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Discernment…

April 28, 2015

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When I was looking out of the window of the plane on a trip I took not long ago, I snapped this picture with my iPhone camera. While I was taking the picture, the song “Both Sides Now”  by Joni Mitchell came to mind. Here are the lyrics for those of you who may not know the song:

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

(copyright 1969, Gandalf Publishing Co.)

In the song, Joni Mitchell seems to be reflecting on life, love, and clouds. I find it fascinating that in this song, she looks at life from both sides and wonders what is an illusion and what is real. She seems to bounce between the hopeful romantic and the cynical or depressed realist. Frankly, I can relate to both perspectives in my own life… the romantic and hopeful… the depressed cynic… yes, I have seen life from both sides.

When I looked out the window during the flight at the clouds I saw a variety of things. I saw the beauty of the sunlight reflecting off of the white puffiness of the clouds. I saw the beautiful blue sky up above the clouds. I also saw the clouds beneath the airplane and knew that we would have to fly into the clouds to land and that would be a bumpy ride. Once we were in the clouds, the colors faded from bright blue and fluffy white to grey and dark and stormy. We saw lightning in the distance and knew we were flying through a rough storm. Thankfully, we landed without too many bumps and bruises. When we landed, it was overcast and rainy. The sunlight and bright blue sky were hidden from my view. I guess you could say I had looked at clouds from both sides now.

Isn’t this what it is like for us as we walk the spiritual road and journey called life? How many times have I wondered about life? How many times have I wondered what God was trying to show me or tell me?

I guess you could look at the song, “Both Sides Now” as a description of the discernment process. There have been many times in my life when I have wondered as I have wandered down life’s pathway.

I remember briefly discerning the call to ministry in seventh grade and abandoning it after the reaction of my peers. I remember discerning the call again in the throes of failure in Intermediate Accounting in University. That time, however, I did listen and actually respond. I remember sitting on the beach in Florida while my life seemed to be crumbling down around me. I remember wondering what life after the Air Force Chaplaincy was going to look like. I remember looking at the gulf with the crashing waves and beautiful sugar sand beaches as a study in contrasts… somehow the contrast represented the turmoil in my own spiritual life.

Funny thing is, once I truly began to be still and listen for God’s guidance, I heard a gentle whisper… “I’m not done with you, Michael. You have work to do for me still.” In the darkness of the storm (literally as the waves crashed on the beach and as spiritually they crashed in my very soul) I was able to discern where God was calling me. Now, when I go to the beach and the waves are crashing against the shore, I don’t sense the same frustration or despair that I did back in 2009. I see the waves from a different perspective now. I guess you could say that I have seen the waves from both sides now!

Dear reader, are you in a place in your life where you are wandering? Are you wondering what God has in store for you? Do you feel like you are simply weathering the storm and trying not to drown? I can tell you from very personal experience that the process of discernment isn’t always easy. But I can also tell you that there is a pathway through the storm. In my own journey, the process of prayer, contemplation, study, and working with spiritual mentors/companions (soul friends) made a huge difference. I found out that I wasn’t alone. I discovered that God was still speaking to me… I just had to be quiet and listen. I found out that no matter how severe the storm was, there would come the dawn of a fresh day.

The discernment process isn’t always easy or quickly done. Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes you have to live in the silence and simply be still. My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you will find comfort in the storm. That you will be still and hear God’s guidance. I also pray that you have (or will find) that Soul Friend who will walk with you… weather the storm with you… sit in the silence with you… pray with you… listen to you and, more importantly, listen with you as you seek God’s guidance.

Unlike Joni’s lyrics, I can tell you that I have looked at life from both sides now AND I do have a better understanding of life than I did before. I thank God for those who have walked with me and who walk with me still. I have seen both sides now… I see hope and a future!

In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

There is a future for each one of us… There is a hope and a promise… Hold on! Out of the sometimes painful process of discernment an answer will come. That is my hope for you… that is my prayer for you… that is God’s promise to you!

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2 Comments
  1. I like the visual of the path through the storm. It is difficult to be discerning all the time but it is well worth the effort 🙂

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