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  • Pastor Nancy Switzler

Lessons in Discernment

Dear Friends,

How do you make big decisions? To the outside observer, my husband and I are quick decision makers. Some major changes, like where to live. The only time we didn’t make a “quick” decision, we ended up not liking where we lived. In that case we thought about what were some nice amenities in the neighborhood, like an awesome community pool, while ignoring the fact that the house was in a gated community. We moved in and quickly grew to hate having a guard gate. It was inconvenient for us, it was a pain for our friends and family, and we had to submit lists of our guests whenever we had a party (in advance of course!).

I learned an important lesson in discernment. Think deeply about your choices because the things you do like may not be powerful enough to overcome whatever negative you see.

 We didn’t even make to three years in that house.

One day, while visiting a member of Our Redeemer, I saw a cute little yellow bungalow for sale. I immediately looked up the online listing and thought, “I love this house, the carpet has to go!” I showed it to Scott, and he liked it as well. But we were not in any position to buy another house and move. I was in my third year of my Call, so that was stable, but a couple years earlier Scott’s job had moved to Texas (we chose to stay in California). Because of this he had been unemployed for almost a year; was currently working at a job he did not like; and was interviewing for another job. This cute little yellow bungalow was an unrealistic dream as far as we could see.

But then I learned another important lesson in discernment. Remember that God gives us others to help us discern.

During this time, Scott took my Spanish teacher (another story!) to a Clippers game. While in LA they visited my former intern supervisor, Brian, and his wife, Ruth. They live in an old home in the West Adams area. So of course, Scott told them about this cute little yellow bungalow that we “sure wished we could buy.” And Ruth, in her wisdom responded, “so try it! Maybe it will work out but if it doesn’t, at least you tried.” Scott came home, told me of the conversation, and we contacted our realtor the next day. We have now lived in that house for almost 12 years. This is now the longest time I have ever lived in any house!

In Ruth’s advice was another lesson in discernment, in that sometimes we just have to try. I like to say experiment. And if what we are trying doesn’t work, we at least gained some experience.

In the book I’ve been sharing with you, discernment is working to align ourselves with whatever God is doing. This is different than “deciding” in that we are seeking to understand how God might be inviting us into the future. Of course, buying a house is not a church ministry decision, but in remembering this story I can see how we failed to “listen” to the nudges that God was giving us.

For a congregation, discernment is about immersing ourselves in prayer, silence & talk, scripture and more…all so that we can listen. We approach discernment, hopefully, from places of openness and willingness to find our way to consensus. This will be important work for American Lutheran Church as the Transition Team begins its work, and then as the congregation discerns, together, the direction God invites us to take.

Sometime, discernment begins with understanding how we got to where we are today.

Peace in Christ,

Pastor Nancy

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