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34 - The Practice of Stillness - Part 8: Discernment

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Discernment has to do with our ability to hear, see, and sense God’s presence in our everyday moments.

Discernment is a personal and intimate experience. It entails knowing we’ve experienced God’s voice, direction, comfort, and presence in ways that words can't describe.

We often think of experiencing God in grand ways, like Moses parting the Red Sea, Jesus calming a storm, or Paul raising someone from the dead. We often don’t think of God showing up in the small moments of life, but discernment includes both. There are those times when God comes through in a big way, in a moment of crisis or desperation, when we really need a big answer or a remedy to a big problem. But those are few and far between, and for good reason. We don’t want to be always in the middle of some great crisis, or in need of a great rescue. If that's our common, every day experience, then something's terribly wrong with our lives.

Most of the time, life is the calm, even boring, everyday moments of life. Thankfully, God shows up there too. The problem is that we often don’t think too much about our need for God when things are going well. The problem is also that, if we haven’t learned how to discern God’s present when things are calm, then we won’t likely be able to discern God’s present when everything is turned upside down. In those moments of crisis, it’s much harder to hear anything at all. When the storms of life are raging, when nothing makes sense and we’re struggling to stay calm, that’s when it’s the most difficult to hear God, and the least advantageous time to learn. If we can’t learn to hear God when life is quiet, we won’t likely hear God when life gets loud. We need to learn how to hear God first in our every day, normal moments, if we expect to hear God when we need too the most.

The first lesson of discernment is learning to listen in the quiet.

Learning to hear God in the everyday, mundane moments of life isn’t easy either, mostly because we tend to go through life on auto-pilot, when everything is going well. We tend to just stick to the mindless routine. Mindless routine can be the enemy of living life with God. God wants to break through the routine of our default settings and waking us up to the special invitation of every day communion. It’s what mystics often call “Kyros” verses “Chronos” time.

The Greek word “Kyros” means “a special moment with God”, while “Chronos” indicates the mundane passing of time, like the ticking of a clock. We get the word chronological from the word “Chronos.” We have too much experience in “Chronos” time, and not enough in “Kyros” time. “Chronos” time can render our lives meaningless, just like the ticking clock. “Kyros” elevates us to the specialness of a God who shows up in our every day moments just to let us know that we matter, and that we are loved. The discernment of “Kyros” not only helps us learn how to see, hear, and know God in the mundane moments, it elevates us in those moments to a place where we know we are living the life we were meant for.

There is nothing more life-affirming than realizing that the God of the universe always has time for me. Learning to how to affirm God, who is affirming me in those moments is what discernment is about. Learning to stop and notice God in my every day moments is the lesson and the beauty of life.

The second lesson of discernment is developing an inner quietness in order to hear God.

Living a mindless life, stuck in default settings, means we're not paying attention to the proper things. Contemplation is about learning how to pay attention, and what to pay attention to. That’s where meaning comes from. It comes from paying attention to the right things, and understanding them in the right way.

One of my friends is a recovered alcoholic. If you know anything about the mindset of alcoholics, then you know that they tend to see life in an adversarial and negative way. Life is always dealing them a bad hand, stacking the cards against them, and ensuring that they never get ahead. They can drive tipsy, hit another car, and swear that God or the universe has cursed them. It’s called an enabling, co-dependent, or victim mentality, and many people live in that space, not just alcoholics. There have been so many times when my friend is laying out the story line of a sorry string of events with the grand conclusion that all these prove that they are destined for misery, loneliness, and failure. But I can see a different story line in those details, because I’m paying attention in a different way, to different parts of those same details.

Where my friend can only see the misery, I can see the miraculous. Where my friend only see’s the negative, I can see the positive. The secret isn’t just about being an optimist instead of a pessimist. The secret is in seeing God at work, redeeming our stories, not cursing them.

Learning to see God in all my moments takes looking past those moments to God.

When we know how to sit in the darkness and face it, then we learn how to over come it. Running away from those moments only exacerbates them. It’s what I’ve described in earlier posts as numbing, or what phycology calls dissociative thinking. When we compartmentalize tragedy and tension, and separate from it, we separate and divide our reality, and our selves. We cannot heal from what we will not face. Seeing God in every moment gives us the ability to face every moment, good and bad, with the confidence, clarity, and “Kyros” direction of a God who is ready and able to take us through. It is the inner confidence to know we are going to be okay, no matter what, even when nothing but our inner confidence is speaking that.

The contemplative life is a listening life. It is learning to listen first, and only responding when we have heard God speak. Then we are ever responding to God in our circumstances, not our circumstances themselves.

I am not sitting, waiting for life to happen, and then scrambling to figure out what to do, and how to react. That is a reactionary life. I am sitting, always waiting for God to respond, and ready to move with God when He does. That also means that, if God is not responding, I need to just keep waiting. That can be the hardest part.

Jumping to conclusions and responding impulsively is evidence that our more compulsive, ego-self is in charge. Waiting patiently entails a trust that God is truly in charge of my life.

When nothing in my life looks good, feels good, or makes sense, I choose not to listen to any other message, or do anything, until I hear what God has to say. God’s voice is calming, never speaking through fear, shame, or discouragement. God never comes into my struggles with, “how could you do this,” or “look, he’s messed up again.” God is not frustrated by our struggle, not even with our greatest failures and mistakes. God is here to help us through, even when we are suffering from our own worst, intentional, bad choices.

God’s voice is affirming, loving, and kind, not disapproving or condemning. Learning how God speaks helps us distinguish that voice from others. Even when God is helping correct our unhealthy habits, it is still in love, because God’s aim is to lift us up, not put us down. Anything which feels like a mental, emotional, or physical put down is not from God.

There’s a difference between a positive response of remorse to kind, loving correction, and the negative shame that comes from being made to feel we are “bad”. God always affirms us, even in the midst of correcting our mistakes. Love transforms us out of bad habits and repetitive, harmful choices, by showing us a different way. The different way is Love.

Love brings a different energy, and speaks with a clear, calm voice. The struggle, for us, is all the other voices speaking into our lives, including our own.

We have to begin to make an active, intentional choice to stop listening to any other voice but God’s. Understanding the positive, affirming energy of God’s presence helps. We must begin to look for that energy in all our circumstances, and look away from anything pulling us towards the negative.

That is why mindfulness, mediation, and contemplation are important. They entail daily practices in that kind of stillness, which involves attempting to be completely quiet inside. To stop thinking, feeling, moving, and just try to be still and quiet in a moment, for a moment. Then, slowly, learning how to take that quiet with us wherever we go, to learn it so well through intentional, daily practice, that it begins to be and become our entire way of life.

God is already all around you, the energy of all living things, living inside all things, loving all things continually into life. If you are alive, you are already in God. The spiritual journey is just growing our awareness of a God who is already here. And that awareness can change everything.

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