Wednesday Word: Discernment
Not every inclination which seems good to you should at once be obeyed; nor should every contrary emotion at once be avoided.
Thomas a'Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter 11
What Thomas is talking about here is the process of discernment. This is most often attributed to people who believe they have a calling to ordained ministry. Once that calling is articulated the local parish creates a discernment team and they, along with the existing clergy, walk with the person through the process in order to validate the perceived call. It is a long and arduous process; but, done correctly, is also a valuable and healthy experience.
But we miss the point, I think, if we only apply that discernment process to people feeling called to ordained ministry because we can use it in so many other areas. A young person looking to start a career may want to have a team to help discern a life direction. An older person looking to begin a second career, start a business, or pursue some dream, may want to have a team to help sort that out.
And it doesn't have to be big, major decisions for which a team is created. Are you feeling called to volunteer in any number of opportunities in the community, or whether or not to accept a new position within your current career? Having someone (or someones) to help walk you through that process can be invaluable. The point here is that, by taking time to evaluate, taking time to discuss, taking time to pray, can lead you to make the right decision for all involved.
Several weeks ago I asked someone to serve in a particular capacity. It took about two weeks of this person talking with me, with others who had been previously involved, with the spouse, and maybe with a few others, before an answer was given. I was asked, “Are you upset that this took so long?” I answered, “No, of course not. But I would've been concerned had you given me an answer, any answer, the moment I asked you.”
We are about one-third through the summer season. On September 10 we will hold a ministry fair in Trimble Hall after both services. Here you will have the opportunity to see all that goes on at St. John's, from Adult Education to Worship (A to W was the best I could do), and you will be asked to consider participating in one or more of these ministries. But that is not the time to begin thinking about how and where you can offer your particular skills, talents, and passions for the benefit of St. John's – the time to do that is over these summer months so that when you are asked to participate in the fall you won't feel surprised and make an uninformed, undiscerned decision.
As we move through summer, be thinking about the needs of St. John's and how your skills, talents, and passions might be used for the benefit of this arm of the Jesus Movement. Do you sing, like working with children, have a good reading voice, want to include newcomers, cook or bake, or any number of other things necessary for keeping the church body healthy? Be thinking about these things. Talk them over with friends or other people who have experience in that area. Or maybe ask other people in the parish, “What do you think I have that the church could use?” Do some discernment.
And when asked, you won't necessarily give an immediate assent or declination, but can give an honest, “Let me think about that.”