For me, I have found that many of my inward crises are not best dealt with by solely finding solution to them. I am all for prayer, deep theological study, and turning to community to discern life decisions and theological beliefs, but I think we too often exhaust ourselves discerning and we forget about living. Many of my experiences of hearing God and finding peace in times of ambiguity and seeking answers have occurred when I simply follow what I already know I am commanded to do.
Last year, I wrestled with a lot of things—moral and theological issues—and there were a countless number of times where I had to make the decision to stop obsessing about discernment and go to work, deal with produce (I worked at a small grocery store), talk to customers, smile, quietly and discretely bless all the fruits and vegetables, and be a good employee. In that process of everyday life, with my ego fairly hushed and my mind calmed, I would hear God. I would find myself consoled. I would find peace. Things in my head would find cohesion. And life came together.
When it came to my theological crises, I would often have to stop studying theology in order to understand it. I had to take a step back, not let worry fuel my pursuits, direct my soul’s pondering on Christ and his gospel, and go on with my life; in time, things seemed to just mend themselves. There were even times where I found peace with not knowing—and even never knowing.
I am pretty adamant that there there are times where those struggling with figuring things out, and I mean that in the broadest of terms, need to find a space away from the to-be-discerned matter and just follow God with what he already put on their plate. Sometimes a break from heavy discernment is needed so that one can discern.
I do not mean to oversimplify the discernment process and how to approach theology. Discernment is both a discipline (1 John 4:1) and gift (1 Cor. 12:10) that should be pursued and developed actively through prayer, study, and community. I am just concerned about the excruciating effort people pour into ‘discerning’, as it is often a toxic experience. People become so obsessed about being right or on the right path that they forget about the path they are on and how God is already with them.
I know I’ve often needed to remind myself that gaining answers is not the goal of the Christian faith but developing oneness with Christ is (also known as Theosis among the Eastern Orthodox), which is often cultivated in the processes rather than in the conclusions. The much-needed and glorious struggle is to find God in the messiness and confusion of the process and to let go of the need to be right or to be in control. This is perhaps the greatest gift of discernment; finding God, whether that be with answers or without.