How Our Foundational Experiences Can Aid Our Discernment I

The doorway.

So, it’s taken several posts to get here, but I’d like to invite you to consider how your foundational experiences of God can help you navigate through a process of discernment. 

I mentioned in Friday’s post that I’d like for you to recall those foundational experiences of God that you knew at a very deep, intuitive, gut-level place inside of yourself were a true encounter of God interacting with you. 

As you take and hold those experiences, I’d like to invite you to regard those experiences as having provided you with a sense of God that can continue to direct you. 

To make this a bit more practical, let me share with you an example from my own life.

This has to do with the way Kirk and I have learned to discern God’s direction in our life about big decisions — where to live, where to work, whether to say yes to an opportunity being offered to us, and so on.

We’ve learned that, for us, God’s direction often carries the quality of a stone emerging out of the water at just the right time. 

This sense of God’s movement in our life was born out of several foundational experiences that all carried that similar quality of God’s provision and direction and which we have now learned is a means of guiding us continually in these kind of life decisions.

One of the first times I can remember this happening was when Kirk and I got engaged on St. Patrick’s Day in 2006.

I had a feeling Kirk would propose that day, even though we hadn’t discussed any particulars about getting engaged, nor had we discussed anything about when or where we would get married, where we would live when we got married (while we were dating, I lived in Southern California and he lived in Central Florida), or what our life would look like after we joined together. 

Still, I had a feeling we were going to get engaged on the weekend that we did, so in preparation, I began to mentally brainstorm some of the more specific details I knew we would discuss once he asked me to marry him and I said yes. 

One of the first things I knew we would discuss was the wedding. Would it happen in California, where my family lived, or in Florida? Would it be a large or small affair? Would it be a regular kind of affair at all? 

This was a second marriage for both of us, and I had known all along, after my first marriage ended, that if I ever married a second time, I would not want a normal kind of ceremony. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I just knew all along I would want it to be different.

I began to consider the idea of eloping to Ireland.

What a strange idea, I know!

But it seemed very much in line with who we were — we had first met and become casual acquaintances in Ireland, we had begun our initial e-mail correspondence on St. Patrick’s Day, and we were (most likely) going to be getting engaged on St. Patrick’s Day the following year. You could say that Ireland already loomed rather large in our life and history together.

But the real “foundational experience of God” in our life of decision-making together happened when we did, indeed, get engaged. For the very first time, we began to discuss some of the particulars and possibilities for our wedding, and I shared with Kirk the idea I’d begun holding in my heart about the possibility of eloping to Ireland.

I am not joking when I say that he pulled the car over to the side of the road, opened the trunk, and pulled out the latest issue of National Geographic that he had received in the mail that very same week. The cover story concerned the ancient Celts, and inside the cover story was the mention of a monastery ruins site on the island of Inis Mor in Ireland where a priest regularly performed wedding rites. 

Needless to say, that’s where we got married, and I cannot imagine the process being any easier than it was.

And really, our continuing life together these last five years has been comprised of many similar moments.

It often looks like this.

We will begin a seemingly innocent conversation — perhaps about whether to move out of our first studio apartment, or whether to revisit the possibility of employment for Kirk in a certain place, or what sort of next steps might be possible for me when my graduate program ends — and very simply and deftly, the answer to our question will emerge out of nowhere, often very soon after the conversation begins. We’ll come upon a house for rent while out for a Sunday drive, or the phone will ring and it will include a job offer we didn’t know existed at that very same place we had been considering employment, or we’ll be invited to breakfast with friends and a new opportunity will be presented that I couldn’t have imagined for myself. 

We’ve learned again and again that God brings just the right thing at just the right time to us, without our having to go searching or hunting or planning or forcing it along, just like our wedding in Ireland came together for us.

Accordingly, since we’ve learned that God often works in this way with us, we can revisit this foundational sense of God’s work in our life when presented with new opportunities. Does it have that similar quality as all those other opportunities did, like a stone emerging from the water at just the right time and place? Did it come to us organically? Does it feel like it’s happening in an unforced and natural manner?

These things guide our decision-making often, and it’s one practical example of how a foundational experience of God’s movement in our life can aid in our process of discernment.

How might your own foundational experiences of God guide you in a similar way? What sense do they give of God’s interaction in your life that can provide a compass of sorts for your decision-making?