My spiritual director recently told me that discernment can be boiled down to three phases: observing, understanding, and acting. This really stuck with me and I’ve been finding myself defaulting to it on a number of occasions. Specifically, thinking about discernment this way has helped me navigate my interior feelings—which often remain somewhat abstract.
For example, I’ve had a general feeling of anxiety the last few months that I hadn’t given much specific attention to. Finally, I set aside some time to observe this anxiety and I was able to identify some of its sources. I was then able to move beyond observance and seek understanding. Once I began to understand some of the root causes behind that anxiety, I was able to consider a few courses of action that I could undertake to remedy my anxiety.
Here’s a basic overview of the process:
What am I feeling right now? Take a deep breath, be quiet, be still, and listen. Sometimes we may not even realize what exactly we are feeling until we stop to examen ourselves. In my case, I was feeling anxious but anxiety is a large umbrella with many possible components. After reflecting on it more attentively, I was able to identify feelings of insignificance as the source of my anxiety.
What might the cause of this feeling be? In Rusty Rustenbach’s book on inner healing, he talks about how there are three different ways that wounds can be created in our lives. One, someone intentionally says or does something toward us with malicious intent. Two, someone says or does something that incidentally hurt us—but the person did not at all intend to do so and had no malicious intent. Three, we falsely interpret a neutral event in a negative way. By asking these questions, I was able to determine that my feels of insignificance were not the result of another’s actions, but were self-inflicted feelings based around false interpretations of neutral events and circumstances.
What tangible and quantifiable action can I take to specifically address what is going on? After we have observed and understood, we can then set goals and make decisions to remedy whatever is going on. In my case, I realized that I was allowing certain circumstances to dictate my emotions and identity more than they should. I determined that I needed to spend more time in The Vine and seek my identity solely in Christ. For me, that meant very slowly going through a book I have called Conformed to His Image. In fact, I think it was the second chapter that was a large list of affirmations about how God sees us. This list of affirmations was directly countering much of what I was thinking about myself.
By following these three simple steps, I was able to move from a place of general and ambiguous anxiety, to a specific course of action to remedy that action. It has been interesting for me to follow this process of observing, understanding, and acting in various areas of my life in both big and small things.
There can be a lot to the process of discernment and it can be difficult to remember everything, but I’ve found these three steps to be a really simple and practical “go-to” way to find clarity in times of confusion.
Fellow Pilgrims: May you simply take some time to observe, understand, and act.
[Photo credit: Brad Baker ]