What is the next faithful step? I learned this question in a Christian Formation class. It works great when faced with other people’s difficult situations, decision points, or relationship issues. However, trying to follow a method when faced with my own fork in the road seems nearly impossible. Instead, feeling blind and mute I simply look for the next breadcrumb in the dirt.

The discernment process has come to feel like a slowly meted waltz attempted by two left feet. First one awkward fumble to the left, a stumbling recovery to the right, only to nearly fall backwards and start over again. St. Ignatius of Loyola would not recognize this for a spiritual discipline, that’s for certain. Yet, somehow, over the course of weeks and months, something akin to a path emerges from the deep wood of questions and uncertainties. And along that path there are traces of God’s being there.

I don’t want to paint a picture of God as a stingy, grumpy old coot who chooses to tell us what we want to know when he damn well feels like it. On this side of things, that’s how it feels, but I know that is not and cannot be true. A quick word search in Scripture for “Lord” and “delight” shows quite the opposite. Yet human nature tends to rush us towards a decision, towards a resolution, towards figuring something out. We crave certainty with sisyphean futility.

IMGP0416The funny thing about wanting to know how things are going to turn out is that we have a set image in our mind of what the resolution point looks like. But we cannot know some of the implications or even consequences of our desires. We know that to say ‘yes’ to one thing is an implicit ‘no’ to another. On a small scale, to choose to exercise for 30 minutes in the morning means that 30 minutes isn’t spent doing something else. Blazing flash of the obvious. But that level of simplicity only happens when I’m deciding something for myself. The discernment that goes into following a path is a more complex response to variables. That’s where I myself tend to get stuck in the mud. I like to think things through and come to understand a number of possibilities. But then suddenly I’m deciding the outcome of a scenario if/when I think it’s going to be too difficult, or that the probability of being accepted somewhere is too low. That’s where I am now: carefully tracing the map to arrive at a PhD in Systematic Theology, noting the pits of quicksand, safety hazards and dead ends.

But the next faithful step is simply that: a step. Sure, life is a highway, but when in the deep woods of transition and uncertainty and change while we may have an image of where we’re going (which is important), finding the next place to set our left foot is all that’s required. Collecting maps is great fun. It stirs our imagination to meditate on the buildings and people and breads and cheeses found in faraway places. If we actually want to get to those faraway places, though, sometimes we have to chuck the map and start looking for breadcrumbs.