Our speaker at Weekly Manna at the law school yesterday was my friend and colleague Teresa Collett. She spoke about discerning God’s will. The question she started with was: When things seem so very difficult when we are acting in the way we believe is what God wants of us, how do we figure out whether we made a mistake in deciding that was what God wanted or whether it is just difficult. She used her first few years at St. Thomas as a concrete example. She had discerned that this was where God was calling her and so came here. But the first few years were very hard for her, causing her to wonder whether it was a mistake for her to come. Did it mean she has not discerned correctly? Or just that God had called her to something very challenging?
After spending some time talking about how we discern God’s will, she came back to her initial question. As to that, she concluded that at the end of the day, answering the question of whether a past discernment was correct was of limited value. That is, examining a past discernment process may have some instructional value regarding future discernments, but it isn’t really all that relevant or helpful to our current situation. Whether or not it was correct, this is where we are, and this is the position we must act out of. And spending time agonizing about whether the discernment that got me here was right or not keeps our focus on the past and not the present that it before us.
I think Teresa concluding observations are both true and important. We do the best we can to discern God’s will when faced with choices. Yet there may be times when, notwithstanding a prayerful and good discernment process, our discernment is faulty. But whatever got me to where I am right now, this is where I am and it is from this place that I live and move forward. Whatever future discernment I engage in proceeds from here, not from what might have been had I made different decisions in the past.
I am consoled by two things. First, I think we can trust that so long as we are seeking God’s will, God will find some way to work with the fruit of our discernment. Even when we misstep, God does a darn good job of making lemonade out of lemons. Second, I think there is truth in Thomas Merton’s prayer of discernment, which I’ve shared before, that our desire to please God itself pleases God.