The Counterintuitive Timing of Discernment

blog discernment imagination inner thoughts wisdom May 11, 2022

Blog by Gem Fadling

I have always had an active imagination. When I was a little girl, I could easily imagine a monster in the closet and the bogeyman under my bed. As I have grown and matured, my imagination has grown with me. In both What Does Your Soul Love? and the forthcoming Hold That Thought, I share about times of prayer when God has used my imagination to console, teach, and even stretch me. 


It's important to remember that God is eternally creative in the ways he finds to connect with us. I’ve heard people say that the imagination cannot be trusted. What if it leads us astray? People say the same thing about the emotions and the heart. 


However, I’d like to propose that we can just as easily be led astray by our thoughts. And I haven’t heard many people cautioning us to stop thinking.


This is where Spirit-filled discernment comes in. Cultivating a discerning heart and mind is critically important as we make our way through life. And while it may seem counterintuitive, one of the most effective means of discernment usually occurs after we make our best stab at a decision. 


Yes, there are many ways to discern a matter prior to making a decision; however, afterward you can gain further insight by asking yourself this question: What is the fruit of the decision? If the outcome of your decision has the aroma of the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy peace, etc.; see Gal. 5:22-23), it’s probably safe to say it’s within the pleasant boundary lines of God’s desire for you (see Psalm 16:6).


If the fruit of the decision smells more like the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, envy, etc.), then it is likely you missed the mark. Learn from your mistake and be wiser about those dynamics in the future. I realize this may seem simplistic, but it is a helpful place to begin.


As always, let’s move in grace. We are imperfect people who are doing our best. This is the essence of Ignatian discernment. We take time to look back, reflect, and discern what has occurred in the circumstances of our lives. Over time, we collect a library of wisdom from our efforts, and we take all that into consideration in our current situation. 


Pray, discern, decide, act, reflect, discern, learn. Rinse and repeat.


The older you are, the more you probably will understand what I’m talking about. Life experience is a real thing. The more experience we gain, the more likely we are to have a filter through which to make decisions. This is, of course, more of an art than a science.


An unhurried life is about granting grace profusely, and it is about making time for reflection, learning, and discernment. These things cannot be done in a hurry, and the process of gaining wisdom builds up over time.


In the meantime, we do our best to make wise decisions. We pray, we seek trusted counselors, and we ask God for wisdom.


Don’t be afraid to use your God-given imagination. You are using it anyway when you envision, dream, and then pray about something you want to occur in the future. Discernment is the key here, whether for thinking, dreaming, or imagining. God grants wisdom to those who ask.


Blessings to you as you make your way into further discernment.



  • How do you currently engage your God-given imagination?
  • How might you grow in practicing discernment in the areas of thinking and feeling?
  • Ask God for wisdom. God is so generous.



Photo by Kevin Jarrett on Unsplash