Discernment: Our Generation and the Origin of the Question
by: Fr. Blake Britton
“What am I supposed to do with my life?” This is one of the most pressing questions of our time. Each of us longs for purpose; we long for a reason to be. It is said that the millennial and post-millennial generation is particularly driven by a desire to find meaning and mission in their lives. The fact is, we were raised in a world that promised us everything and has left us with nothing. We have smartphones, tablets, cars, media, entertainment, limitless stimulation and plenty of resources; but we do not have life. Despite our possessing copious amounts of opportunities and pleasures, the millennials suffer from higher amounts of stress and anxiety disorders than any previous generation. Drug abuse and suicide rates are the highest they have ever been. Many young adults prefer to live in alternate realities through video games and movies to escape their feelings of unfulfillment. We jump on political bandwagons and the latest social trends without second thought. Anything which remotely resembles a meaningful task becomes our rallying cry and any fad which aids in our quest to run away from the humdrum of the daily grind is a welcomed guest.
In the end, all of these realities flow from a single problem: a loss of identity. One cannot commit to something unless he or she first appreciates who they are. The ancient seers of Delphi understood this well when they inscribed upon the wall of their mystic temple, “Know Thyself”. Thus, before we begin any kind of reflection on discernment, it is first necessary for us to discuss the notion of the human person and who he or she is essentially. The query before us, therefore is not so much, “What am I supposed to do with my life?”, but rather, “Who am I?” This is the fundamental question of genuine discernment as well as the foundation upon which it is built.
Loss of identity is not a problem confined to our generation. As a matter of fact, forgetting who we are is as old as humankind itself and is the chief cause of humanity’s fall. We see this in the book of Genesis, that outstanding piece of literature which summarizes so beautifully the drama of the human person. In chapter 3, we read about the temptation of Eve:
Now the serpent was more cunning than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Gen. 3:1).
From the beginning, the Evil One sows doubt into the mind of humanity about the truth of God. He brings Eve’s relationship with God into question making God’s love for her subject to suspicion. Before this time, Adam and Eve existed in an idyllic peace, affirmed and confident that their Creator cared for them. But now, here is one who is telling them otherwise. Perhaps God is nothing more than a great deceiver who has made them his playthings under the might of His will? Yes! Maybe God is just a dictating being who wants to hoard all the power and knowledge to Himself? Thank goodness this serpent befriended them and told them the “truth” about the fruit or else they might have remained slaves to this cruel over-lord their whole lives. Adam and Eve do not need that; they can be their own self-sufficient lords and masters. Why bend to the will of another when you can bend the other to your will? Who needs a God of love when you can be a man or woman of power?
Within the span of seven verses (i.e. Genesis 3:1-7), Adam and Eve lose complete sight of who they are as God’s “likeness and image” (Gen. 1:26). From this single seed of doubt which Adam and Eve allow to sprout in their hearts, a thorn-filled paradigm bursts into bloom constricting their souls with the weeds of ego and thorns of anxiety. Now, the God who had blessed them and called them good (Gen. 1: 28 & 31) is seen as a threat. When the Lord descends into the garden “in the cool of evening” to walk with His beloved creation, they hide from Him in shame and fear (Gen 3:8).
The next verse is one of the most heart-wrenching in all of sacred scripture. For, the Creator of the Universe, the God of night and day, the Almighty One who holds the heavens and earth in their place cries out like a lost child, “Adam…where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). There is no anger or malice in His voice…simply heart-break. “Why do you not want to walk with me?” “What have I done to cause you to hate and fear me so?” Thousands of years later, God’s Son would echo these same sentiments when being beaten by a member of the Jewish guard: “If I said something wrong, testify to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?" (Jn. 18:23). That moment was the Son’s taking onto Himself Adam’s rejection of the Father in the Garden. We see in these words of the Father and the Son the longing of wounded lovers; they express the feelings that flow from the poverty of love when standing before the refusal of the beloved.
It is interesting to note that the original Hebrew phrase in Genesis 3:9, “’ay·yek·kāh” (“Where are you?”) is from the root word “ay” which could also be translated “from whence”. Thus, another way of reading this verse could be “Adam…from whence are thou?” In more common language, “Adam…where do you come from?” When read in this context, the question of Yahweh becomes even more piercing. For it is a calling out to Adam and Eve so as to remind them of their origin; it is a recalling of their identity.
Adam and Eve allowed the Evil One to speak words of doubt into their souls which in turn made them lose focus of who they were in God’s eyes. This experience is not foreign to us. How many of us doubt our goodness and belovedness in God? How often do we allow the gravity of our sin to blind us to the immensity of God’s mercy? How often do we grasp at the “fruit” of perceived wisdoms and passing comforts only to be left with our eyes open to the shameful nakedness of our souls and the shallowness of our daily lives?
One of my favorite movies is the Lion King. In particular, there is one scene when Simba has an interaction with Mufasa after his death. The deceased lion king appears to his wayward son surrounded by light amidst deeply-hued clouds of thunder. As Simba looks on in amazement, Mufasa says one simple phrase, “Remember who you are…” Simba had forgotten his identity and thus his vocation. He could discern nothing, because he had lost sight of his origins and his father’s sacrificial love for him. So it is with us.
Who are we, my brothers and sisters? We are God’s beloved children. We are cherished, precious, redeemed, forgiven…called to the joyful embrace of God’s merciful arms. When was the last time you experienced this embrace…allowed yourself to be consumed in it and pierced to the core by His love? This must be the first step of discernment: to allow the Father, through His Son in the Eucharist, to affirm His love for us in the life of the Holy Spirit. We must be a person who dwells in the beating heart of God, the fires of His passion constantly burning for the world, longing that it already be ablaze. Here is where the journey begins…remember who you are.
 Delphi was an ancient sanctuary in Greece dedicated to the god Apollo. A famous oracle lived there who was sought by many for her predictions and guidance.