Saying someone has the spiritual gift of discernment is a short way of saying that they are good at helping people make hard decisions and offering support to them; that they tell the truth, as they know it, with an attitude of humility and forthrightness, being as honest as they can be about their own biases. Most often, in church world, we see them working in groups, usually with folks who believe they have a call to ordained vocation. We also see them on vestries, on committees, in places where wisdom and temperance are best employed. In non-church world, we see them as consultants, strategic planners, and counselors of all stripes.
If you’re someone who is a natural discerner, you probably know better than anyone how tightly you must keep your ego in check, because your job is to see the pattern in the tea leaves without adding your own Sweet-n-Low residue. But in practice, discernment is not reading a cup of cold tea – there’s no deep magic (but something transcendent does happen when it’s practiced well). It’s about listening more than talking: it’s about collecting information and, then sitting with that information for what seems like an excessive amount of time before making a decision (or having a plan of action or an answer). Sometimes, it also means making quick decisions with little information, which means that good discerners think fast on their feet, and cannot lack in intestinal fortitude. Being a good discerner means you know the difference between the time to wait and the time to act.
The best discerners I know are people who live deeply into their lives, who have a wide variety of interests and friends and experience, and are rooted in a deep expression of faith and spirituality. All of them deeply love being with people, hearing stories, spending time playing and visiting and discussing with their friends, family, and colleagues. They are widely-read, well-spoken, and generous with their time; they are intensely compassionate and empathetic. They are, above all, discreet. And they are few and far between.
Discerners know, and hopefully try to convey, that time is a construct to help us understand stories, and not something to run our lives by. They will tell us very honestly that the answer, whatever answer it is we’re looking for, comes when it comes. We will know it when we see it. Discerners hold our hands and love us, helping us see and hear more clearly, whether the answer is “yes”, “no”, or somewhere in between.
Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves ...
Don't search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually, without even noticing it,
live your way into the answer.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)
Image Caption: Photo by Nils Chittenden