Scenes from the first day in Sydney

Scenes from the first day in Sydney
D, the Opera House, and the Bridge

Monday, May 11, 2009

Discernment and Decision Making

We're into the second week of this retreat in daily life for 25 parishioners here at Sacred Heart in Mildura... I'm enjoying the experience of one to one spiritual direction very much. It is hard not to be deeply moved listening to the ordinary/extraordinariness of people's lives in relationship with God. I've also been doing some workshops on "applied spirituality." This evening's topic was discernment and decision making. While the dynamic of the workshop won't come across in the text, I thought I might post sections of it over the next couple of days. Feel free to cut and paste it into a document if you find any of it helpful.


While many of us would love to wake up one day with a blueprint for our lives in an envelope under the door, complete with step by step instructions, I’ve never met anyone who has. There is a real dignity and adventure to discovering our true path for ourselves, step by step. We “build the bridge by walking on it.”

Discernment: the capacity to separate and distinguish elements that constitute the reality to be understood, and the decision to be made. From the perspective of our spirituality (define), it demands faith in God and in one’s own experience; a relationship with God based on love, not fear; courage; self-discipline; patience; self-knowledge; and maturity.

It is a disposition toward life that is at the same time, contemplative and deeply penetrating into the complexity and nuance of things. Discernment is an essential stage in a process of Spirit led decision-making. The better our discernment, the better our decision-making.

It is exercised for the purpose of cooperating with God’s intention to bring life to fullness and to increase our freedom from fear, that we might be more available for love, creativity, and service.


How do we begin? With end points… what do we believe the ultimate goal of our lives to be? When we have some clarity about our ultimate life goal, this gives us a sense of orientation, a compass for daily life. If I know where I want to end up, this helps me to understand how to relate to everything else, how to establish priorities and principles for decision making.


Spiritual discernment requires that we are rooted and grounded in a lively personal relationship with God, as intimate as we are with a spouse or best friend.

We cultivate this relationship through the reading of Scripture, through conversational and imaginative prayer, and regular worship in a faith community. We also cultivate this relationship through our active service of others and the sharing of our faith.

While we learn so much about who we are in and through our relationships with God and with others, one relationship is often neglected: with ourselves. We can cultivate the relationship with ourselves and grow in self awareness by taking quiet time each day, journaling, making retreats, doing dream-work, etc.

In order to make good and Spirit led decisions, we need to know what makes us tick: we do we value and love? What do we fear? What do we resist? What are our habits and patterns? What hidden influences and blind-spots trip us up?

CONSOLATION OR DESOLATION? (more than a feeling, though feelings are involved)

Whenever we are trying to discern and decide, we have to be aware of whether we are in consolation or desolation (most dramatically, whether we are feeling blessed or cursed; less dramatically, am I feeling connected to God, self, and other, or alienated from God, self, and other.


It is helpful to know whether or not we tend to be people who make decisions based on our heads, our hearts, or our guts. Knowing our tendencies also can help us by directing attention to areas for growth.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each. Refer to handout.

Self-knowledge is the basis for growth and transformation, and key to inner freedom.
Read Romans 12:2


In order to discern effectively, we need to be rooted and grounded in a lively personal relationship with God. And in light of our love for God, we need to have freedom from excessive attachments (idols, egotism, personal agendas) and disordered affections (fears, compulsions, neuroses).

The value of the freedom of indifference… to do what is in accord with God’s will. This is not apathy, or lukewarm neutrality, but rather, deep inner freedom. This freedom of indifference must be rooted and grounded in our love for God and our desire the give God glory in all things. Indifference is rooted in deep awareness.

Stay tuned...

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