiness is another example of why the English language is lacking. Eudaimonia, as Aristotle used when describing happiness, is the fruit of right action, more literal “human flourishing.” You attain happiness as the result of actions. This is one reason our beloved Pope Saint wrote so much philosophy on human action (responsibility). He saw the importance of Human Action.
Could you call me a heretic in that this seems to exonerate deism? Maybe.
However there seems to be this push and pull of “the battle of desires” between what we want and denying ourselves because we think God wants something for us that we may not . . . and we have to wait for the big G God voice like Samuel heard in the temple.
Remember this. Your Vocation is not about your feelz, it’s called a sacrament of service for a reason. That reason is you serve others. Marrying someone is not primarily about your growth or reception. It’s not about self fulfillment, it’s about offering a gift of yourself.
The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. Mark 10:45
The primary purpose of your vocational discernment is not to receive the perfect spouse, it is to be the best spouse you can for the other.
This is a call out. Our generation has become so enraptured by the feminine spirituality of “let it be done” that we ignore the aspect of spirituality for “this is my body given for you.”
Love and Responsibility.
Someone shared this video with me today, and it lines well with this reflection.
“He gave you a will, and He expects you to use that as well.” Fr. Mike Schmitz
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