May 26, 2010

Painting the Barn

Sometimes the concepts of 'discernment' and 'processing' can be a smokescreen or a mystification of what's really going on within us. It's a spiritual pitfall I've noticed in myself and others over the years. It can very tempting to engage in an apparently diligent discernment in such a way as to "discern" red herrings, all the while living in denial about what our hearts and our prayer are really telling us.

I once lived with a funny friar who gave this response to anyone who asked him for help in making a decision:

"Brother, do what you want. You know why? Because you will anyway."

It sounds cynical, but my confrere didn't mean it that way. He was only trying to help us cut through a lot of spiritualizing and take an honest look at what our hearts were trying to say. When we use spiritual language to remain in denial, we risk making decisions that are not discerned at all.

The other day I heard a funny and pertinent example of just this sort of thing. A young priest was having a vocation crisis. He had met a woman. They had formed a friendship and he was tempted to run away with her. He asked a brother priest for help with his "discernment," explaining that he was going to take some retreat time during the summer to pray over the situation.

"Where are you going for retreat?" asked the friend.

"I'm going to her farm; I promised to paint the barn," responded our hapless discerner.

"Brother, once you agree to paint the barn, the discernment is over."


Terry Nelson said...

This is like wisdom from the desert fathers - thanks Father - I hope you don't mind but I'd like to post this with a link to your site.

Michael King said...

powerful post. I have admittedly fallen prey to this sort of dynamic and I agree that honesty is the first step. sometimes passions can get in the way and cloud our judgement, and this is precisely where we need to listen to ourselves.