July 11, 2008

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Discerning your path with God’s positioning system

It was the cold Chinese food that did it. I finally broke down.

Two weeks ago, I picked up some Chinese takeout on my way to a meeting with a few colleagues. Somehow, the 10-mile drive from city to suburb took me on an hour-long expedition that ended with cold food and a sour temperament.

As I nibbled on microwaved lo mein, I vowed to finally purchase the Global Positioning System I had long been considering.

Some drivers keep their cool when they are lost. I get flustered and frazzled, my chest constricting with every mile amiss. So GPS has quickly become an indispensable part of my car—and my well-being.

When I make a wrong turn, the GPS earns its keep, quickly calibrating. No need to waste precious time and pricey gas going any farther in the wrong direction—I can immediately right myself.

Imagine if the same device could apply to major life decisions. As soon as you wander off track, you would be alerted: EXIT! Wrong turn. Wrong school. Wrong job. Wrong mate. And just like that, you would be guided back onto the right course.

In reality, decision making is much harder. Discernment has become a foreign concept to many young adults.

Hollywood portrays decision making as a split-second act—as planes are boarding and brides are walking down the aisle.

Real-life discernment is not so dramatic. It cannot be cleverly scripted or neatly aligned to a soundtrack. Rather, it takes time.

To discern means to distinguish or separate by sifting. Synonyms for the verb—to perceive or recognize—also imply the passage of time and careful consideration. By definition, discernment does not and cannot happen in a flash.

Just as I plug in my GPS, we can better navigate life decisions when we stay plugged in to our power source. With God as our fixed point of reference, knowing which turns to make becomes clearer.

We can also glean direction from those who have traveled before us: the saints, the Scripture writers and Church leaders. They faced difficult junctures, and many left written maps behind.

When I turned to the saints, I was comforted to learn that discernment is not described as a separate, obscure skill to be clinically studied. Rather, it operates in conjunction with other virtues, one reinforcing another.

St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer for discernment reads: “All-highest, glorious God, cast your light into the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, firm hope, perfect charity and profound humility with wisdom and perception, O Lord, so that I may do what is truly your holy will.”

Before he asks for wisdom and perception, St. Francis prays for faith, hope, charity and humility.

Likewise, St. Paul writes to the Philippians: “This is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value …” (Phil 1:9-10).

Grant me faith “with wisdom,” St. Francis prays. Grant me love “in knowledge,” St. Paul submits. They are closely intertwined, one wrapped inside the other.

St. Augustine puts it even more simply, saying, “Love and [then] do what you will.” If you truly love God, he suggests, then by doing what you will, you will be doing God’s will.

The more fully we love God, the more naturally we discern his will—head and heart operating in harmony, leading us in the right direction.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She can be reached at christina@readchristina.com.)

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