Discernment—Reading the Signposts (Discernment Series: Part 1)

Mar 21, 2024

Welcome to the first of a series of posts on the discernment process. I hope you’ll join me for the rest of the series. In future posts, I will dive more deeply into the discernment process. Drop me a line and let me know what questions you might have or issues you’d like to see me tackle.

Discernment, determining God’s activity and direction in a specific situation or season of life, is a topic of interest among most Christians, especially leaders who seek God’s will for their lives and leadership.

But what does that look like practically?

Here’s how it played out in my life this past week. See if it resonates with you.

Discernment and Context

First, let me provide a little context. Last week marked my second medication failure for an autoimmune disease I’ve lived with most of my adult life. With such debilitating disease symptoms as pain, a lack of coordination, and debilitating fatigue for the last few months, I’ve found it challenging to work and carry on with the activities of daily living. With a new medication ordered, my doctor put me on a high-dose cortisone taper. I have terrible problems with side effects when I’m on cortisone, making the temporary treatment almost as bad as the disease.

As a recovering Type A personality, I love to jump headlong into most things I tackle. In fact, when I worked in the corporate world, one of my supervisors said, “Mary Yerkes gets more done than the United States Army by 7 am!” It was tongue-in-cheek but, honestly, not that far off. (Kidding!)

Reviewing my calendar for the following week, I realized I was in trouble. Extremely sick from the prednisone, I’ve struggled to put in a few hours of work a day. Compounding issues were the class I teach at church on Monday night, a Wednesday night meeting for Freedom Weekend volunteers, an all-day spiritual direction retreat on Friday through my ongoing training through Sustainable Faith, and an all-day conference on Saturday at my home church.

The Wisdom of the Body

I knew it would be a miracle Monday morning if I could make it to class that evening. Should I go, or should I not go? After asking God if this was how I was to invest my limited energy this week given my weakened physical state and talking to my co-leader to see if she could take over Monday night, I concluded it was not good stewardship nor a wise decision given the context.

The discernment process was pretty straightforward on this one.

As the week progressed, I experienced more and more side effects from the prednisone, growing sicker by the day. Wednesday arrived, and struggling with a throbbing headache, foggy thinking, and nausea, I asked myself if participating in Freedom Weekend was even on the table at this point given my physical limitations.

Guilt and Confusion

Coming from a Charismatic/Pentecostal background, sound bites from years past and other churches left me feeling momentarily guilty and confused.

“It’s just spiritual warfare,” one voice said. “Don’t give in.”

“The enemy is just trying to distract you,” another voice said.

As I continued trying to discern the situation and to choose well, I filtered the choice through my calling as I understood it in this current season. Even good things need to give way to the best. I can’t do it all, particularly in this season.

Filter through Calling

Do I conserve and invest my energy in my spiritual direction training retreat on Friday or be only half present to conserve energy for Saturday’s Freedom Weekend, which would require a significant investment of energy from me—energy I didn’t have.

Filtering the decision through my calling in this season, brought significant clarity to the situation. Add to that the still small voice of God that reminded me rest is also a holy calling—one that Jesus engaged in regularly, by the way—and my decision was clear. Sometimes, rest is the most profound spiritual thing you can do.

I’ve heard people say, “I’m going to burn out for Jesus.” I’m sorry, but I think that’s ridiculous and counterproductive to the gospel.

Jesus did not “burn out,” for anyone. Instead, he spent his mornings in prayer and solitude, discerning, I believe, the Father’s heart and will for the day and season ahead. Jesus, along with his disciples, also went away to a quiet place to rest regularly.

Rest is biblical and necessary for effective ministry.

I let the church know I could not serve on Saturday.

Recalling the Past

How has God worked in your life in the past?

As I considered how God has spoken to me and moved through me in the past, I recognized a long pattern where I was pulled into a “hidden” season through physical limitations. During these times out of the limelight, God birthed new ministries in and through me, redirected my path, and set me apart for an extended time of listening.

My professional writing and publication career blossomed after my initial diagnosis of this autoimmune disease, which kept me from working full-time. My call to spiritual direction came as publishing doors temporarily closed (They have since reopened.).

I could go on.

Now, I am on the threshold of a new season—a season of limitations and honing in on what is mine to do in this season.

What about you? Where are you in the discernment process?