When I was several years younger and just starting to learn a lot about prayer and relating to God, I thought being close to Him meant knowing all the answers to life’s questions. In my 20s, I was introduced to this concept called discernment and was taught how to do it by people who were ahead of me in the spiritual life. It made perfect sense to me. Discernment, as I was told, was about knowing God’s will in certain situations so that when you decide on something, you know that you consulted God before doing it. That kind of thinking appealed to me. In my young mind, it provided a safety net for all the decisions that I made. I thought discernment meant being fail proof and error free in everything I do. But as my experience would tell me, I was wrong.
Well, that may not be accurate. There were times that I was right. In my life, I can name a number of decisions which I know I prayed about and turned out very well in the end.
However, there are two significant matters that really make me question the merits of discernment. And no matter how I try to avoid it, I end up dwelling on these two. From time to time, I struggle with the thought that the outcome of my discernment was false. That I heard God wrong. Or worse, that He simply led me on.
But then when I pray, and I mean really pray with all my heart, I get this conviction that God has my back and that’s all that matters. What I’m learning now is that while it’s good to discern, I don’t really have to know all the details of God’s plans for me. I don’t even have to know the blueprint of my life. Instead, I need just enough guidance— just enough light for the step I’m on— and I’d be okay.
I’m also realizing that the more simple my prayers are, the more I know that I’m attuned to God. I once heard a story about this girl who died and stood face to face with God and when she asked Him if she succeeded in being what He wanted her to be, God said, “The only thing I ever wanted was for you to be you. I don’t need the best version of yourself. Just you.” I used to question that story. Doesn’t God want us to be good at everything so that we can glorify Him? Isn’t that the whole point o f the parable of the talents? But later on I learned that just by being true to who you are, you already become the best version of yourself. And the same thing is true when we pray. There’s no need for elaborate words or for too much ritual. Sometimes, you don’t even have to talk. You just have to show up. This realization led me to a more contemplative spirituality.
So now when I pray, I just tell God how I feel, what I want and how I want it to happen. And then I always end by telling Him that I don’t need to know everything— how it will happen, when it will happen, or if it will happen at all. I’ve stopped obsessing about discovering the ending. If I discern, it’s because I want to have the right disposition, not because I want a sure direction. Because if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that we can never be too sure about anything in this life. Except maybe about this: That faith is the substance of all things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.
I may not have the heart to believe in many things now but I still believe in what’s unseen and in the plans of a God who moves them. And I know that for the rest of my life, this should be enough.