To be human is to make decisions. In fact, according to many thinkers, our will, or complex ability to make choices, is a central quality that separates us from other species. As Elizabeth Liebert notes, various human capacities—such as reason, imagination, intuition, and emotion—help us in the task of decision making. Without discounting any of these capacities, Liebert encourages Christians to frame decision making as a spiritual practice. Discernment, this spiritual practice of decision making, offers a way to see God’s call in the midst of the decisions that mark one’s life. There is no one right way to make decisions, says Liebert. Discernment is not just a spiritual practice; it is also an art.
Elizabeth Liebert is Professor of Spiritual Life at San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is also a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, a community of Catholic women religious dedicated to Christian education. She has led discernment retreats for more than 20 years, and she has also directed her seminary’s Program in Christian Spirituality. Liebert’s book, Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making (Westminster John Knox, 2008) sketches common aspects of Christian discernment and offers various “entry points” to the practice. “How is God calling me to act in this particular situation?” is the question at the heart of the book.
As a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute in the fall of 2013, Liebert began to expand her work on discernment to groups and organizations. A sequel to Way of Discernment, her current book project shifts the focus from individual persons to persons-in-systems, asking, “How is God calling us together to act in this particular moment in our organization?” Liebert’s current project employs social analysis and systems theory to apply the spiritual practice of discernment to group settings.
During her residency at the Collegeville Institute, Liebert shared insights about the art and practice of Christian discernment. The eight-minute video about discernment is broken into three parts:
What is Discernment? (00:14)
“Christian discernment is a practice and a gift from God. The object of this practice and gift is to come closer to God in all our actions, in all our decisions, and in everything we do.”
The Process of Discernment (2:12)
After determining what is at stake in a decision, “I want to ask to be particularly free—ready to go wherever it is that I hear God calling me.”
Discernment as a Spiritual Practice (6:30)
“Discernment is a way we reflect on our lives before God. …Discernment helps us bring ourselves back to the questions, ‘why are we here?’ and ‘where are we going?’.”