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Bella and the Spiritual Practice of Discernment

Bella thought about discernment…in a way, she had wrestled with discernment most of her Christian life. Even when she was a young girl, she sensed things that people often denied or at the very least, expressed some form of discomfort with Bella just saying it. She couldn’t figure out what was wrong. If she could have put words to it, she would have wondered why people would want to hide such things. Wasn’t it wonderful to have everything out in the open so you don’t have to wonder what is going on? Life would teach her that this is none of our go-to way of thinking!


As a new Christian, at times she sensed deceit, which was a strange mix with her naiveite. Her naiveite was also a puzzle as she had walked in the world of drugs and crime. She had an old soul and a naïve mind.


As the years went by, she grew in discovering and using her gifts and found herself often in the ministry of counsel and prayer. The simple things she said to people were, at times, received as wisdom. She started to hear this word in relation to herself and she learned that wisdom is definitely part of discernment.


The teaching in the church around discernment was centered on knowing God’s will. This seemed especially key to those who were wondering about becoming missionaries or pastors. It broadened out to whether one should move, which university to go to and of course, whom you would marry. Funny they never taught about hearing if you weren’t supposed to get married! That would have been helpful. It seemed to Bella, in all that teaching, that you could probably figure out God’s will if you just picked the thing you would hate the most. That didn’t seem right to her but hey, she wasn’t the expert.


As her ministry years opened up into speaking at women’s conferences, she realized that discernment was hearing God’s voice. Person after person that approached her throughout those years, asked about two main things: how to hear God and how to experience being loved by Him. She didn’t realize at the time just how connected these two desires were.


Slowly, the call of pastor was revealed to her. Like Eugene Peterson says in his book, The Pastor, he was a pastor long before he received the title – he just didn’t know it. It certainly brought a lot of “aha!” moments to Bella. With the title, she got into the thick of it and it was extra “thick” being a female pastor in a male dominated role. That would actually be a book of its own!


Bella was heard to say that when it came to the why of her going to seminary in her 50’s, God had tricked her. He drew her to one course, then to considering a diploma and somehow, she ended up with a Masters and training to become a spiritual director.


Seminary and her training there opened up the world of discernment in a way that nothing else had. She heard deep teaching about it, how it was a way of life, not something that only happened when one had to make a significant decision. She learned contemplative ways of being aware of God’s presence and how to receive His lavish love. Yes indeed, discernment could not be a reality if people’s image of God was skewed. The more people experience His love, the more they learn how to love themselves, the easier it is to hear Him. For His voice is wrapped in His presence and in His love. This was an explosion in her mind and transformational in her own life as she walked down this experiential path. She wanted to shout it from the rooftops! But then she realized how much living she had had to do in order to just begin to grasp this beautiful thing. And she came to a deeper wisdom that she had only known in her head before: we can’t give people these things. They are lived into by one and all.


So, she carried on, she wanted to swim in the life of discernment, the life of practicing God’s presence and hearing Him in all her days. Then when she needed to make a big decision, it wouldn’t be like coming to a screeching halt in her life to try and hear God. It would be a gentle continuation of His wise guidance.


From the Book:

To know God’s will we must be assured of God’s love. Discernment depends on a deep trust in God’s good intentions toward us. Distrusting God’s intentions and fearing that his will could be life-thwarting rather than life-giving can sabotage our ability to listen and wait for direction. Reveal the source of your distrust to God. Ask for help and healing. The Spirit does not beat us up for expressing our doubts and fears to God. He hears us out, assures us of God’s love and leads us into trust.


To discern well we also need the Spirit of truth to open our eyes to our attachments to things that influence our decision making: prestige, personal agendas, comforts, productivity and so on. We need to confess our agendas and honestly ask the Lord what must die in us for God’s will to come froth. One of my favourite prayers for guidance is “Lord I am willing to receive what you give, release what you take, lack what you withhold, do what you require and be who you desire. Amen.”


When our hearts are open to receiving whatever God says, we are in a place where we can wait and listen for a nudge from God. We rest in the confidence that we don’t have to figure things out on our own. We become alert to the presence of the Spirit…

From me:

I find that listening to my body is very helpful in discernment.

I also find the prayer of Indifference very helpful. The actual journey of discernment is for the Spirit to get us to this place. Once we get to the place of indifference, we will know.


Description by Ruth Haley Barton:

Indifference is not something we can achieve for ourselves; it is a gift of grace that God alone can accomplish as we learn how to open ourselves to it. There are, in fact, two aspects of this prayer. There is the prayer for indifference in which we open to the gift by asking for something we do not yet have. And then there is the prayer of indifference which is the answer to that prayer— the ability to say, in truth, “I am indifferent to anything but the will of God.” The prayer of indifference carries us across the threshold between two worlds—from the world of human will and action to a world in which we are participants in the Divine will that has already been set in motion.

A Prayer of Abandonment

Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all.


Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures— I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul: I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father. Amen. – Charles de Foucauld


Photo by Limor Zellermayer-Unsplash


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