Post Author: Alison VanBuskirk Philip
More than five years ago, I came to a junction in my life. My husband and I had to make decisions about where to live, how to proceed on our career paths, and when to have children. I remember the pressure of asking myself really big questions. Who is God calling me to be? What is the best path for my current and future family? Where will we be happiest? It was intimidating to try to find a single good answer to these questions to ensure that I’d be
following God’s will for my next steps. I’d been taught in business leadership literature that you have to have a vision first so that everything else can line up with the vision. It left me thinking I had to get the big picture right if I were to be aligned with God in the details.
But not everything, and particularly not our spiritual lives, can be filtered through current leadership trends. While I was wrestling with discernment, I stumbled across twin terms from a 12th century monk named Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius encouraged people to pay attention for instances of consolation and desolation in their days. Consolation refers to moments when you feel close to God, are growing in faith, and are able to give of yourself in joy. Desolation refers to moments that turn you in on yourself, when faith or courage shrink, and when joy is hard to come by. Consolations aren’t all obviously positive. Not getting a particular job could be a consolation if it increases the love in your life in the long run. Getting the job could be a desolation if it gets in the way of your capacity to share your deepest gifts. It’s not the outward content of the thing but the way we inwardly relate to it that reveals how God speaks through it.
As I reflected on consolation and desolation, I realized that maybe I had discernment backwards. Maybe discernment doesn’t have to be about answering the grand questions first in order to answer the smaller ones. Discernment can be more inductive. Its starting point can be found in the nitty gritty details of daily life. In fact, noticing these details is an essential part of allowing the big picture to form in its own time. If this is true, then discernment is less about envisioning what isn’t yet and more about paying attention to what is. God is present in the details of my present life, right here, right now. And it is through attending to the present details—through listening deeply to life as it is—that God leads me, that a path emerges, and that I take my next steps.
Questions for discernment:
- Where do you feel most alive, expansive, attuned, and joyful?
- Where do you feel most turned in on yourself, stuck, or joyless?
- What do your answers to these questions suggest about where God is in it all and where God is leading you?
Alison pastors a small church in Bergen County, NJ. She and her husband Sajan are delighted parents to two preschool-aged girls. Before going to seminary, Alison served in communications roles for faith-based non-profits in New York City. In her free time, she brews kombucha, gardens, and studies the Enneagram.
Image by: Lairich Rig
Used with permission