Ever since I was choosing a college as a senior in high school, I’ve sought to make my thought process open and transparent, to invite affirmation and criticism from trusted friends and family that helps mold and shape my priorities and considerations. With this “advisory board,” I can freely bring up ideas and receive back respectful, mutual consideration.
This kind of input from my family and closest friends is a big part of how I’ve walked my path with faith rather than fear. Whenever I’ve faced uncertainty, I engaged a discernment process with trusted loved ones. They’ve helped me see more clearly what’s lasting and important, and using those factors has helped me make decisions well.
Discernment is a broader, deeper, and more comprehensive process than decision-making. It’s not just listing pros and cons — it’s asking which potential path leads you closer to who you were made to be. Rather than simply running numbers and budgets or evaluating career prospects, it’s asking if your gifts and joys will get a robust opportunity to meet the needs of our world. Discernment strives to consider all of you — who you are and who you hope to become.
Here’s one way I picture it: I have often imagined my heart and mind set up like a corporate board room. There’s a long, gleaming table surrounded by high-backed, leather chairs, and a slick, dark, woody finish to the walls. Instead of eager executives, though, the table is ringed by the smiling, loving faces of the people I hold most dear. As the chairman, I sit at the head of the table. But I’m not handing down declarations. I’m seeking input.
At my right hand, there is my wife, the person who knows my heart better than anyone short of God. At my left hand, there is my father, with my late mother present in spirit. Just beyond them are my best friend of 25 years, my two brothers and my sister-in-law, and my closest friends since college. And none of them have yellow legal pads or leather folios; they’re just looking my way with a gentle disposition, a listening ear, and a compassionate voice, ready to point me toward that which God made me to be.
In choosing my college, for example, my dad insisted I downplay differences in cost to our family and instead focus on the best fit for me. At the same time, my brother rightly identified my craving for holistic, well-rounded education (which awaited at the college I chose) rather than something more narrow (which I turned down elsewhere). And in accepting my first job, my then-girlfriend (she’s now my wife) knew that I needed to trust a close friend’s effusive referral and say “yes” to my first chance to work my dream job — even if it was at a school I’d never visited among colleagues I’d never met.
Yet, even with this invaluable resource at hand, there’s still a great deal of trust needed to move forward faithfully, and that leap can be especially difficult given the vast resources at our disposal to dig into decisions. We can sit and burrow down Wikipedia black holes to pore over anything. We can Google the living heck out of schools, companies, and cities until we think we’ve learned everything. We can text and email and call and FaceTime with friends and family nonstop, talking things through over and over again. At some point, we need to find a way to sort through our findings, make a choice, and take the leap.
This is where spiritually grounded discernment comes in handy, again. As you survey all that you’ve taken in, there may be pressure to prioritize certain elements — money and wealth, prestige and appearances, careerism and accomplishment. These are important in some sense, but none of these are the end-all, be-all.
The measuring stick for good discernment is located inside you, not in the exteriors of position and compensation. Have you earnestly, thoughtfully, and humbly sought to learn how you can become who you were made to be? Ultimately, discernment — and the decision and action that follow — invites us not to be successful, but to be faithful.
This is how I’ve found faith over fear. It emboldened me in my difficult decision to head off to my chosen college, to fly overseas for a year of volunteer service, to move cross-country and back again for work and relationships. It’s because, ultimately, my greatest concern wasn’t my bottom line, my job title, or my résumé — it was the desire to more fully become who God made me to be. And while some may consider the years I spent after college working different jobs and moving multiple times a failure, each move and transition came from a deliberate, thoughtful, faithful place of seeking that which God invited me to do. And each step took me further down the path toward who I’m becoming today.
Humble, earnest discernment embraces a more holistic decision-making process. It invites God’s grace into our conversations with friends and family. That grace then seeds deeper connections in reflection — it echoes in our own thoughts and feelings and helps us see more clearly what is right and good. And what is truly right and good often has very little to do with what the world sees as right and good — that’s why it takes intentional thought and prayer and conversation to find it.
When we’re facing a momentous decision, we’ll never have 100 percent certainty that we’ve found the right path. But with a strong discernment, we can have confidence that we’ve invited God into the process, and He helps us overcome our fears to take that faith-filled leap.