by Katherine Kroeker
As I begin to understand discernment from a contemplative perspective, three decision making stances emerge; decisions based on my flesh or the needs of my false self, decisions based on a charismatic view and theology of God, and thirdly, the stance of true desire and self knowledge. In the process of distilling my own behaviors and patterns I am surprised by the impact of my own self awareness or lack thereof on my decisions, and I begin to see how much I am shaped by my own desires.
One of the earliest large scale decisions in my life was the choice to move from London, Ontario to Edmonton, Alberta at the age of 19. At the time, when asked about my motivation I simply replied that “I’ve always known that I could, and probably would, move away so I thought why not now.” Over time I have come to realize that it was a decision based in my flesh, my fears and my own desires for control. It is probably the the poster child for all my flesh based decisions. My fleshly decisions are rooted in my false self with its invalid fears and struggle for control. When I make choices from my false self it often comes with the desire to prove something or from a desire for control. These decisions are surrounded by fear and accompanied by a compulsion to make it happen, and happen on my terms. The movement in these types of decisions is movement away from something rather than toward an objective and seem to be characterized by a lack of stillness and a false peace that comes from not pausing to listen – often for fear of the answer. In the determining process I usually assume that God is indifferent to both the decision and its outcome. Sometimes I catch myself acting out of this fleshly province in less dramatic ways in my dealings with people or daily circumstances, but the scale and frequency, by grace, are diminishing.
On occasion, when pressed for a decision or for discernment I revert to an old pattern of expecting a clear definitive answer from God as the solution to my dilemma. For a season I was involved in a community whose view of God included inarguable revelations and directives as a spiritual reality. In many ways this approach left me with little responsibility for my own life. Mistakes were no longer the result of poor judgement or lack of discernment they were simply misinterpretations to be swept under the carpet of faith. There was a fear of questioning what was “heard from God” and any hesitation or questioning implied a lack of faith discordant with the expected blind acceptance and obedience. Inherent in this view of God and discernment approach was a lack of accountability and co-discerners and a reliance on outward signs for confirmation. The failure of my plans and decisions when made from this place deeply damaged my image of God, my faith and my belief in God’s love for me and God’s enduring presence in my life. And yet, the black and white simplicity and God’s rescuing intervention are still appealing in trying times.
As my journey has progressed I find myself increasingly aware of my authentic inner desires, fleshly desires, and the truth of who I am. I notice my fears and weaknesses and my desire to orchestrate events according to my own terms and conditions. My emotional baggage is growing more and more familiar and easier to distinguish when piety becomes a mask for my own fear or unwillingness. I have begun to sift through my competing desires and learned to trust that as I explore my interior space and the presence of God in my failures and victories the footprints of the Spirit will become more and more evident. I have moved away from always expecting a right and wrong choice to be offered and instead I am learning to trust who I am and how God is working in me as I make choices. I now try to anticipate the fruit of a decision, to wait and to watch for where the Spirit might be hinting at new growth just waiting under cover of winter.
I still meander through all of these arenas as I encounter new days and new decisions, but I am finding my inner desires and self awareness becoming a more familiar territory. My flesh has lost much of it’s ability to blindside me. I may still make fleshly decisions, but they are more often due to obstinacy than ignorance and my view of God as dictatorial and commandeering has changed, rendering my fears of inadequacy and unfaithfulness impotent. My self awareness and understanding of my own desires continues to grow and to be a place where I encounter Jesus, and that above all, is what draws me back to God’s invitation to “choose life.” (Deut. 30:19)