discernment is not the same as decision making

From “Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life” by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird

Henri was a genius in the art of spiritual spelunking as he explored the cave of the heart. Wearing the headlamp of the Holy Spirit, he reached out for every available tool to break new ground – theological wisdom, psychological insights, scripture, the writing of Christian mystics and saints, teachings from other religious traditions, literature, the arts, prayer, academic research, and world travel. Henri believed that he had discovered the living waters of spiritual awakening in Jesus Christ, and he dedicated his whole life to the process of inviting others to drink from those eternal streams. For Henri, Jesus was the light that shone in the darkness – the gateway, the healer, the deliverer, the inspiration and guide for anyone who seeks to live from the infinite place in the heart from which Jesus lived.

Henri emphasized that Christian discernment is not the same as decision making. Reaching a decision can be straightforward: we consider our goals and options; maybe we list the pros and cons of each possible choice; and then we choose the action that meets our goal most effectively. Discernment, on the other hand, is about listening and responding to that place within us where our deepest desires align with God’s desire. As discerning people, we sift through our impulses, motives, and options to discover which ones lead us closer to divine love and compassion for ourselves and other people and which ones lead us further away.