I took a class in NYU titled ‘Twentysomethings’ in my senior semester. A class about millennials when I, a millennial, was about to face adulthood – perfect timing, sign me up.
In one of the sessions, we explored whether what we do in our 20s mattered. The professors shared their experiences to get to where they were in their late 30s/early 40s. What they did in their 20s in all aspects of life from career choices to relationship decisions felt vastly roundabout to where they ended up. Yet every decision, whether it was a wrong turn or a wise choice, was important to the formation of who they were.
As a Christian, I do believe that we can make the wrong choices, yet God redeems all our messy life decisions.
But I wonder whether I can ever make the best decision to begin with, and be certain that it was the best decision.
On a fine wine night with a girlfriend, we discussed the difference between knowledge, wisdom and discernment. Knowledge is useful, but wisdom is the application of knowledge, of what we know.
However, we were slightly stumped on the difference between wisdom and discernment. Maybe it’s the wine, maybe it’s our lack of knowledge.
My friend said she had the gift of discernment, but she wondered if she had the gift of wisdom. I’m known for my wisdom, but I wonder if I have discernment.
If anyone came to me for advice, I would know exactly what to say. When I am faced with a task that I’ve no context or prior experience in, my gut is usually on point. And many professionals who have been there and done that compliment my taste and instincts for what is best within the context.
I’ve always loved the story of Solomon and his dream where he asked for wisdom above all gifts; and I value my gift for wisdom and do my best to steward it well.
On the other hand, I am rather reckless; you can also call me a ‘risk-taker’. I have had many epic bicycle crashes as a child, including one that went headfirst into a mailbox. I will do the stupid thing even if I’m scared of it, like I will go on the roller coaster even if I’m terrified of heights. I will say yes without considering the cost if my heart and gut are in the agreement (and possibly regret it, or retract my yes as soon as my brain kicks in). I relate to the song ‘Reckless Love‘ on an extremely personal level.
I took a test about spiritual gifts during my time with HillsongNYC, and my top three gifts were: faith, knowledge/wisdom, and miracles. But some of my friends got the gift of discernment.
Reckless people can be wise. But discerning people usually aren’t reckless.
After all, my friend is not reckless – she better not be, she’s in consulting.
“A person acquires taste not by accident, but by spending years training his or her eye and learning how to make good judgments.’Letitia Balridge
Discernment is defined as ‘the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure‘ and ‘the ability to judge people and things well‘.
In the book “All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment” (a top book I read this year), Hannah Anderson calls discernment
‘developing a taste for what’s good... an instinct for quality, a refined sensibility, an eye for value – to know the difference between what’s good and what’s not in order to partake of the good.’
My mother said that discernment is wisdom in action, in application. But I just said isn’t that wisdom – knowing what is wise and doing it? Wisdom feels more sensible and knowledge-based, while discernment is based on what’s better than the other, which may not mean the ‘wisest’ decision.
Wisdom, to me, felt like it was just innate, or just like in Solomon’s case, it’s a given gift. But while I was wise, my mother is wise and discerning, simply because she’s lived a longer life than I have, and walked longer with God than I have.
Discernment is cultivated, based off the standard of what’s good, better and best. Discernment takes time.
I’ve always wondered how Solomon ended up the way he did, with 700+ wives and the Lord’s anger upon him. He was supposed to be wise.
But perhaps, now I know: he knew what was wise, but Solomon lacked discernment, which destroyed his father’s legacy and left behind a family at discord and a country at war.
As I first started writing this post 2 weeks ago, I faced a crossroads that would greatly determine the next season of life.
I wish I was exaggerating, but I literally said the other day ‘but have you ever had to choose between 3 countries?’ And someone said to me on another day ‘I’ve never met anyone flying around just for interviews.’
I made one decision that narrowed the 3 countries to 1. But even within that one country, there are many decisions I have to make. And there is a high risk that perhaps the one country will lead me back to ground zero of applying for jobs and re-assessing where God wants me to truly be.
Discernment isn’t just about what is wise, but what is best.
In my first post in The Future series, I said I would answer the question ‘How can my everyday actions bring me closer to the visions and dreams placed on my heart?’
I’ve written about planning ahead yet staying open, looking back, doing life with people. After all, you need wisdom, reflection, other people with more knowledge, wisdom and discernment than you in order to truly become discerning. Because I believe what’s most important for a good future is: discernment.
Sometimes the wisest decision isn’t the best choice. If you applied conventional wisdom to Jesus, wisdom falls apart really quickly – like why would you go after the 1 stupid sheep that ran away when there are 99 obedient sheep in the fields? (Context can be found in this parable here) But a discerning heart knows the 1 stupid sheep is worth the sacrifice.
Discernment isn’t a simple formula or law to live by: it is by ‘becoming a person who knows how, not simply, what to think.’
So I end this series with this: strive for discernment. Pray for it; ask boldly for it.
The room for making the wrong choices when relying solely on wisdom is larger. But if I want to make the best decision and be certain that it was the best decision, to walk through the right door that is in accordance to God’s will for my life – I need discernment.
Discernment tells you beyond what seems like the best decision, but what is good for you. And what God thinks is good for you, is the best choice for you.