“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, Who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” – James 1:5
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you knew you needed to do something but you weren’t sure exactly what that something should be, and you also knew that, whichever option you chose, you would be afraid to do it?
As I’m writing this, many men and women I know who are participating in the preparation for a Christ Renews His Parish weekend are in the process this week of “discerning” what their role will be on the weekend. Having been through the process twice I know it can be quite daunting to think about speaking in front of, and witnessing to, people you don’t know on a subject that may be very personal. You have on one side a voice calling you to, “Do this, it’s the right thing to do”. And, then, you hear another voice saying, “No, don’t do that, you’re putting yourself out there and the risk of failure is too great!”
The first time I was faced with discerning what action I should take, I have to admit I had no idea what the word “discernment” meant. It was not in my vocabulary. Instead of looking it up in the dictionary to find that its definition according to Webster is, “The quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure”, I guessed it was more like playing poker – you close your eyes and try to imagine through some kind of ESP if you want to draw the next card. Go ahead and laugh, that’s the truth. It actually worked for me because it took fear out of the equation and reduced it to pure dumb luck. But, most folks aren’t quite the spiritual neophyte that I am.
So, how do you choose between discerning the right thing to do and letting fear talk you out of it?
I was reading the other day in a blog that I follow by author Allison Vesterfelt in which she discussed in her new book The Chase, the difference between fear of failure and one’s discernment that a direction is the right way to go. She writes:
“There is a distinct difference, although sometimes the line between them is thin and fuzzy. If you ignore the first [fear of failure], you’ll find [freedom]. If you ignore the second [discernment], you may get the opposite – a circumstance that crushes your spirit and steals your life.
“I definitely don’t have all the answers in this area, but there is one thing I’ve learned by making mistakes on both sides. Fears are loud, and discernment is quiet. Generally, when I’m trying to make a decision between going this way, or going that way, my fears are screaming to me, warning me about all the possible dangers ahead. My discernment, on the other hand, is whispering to me, softly: that isn’t the way.
“It seems weird that it would be this way, if you ask me. I wish my fears would be the quiet voices, and that discernment would be loud. It would make so much more sense. After all, my fears are so often lying to me, and I can trust my discernment to tell the truth. But one thing I’ve learned by listening to the quiet voice of my discernment over the loud voice of my fear is this: in order to hear, I have to get quiet, and lean in to where the voice is coming from.
“I don’t know if God intended it this way or not, but either way, I’ve found it to be really helpful. Practicing the discipline of tuning out my fears and tuning into my discernment actually brings me into intimacy with Jesus. It quiets the noise and sheds the distractions. It brings Him close to me, and me close to Him. And the closeness and intimacy we develop in that space, I’m finding, is actually the only thing I need in order to move forward in my journey.”
The quiet voice of discernment, she says? Where had I heard that before?
I was driving to Nashville, Tennessee this morning listening to one of my favorite CDs, Jason Gray’s, A Way To See In The Dark , and I noticed the lyrics of two songs had something in common. In both, the songwriter mentions a still, small voice.
In the first, Fear is Easy, Love is Hard, he writes:
“It comes down to a simple choice,
Shouting devils, or a still, small voice.
One is spreading fear and dread
Oh, but Love has always said
‘Do not be afraid.’”
In the second, Without Running Away, he writes:
“After a while in the dark, your eyes will adjust,
In the shadows you’ll find the hand you can trust,
And the still, small voice that calls like the rising sun,
‘Come, and bring your heart to every day
And run the risk of fearlessly loving
Without running away.’”
Like Ms. Vesterfelt, he suggests that the devil is the source of the loud shouting behind the fear that is telling us not to do something, but it is Jesus, with His love, who is trying to catch our attention with His quiet whispers, His still, small voice, and that if we place our trust in Him, we can do the right thing even if it is that which we fear to do.
Is this how you have experienced determining what you should do?
For my friends who are discerning this week what role you are being called to play in your ministry, I pray you find it easy to lean in to the quiet, still small voice of Jesus and tune out the loud, fear inducing shouts by the devil of doubt.
God Bless you.