Discernment for Difficult Choices

Recently I have been thinking about the old adage, “With age, comes wisdom.” I can say with all honesty that I am doing the whole “aging” thing, but I am not sure how wise I have become in this process. When I was younger, I took comfort in this saying. I anticipated a time when I would be more confident when making ethical or moral decisions. I have learned many things through experience (my own and others), prayer, and study. I know I still have a lot to learn and I attempt to be open to it. Sometimes I make the right decision and sometimes I make the wrong decision, but if I learn something from the experience I am at least gaining something positive from it.

 When I apply what I have already learned to a situation, some dilemmas are more easily resolved. But I have come to realize that there are some situations that do not have a clear and definite answer. I do not have the ability to see all of the far reaching repercussions of my decisions. No matter how righteous or noble my intent, the result may not be that which I had foreseen.

 In today’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that they are the “light of the world.” They are asked to let their “light shine before others that they may see their good deeds and glorify the heavenly Father.” At first glance, this is very straightforward—do the right thing, allow others to see you as a model of good behavior and offer it up to God. The first reading even gives us some specifics on how to do this: feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, help the afflicted, etc. I think most people recognize those as good deeds. It is simple enough to understand even if it is not always easy to do. We sometimes struggle to do the right thing even when it is apparent that it is the right thing.

 However, what about when the correct action or “good deed” is not so apparent? If I am confused as to which response will help others and glorify God, what do I do? When I am asked to be the “light of the world” but I am not sure what that means in a certain situation, how do I respond? I don’t think there is a single right answer to those questions, but we have been given the tools to help us at those times.

 Many years ago, someone shared with me a method which helps me to work through a difficult decision. I know when I actually take the time to make use of this process, I feel more secure in my choice. It is referred to as the STOP process and some of you may be familiar with it.

 State clearly and concisely the actual question or problem. It becomes much easier to look for solutions when I am clear about the problem and what it is that I am trying to decide.

  • Think about the choices. What are the available options? Are there options I hadn’t yet considered? Sometimes there are a variety of options and at other times, the options can be very limited. Keep in mind that not making a choice is a decision in and of itself.
  • Others. There are actually two steps in this part of the process. First I need to carefully look at each of the various options and ask myself these questions: Who does this choice affect? How does it affect others? What are the possible outcomes of each of these options? How does it affect my relationship with God and others? The second aspect of “Others” is about seeking others for help in the decision making process. I ask others that I respect for their insights to the problem—family, friends, professionals, ministers, etc., I can learn so much when I really listen to what other people have to offer. Included in this list of “others” with wisdom, is scripture and Church teaching. These are all gifts given to us by God to help us make right choices.
  • Prayer. This final step is extremely important. I must pray to God for gifts of patience, good judgment, and strength to do the right thing. I also need to listen for God’s response. I cannot just pour out everything I am thinking and feeling to God—I need to quietly listen to what He has to say to me within my own heart and when He speaks to me through others.

 Using this process does not guarantee that I will always make the right choice. However I can be comforted by knowing I have sincerely tried to do the right thing. I know that I have used both my intuition and a logical application of the wisdom and experience of others. I have asked for and included any insight that God is willing to grant me.

 Could this be some of that wisdom that comes with age? Could it be that simply understanding I do not necessarily know what is right and that I need to rely on God and others to help me find the way is a start to gaining the wisdom that I seek? I pray it is.

 “Jesus, you guide me by the light of your goodness and love. Fill my heart and mind with your light and truth and free me from the blindness of sin and deception so I may see your ways clearly and understand your will for my life. May I radiate your light and truth to others in word and deed.” Amen.

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