By: Ellen Nimmo
“What should I have for dinner?”
“Where should I shop?”
“When should I say yes or no?”
“Speak up or shut up?
“How do I find joy in my ______?” (Insert: career, marriage, parenting, education, etc)
“Who should I vote for?”
“How do I love my _____ well?” (Insert: family, children, pets, coworkers, spouse, friends, etc)
All the questions! And that, only a sampling. While some of those questions are difficult and some simple, more often than not I don’t have good answers to any of them. Should I eat a dinner that saves time or saves money? Should I do the majority of my shopping at a place who offers the best price or supports local farming? Should I say yes to another meeting, another commitment, another cause, another friendship, another book, another vacation, another purchase, another job, piece of candy, episode of The Office, and on and on and on? Or is perpetual “no” robbing me of something good? Should I speak up? Or shut up? These pants or those? This candidate or that one? How do I find joy in the tedious, the painful, the difficult, the unknown? How do I love others well?
I waffle between answers, decisions, options, and reasons.
I mistrust my own discernment and, in part, that’s a good thing. In a world that entreats me to trust my gut, follow my instinct, listen to my heart, and a slew of other “you do you” statements . . . I doubt. And here’s where I’ve got to lay my cards out: I would love to rely on myself, but I believe in God. Despite the way that sounds to the world, that’s really good news to my ears.
Confusing news too.
If you’re still reading, I’d love the opportunity to explain.
Without getting into the details, there came a point where I put my nickel down on Jesus. For me, there was enough eyewitness testimony, enough compelling evidence, enough intelligent people throughout the ages who believed, and more than enough desire for a goodness beyond the present sufferings to move me (eventually) into faith.
But what they don’t teach you in Sunday school, you must learn the hard way: following Jesus can be beautifully crystalline, a clear stream with rainbows of light dappling its surface; as well as an oft confusing, muddy-as-hell voyage you wish would end sooner than later. It’s both. The paradox of belief.
In her book “Surprised by Paradox” Jen Pollock Michel dives deep into this concept of paradox within Christianity and seems to arrive at the conclusion – paradox is the rule rather than the exception. Her website summarizes the book this way:
In a world filled with ambiguity, many of us long for a belief system that provides straightforward answers to complex questions and clarity in the face of confusion. But while there are certainties in Christian faith, at the heart of the Christian story is also paradox. Jesus invites us to abandon the polarities of either and or in order to embrace the difficult, wondrous dissonance of and.
If you agree with Pollock Michel, as I do, that our days are filled with enigmatic tension, then it begs the question: What do we do with all this paradox? What indeed.
The transparent response (if you are me) to our paradox question is frequently “I don’t flipping know!” In fact, I often wish desperately I had a Designated Discerner. A wise visionary, a friend who could instruct me on everything from what to eat for dinner to how to love well. A blessed DD for my life. With the realization that in many cases the choice of faith (of following Jesus) is and ought to be crystal clear comes right alongside another truth, a consciousness which knows I am fallible and regularly seek my own comfort, my own pleasure above that of following Jesus. Sad but true. Often attempting to squeeze the perfect peg edges of God’s will into the cylinder pit of what feels right to me. Not a great move, Ellen.
Want to hear another something frustratingly true? I am the DD for my life. God has empowered me to be such (Hebrews 13:21, 2 Peter 1:3, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 2 Corinthians 9:8). Even as I seek counsel and listen to trusted sages in my life, none of them would be able (nor would they want to) give me answers to all life’s rainbow-muddy decisions. Even as I pray, asking God to grant me wisdom, discernment and patience – I rarely feel qualified, wise, empowered or equipped to make many daily decisions which command verdicts. Paradox continues. But, there is a freedom in being rescued and since putting my nickel down on Jesus, I believe I’m free to make these decisions with the hope, the good intent which the Spirit sends (2 Timothy 1:7). This same good the verses listed above are claiming exist in the heart of every believer, are there to help discern, so that every time a person (in faith) makes a decision in which their heart’s deepest desire is to love, please and glorify God, the DD has done its job well.
In the Book of Luke, Jesus, in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14), is traveling around the region of Galilee teaching and sharing the news about the kingdom of God. On one Sabbath in Nazareth, Jesus stands up to read from the scroll of scripture (Luke 4:17-18) –
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free
Which is from Isaiah 61:1-2. Then, with every eye in the synagogue upon him, Jesus claims to be the fulfilment of this two thousand year old prophecy. The anointed proclaimer of good news, freer of prisoners, healer of sick, restorer of the poor, the oppressed.
As Jesus continued traveling and teaching, gaining enemy and follower alike, he instructed his disciples (students and practitioners of his teachings) to go out and replicate what he asserts he has come to fulfill. In other words, Jesus asks his followers to become like him (Luke 9:1-6): trusting in God’s provision and power to create in them a radical generosity, a humble servitude, a designated discernment for the advancement of his coming kingdom.
Letting all this rumination on discernment wash over me, I feel sobered, encouraged once again to make decisions (both big and small), in the spirit of glorifying the God who came to rescue me and give me a life that is empowered to proclaim goodness.
Now, for dinner . . .hmmmmmm.