Servant’s Heart: From the Desk of a Deacon
It has been my experience that we in the church tend to use the word discernment without defining it clearly. It is annoying! The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as the ability to show good judgement about the quality of somebody/something. This is the view that when looking at the world, people take in information from everywhere, process it, and then choose what to do with it. Discernment then, is a kind of wisdom that comes from insight as much as from learned experience and knowledge. It is that quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure; a skill in perceiving or understanding something.
We, in the church use the term discernment as something fundamentally about understanding the will of God for a particular person in a particular time and situation. We use it to discover personal vocation, be it lay or ordained. Discerning our vocation is not about choosing something we will do for life but about discovering who we are made to be and discovering our deepest identity. It is more than an intellectual weighing up of options; or applying a technique to find an answer to what we ought to be doing for God. Discernment is a process of becoming aware of what is in our hearts and minds, listening to God, gaining clarity and making a choice. However, discerning one’s vocation is not just about making good choices, like what to wear today, what to name a pet fish, or what to study in college. Discernment is about developing a relationship with God so that we can come to see our life as God sees it, and desire for our life what God wants for us.
Discernment helps us to become more attentive to what’s going on in our daily life, to our deeper desires and hopes, as well as our reactions or responses to the world around us. Our unique gifts and personalities, our own distinctive personal histories and backgrounds shape the way we see the world and what we can offer to it. God doesn’t call us to become someone we are not. Instead, God lovingly calls us to be the best version of ourselves, living our giftedness in the world in the same way that Jesus did. Discerning our vocation, means discovering how God invites us to live out the gift of who we are in the world and to ask, how might God be calling us to put ourselves, with our individual talents and skills, at the service of others?
I am sure you have heard many times before, the quote from Fredrick Beuchner which says, “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” So, look at what kind of work for God brings you great joy and then find a place where the world’s deep hunger needs you and your unique gifts and skills. For me, that is what discernment is all about.