IVP - Strangely Dim - Which Way, Right Away, Is the Wrong Way

September 12, 2007

Which Way, Right Away, Is the Wrong Way

After three years of coleading the same small group of girls my church's high school youth group, I now have less than one year to face the fact that next fall they'll be spreading out to different colleges to pursue and discover different interests and dreams and vocations.

They're facing the fact sooner than I am. It's college application season, so many of them are in the throes of filling out forms and writing down their life in one hundred words or less. Most of them, in the midst of that, are naturally wrestling with all the decisions that need to be made: Where should I apply? Big school or small? Christian or non-Christian? Near or far? Should I attend a community college for a year? What am I interested in? They, like many other Christian seniors, are experiencing a particularly strong desire for discernment--speedy discernment, if possible.

The longing for discernment only grows more intense as we get older, as significant decisions arise with surprising frequency and take on more complexity. We long for discernment about where to work and live, about relationships with our friends and spouse and kids, about how to order our lives and where to go to church. Choices are hard; we understand the significance choices hold in shaping us.

I'm hoping to attend graduate school in the next few years. The choices--what school, when to go, how much to spend, whether to go part-time or full-time--are many. And I, like my girls, want to make the right choice, the one that will stretch me and grow me and allow me to use my gifts and passions to broaden God's kingdom on earth.

In her Likewise book Flirting with Monasticism, Karen Sloan recounts a year in her own life of exploring monastic practices, set alongside the journey of a novice class of men preparing to join a Dominican order. Their yearlong novitiate is a time of transition, of learning to live in a whole new way. The purpose of the novitiate is to help men discern whether or not they are truly called to the Dominican way of life.

As I read the book I couldn't help thinking that this is the way discernment is supposed to work: a specific, significant amount of time, saturated with prayer, walked in community with friends and mentors, marked by ceremonies and celebrations. It's a significant discernment process, because it's a significant decision: a lifelong commitment to live in community with other Dominicans and follow their Rule of Life.

I'd love to have a year free of commitments to pray and explore and talk with others about significant decisions I'm making. But most of the time, I don't have that much time. Most times I quickly pray ("God, I’m totally open to knowing which way you want me to go. I just need to know now. Thanks.") and then hope someone in the grocery store will walk up to me and tell me what I should do. Really anything as clear and quick as that will do.

Approaching discernment that way, my spiritual director reminds me, is missing the point. Discernment is not making a decision. Discernment is a process, a whole way of living, paying attention to God, whether or not we're facing a big decision. In Bird by Bird Anne Lamott writes about "discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony." I may think I need the discernment for the decisions that come, but really I need the process of learning to discern.

I don't know where next year will land me or the girls in my small group. I don't know what next month will look like, for that matter. But I hope we all land in a place of paying attention to God's Spirit more closely, of knowing and responding to his voice. A place that will only be reached by walking through today and next week and next month paying attention to the God who spoke, who still speaks, "This is the way; walk in it" (Isaiah 20:21).

Posted by Lisa Rieck at September 12, 2007 12:41 PM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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