I awoke early this morning; the bright numbers of my Fitbit glaring at me: 4.30. In a reflective mood, unable to return to sleep, I arose. Sauntering into the kitchen, thirsting for the first cup of coffee (next to water, truly nature’s nectar), this sobering thought followed, chased me: The worst choices I’ve made in my life – those that yielded less than auspicious results, near or long term, and led me onto a path of life’s struggles – were the direct result of my having confused, indeed, conflated discerning and deciding. One of the most sterling, sagacious moments of my life involved my learning the difference.
Discerning and deciding, in common parlance, are treated as synonyms. However I now know, with a readily, daily conscious conviction, that they are related, but hardly, indeed, never the same.
Discern, from the Latin discernere, meaning “to separate” or “to distinguish”, produces the word discernment. Familiar in church circles, discernment oft is used (sometimes overused, I think, as if everyone is operating in the same realm of understanding, and, in my experience, we aren’t!) regarding processes through which folk are called to ordained ministry and to the various positions of service (read: employment).
For me, discernment, an operative term in my everyday vocabulary, is that ever-recurring, never-ending practice (as long as I live and breathe) – all at once, involving a synthesis of my thoughts and feelings, my observations and opinions, my reflections via memory upon my history, and my intuition through the lenses of soul and spirit – by which I arrive at my truth. By “my truth”, I mean my beliefs about God, who God is, what God does, about life, the way things are in the world and are not (in relation to who God is and what God does), and about myself, who I am and who I am becoming, what I desire and need (in relation to who God is and what God does).
Whenever I first discern, then I can (am able) to decide. Decide, from the Latin decidere, meaning literally “to cut off.” So it is, when I choose one thing or choose to venture in one direction, I cannot also choose the other. And so it is, whenever I’ve not discerned my truth and, nevertheless, decided, my choices have been characterized, corrupted by my ever-human-always-subject-to-selfishness-self-interest. I want it all. Everything at the same time, at all times, on my terms. Simply because this (for me and for anyone!) is impossible doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to do it. And, in trying, I’ve always succeeded in harming myself and others.
Lord, have mercy upon me that, praying alway that grand song of thanksgiving, I will discern, and then do aright:
Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.
You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.
O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous ordinances.
 Psalm 119.1-7