April 16, 2012

Desperate for Discernment

I bought an Apple computer because I’d spent too much time in Best Buy overwhelmed by the array of PC’s – Toshiba or IBM or Sony? So many screen sizes, processors, features, and colors. Once I decided to buy an Apple, I had the choice of three types and three sizes. Easy (though a little more expensive).

Having more choices, it turns out, does not make our lives easier, especially if you don’t really know what you’re doing. Which brings me to discernment. From the time we graduate college, most of us face a wide array choices for which is it impossible to fully prepare.

I have a couple of friends who are considering changing their careers or attending graduate school. Should they stay near family or move to another city? Should they get married and have kids or postpone that and pursue a career? What tools do they have to help make our way through these decisions?

Of course, opportunity is a good thing, but it can also be overwhelming, especially in an uncertain economy. The church has a mechanism to help those considering the priesthood to make a decision – discernment committees and meetings with the bishop, for starters. For the laity, however, the options are severely lacking. The church advises us to serve Christ and each other, but doesn’t offer much more advice.

After graduating from college I spent years floundering in various jobs that weren’t quite the right fit for me. I spoke with friends and family, who gave me good advice, but I believe I would have benefited from some focused discernment. I think this is a common experience.

A community of faith can, and should, offer support and wisdom to those facing important life decisions. A community that knows us well can help us discern our own desires and motivations and passions. The church should be an important community in the lives of its members, and as such it should offer plenty to those struggling to make sense of an increasingly fragmented and confusing world.

Perhaps churches could offer Quaker-style discernment circles in which members simply ask questions of the person seeking guidance, or long-term small groups that explicitly address career and discernment issues head on, or more of an emphasis on spiritual direction and mentorship.

Priests and church leaders are not ordained to be life coaches, of course, but we can certainly lend wisdom and guidance. If the church is suggesting that its parishioners’ lives be guided by their faith, it needs to offer them a hand when it comes time for discernment. Many young adults (and some not-so-young adults) are desperately in need of it.