As a newly-minted postulant for the priesthood in The Episcopal Church, the word “discernment” carries a lot of baggage. I think about the discernment process, my discernment committee, our diocesan discernment retreat, and even the discernment paperwork. However, when we look at this word apart from its context and connotations in the institutional church, we know that it’s about far more than a protocol for calling clergy.
As young adults, we are faced with daunting decisions to be made at every juncture. Where should I go to school? What do I want to do with my career? Who do I want to spend my life with? What is God’s will for my life? As great a challenge as it can be to make these choices and wrestle with these questions, I am reminded this Lent that the fact that I have any choices at all is truly a gift.
I am reminded of those in our world who, because of their poverty, gender, race, nationality, cultural expectations, war, or any number of circumstances, simply do not have the choices that I do: those who can’t choose where to go to school because the opportunity to attend school at all doesn't exist; those who can’t pursue a career because society calls them "illegal"; those for whom marriage isn’t an option because of the gender of the one they love; those who look at their lives and determine that, if there is a God, God's will for them must be sorrow.
In the midst of life's worries and the work of discernment that consumes us, I pray that we would have grace to receive the gift of discernment that frees us. For me, this gift comes not through weighing pros and cons, completing aptitude tests, applications, or interviews. It’s not a process, committee, retreat, or paperwork. For me, the gift of discernment happens when I look up, look out, and see the need of those around me. When I'm able to do that, I realize that, ultimately, most of the things I agonize over aren't really that important. For the voice of the One who calls us comes to us saying, “My will for your life is always this: You shall love your neighbor.” It's a right choice that's always available.
O Lord, I do not know what to ask you. You alone know my real needs, and you love me more than I even know how to love. Enable me to discern my true needs which are hidden from me. I ask for neither cross nor consolation; I wait in patience for you. My heart is open to you. For your great mercy's sake, come to me and help me. Put your mark on me and heal me, cast me down and raise me up. Silently I adore your holy will and your inscrutable ways. I offer myself in sacrifice to you and put all my trust in you. I desire only to do your will. Teach me how to pray and pray in me, yourself (Vasily Drosdov Philaret, c.1780 –1867).