How Our Foundational Experiences Can Aid Our Discernment II

Sky above trees.

We’ve been talking quite a bit lately about our foundational experiences — and specifically our foundational experiences of God — and how they can serve as a guide for us when we are in need of discernment.

There are so many ways to undertake a process of discernment — so many ways this subject has been explored and examined and written about through the centuries and the ages — and so much of that material is immensely helpful in uncovering what discernment is, what the process is about, and how to learn and determine the best path forward. 

We’ve been spending a bit more dedicated time in this small series on discernment exploring an aspect of discernment that is, I think, quite lesser known and considered as a point of value in the process. 

Let’s consider for a moment what discernment is about. What is being discerned, exactly, when we are needing discernment? 

Usually this is a process of trying to determine the right way forward in our lives. This could apply to a large decision we are trying to make — whether to take a particular job, whether to move to a new place, whether someone we are dating is the right person for us to share our lives with, what to do with our lives.

It can also apply to the smaller, everyday encounters of our lives. How ought we respond to that person with whom we have such difficulty? What is my real motive in wanting to pursue a particular path right now? Is this the right church for me? 

And then, there’s perhaps the most intimate question of all: how is God speaking to me right now?

As I mentioned above, there are volumes that could fill whole wings of very large libraries on the subject of discernment. It is clearly not a simple subject for us humans to understand, and we have been trying to understand it and seeking guidance on the matter from the wise ones we know for a very, very long time. 

I think something helpful to notice here is that discernment is needed in those very places that are not clear cut. If there was a simple answer to our question — a very clear response that God indicates would be the right way forward in a given situation, given what has been indicated to us in the scriptures or the tradition of the church — then discernment is not really needed. 

Discernment is required in those very grey and fuzzy places where we don’t have the readily available gift of a black-and-white answer on the matter. 

And this is where our foundational experiences, I’m coming to believe, can provide an immense gift of their own.

One thing I will say about this approach to incorporating our foundational experiences into our process of discernment is that it assumes God is personally acquainted with each one of us. And not just acquainted with us, but invested in us.

It assumes that the significant experiences of our lives — every single one of them — is part of the specific formation God is about in us. 

I’m going to write a bit more about this on Friday. (I won’t be writing here tomorrow, which is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States.) But until then, I’ll invite you to consider this question: 

Have you ever viewed the foundational experiences of your life as significant to God in some way and integrally a part of the formation he is about in your life?