Cooking the Discernment Soup with Children and Teens

By Lacy Finn Borgo

Parents all over the world have been catapulted into a season of discernment. The global pandemic has moved us into places of uncertainty around what education and social engagement for our children should look like. I use the word “should” because we seem to find ourselves under the relentless stare of judgement no matter which path we choose. We feel the pressure of the “right” decision, even if there may not be one.

I hope to offer a bit of wisdom which I am gleaning from St. Ignatius on discernment. St. Ignatius was a master of understanding how process shapes and forms our life with each other and our life with God. The process of discernment (even forced discernment) can help you and your family (whatever your family looks like) see the way forward and draw you closer in these challenging times.

Keep in mind that the point is not to arrive at a “right” conclusion. The point is to hear one other, to hear God and let the hearing bring us together. Connection, not perfection, is the goal of our life with God. Coming together and listening will help us to make good choices, but it’s a bonus.

1. Starting your Discernment Soup: What are you discerning?

Begin here without your child’s involvement. Take your time to tinker with a discernment statement that accurately represents the choice that is before you.

Be very practical and specific about the decision to be made. State your decision in a positive way and in the way that God seems to be drawing you. Two examples in this season might be:

  • “We will send our children to school so that the adult members of our family can work and the children will be educated.”

  • “We will educate our children at home so that we will limit virus exposure and spreading.”

Pay close attention to the “so that.” Sorting this out at the very beginning tunes our listening to the deeper fears and longings. Listening for the deepest things we know to be true helps us to see the way forward.

2. Gather the Cooks: Who can help us listen?

Gather all those who will be affected by this discernment. Establish a regular family meeting time that is specifically dedicated to this discernment. Depending on how much time you have before the decision must be made, meet daily or weekly. The meetings do not need to be “church committee” long, but short 5-10 minutes to check in. Your initial gathering will be a bit longer in order to set up the discernment, but not long enough to wish you had packed a lunch.

Invite God’s guidance and freedom. Each time you gather begin with a prayer asking for the specific guidance and freedom that you need. Notice which of these you might ask for:

Guidance for peace Freedom from fear(s) can be helpful to name them

Guidance for wellbeing Freedom from people pleasing

Guidance to care for others Freedom from perfectionism

Guidance for God’s Will Freedom from having to have my way

3. Add ingredients to your Discernment Soup

a. After praying together begin to discuss the details of your discernment question. Include everyone in this discussion, checking in to make sure all understand.

Who is involved?

What is the what?

When will this occur, what is the duration?

How much will it cost/require?

Why are we doing this?

b. Make space for each person to share their thoughts and feelings. Use phrases such as, “What do you think about this? How does this make you feel? What other ideas come to mind?” If you are discerning with young children, you might ask them to draw pictures of what they are thinking and feeling.

c. Make a list of what you don’t know and questions that still need answers. Invite each person to play a role in searching out answers. Learning to gather information together can be a bonding opportunity for parents and children and certainly a much-needed life skill.

d. Are there any stories from the life of Jesus that come to mind? Did Jesus encounter a situation like this? Do any of his words or actions seem to apply? Jesus is the lens through which we see the whole word and how we live in it. It might be a good time to get to know the Jesus found in the Gospels. Begin with Mark or Luke.

4. Taste your Discernment Soup and Make Adjustments

  1. Gather for a second meeting

  2. Repeat step #2.

  3. Rephrase what you learned in step #3, adding new insights and knowledge you might have gained.

  4. Together brainstorm a list of reasons for and reasons against. Write them down. Leave your list in a spot that can be seen throughout the day(s).

  5. Gather for a third meeting

  6. Repeat step #2, in addition ask God to give you feelings of settled peace about the choice your family should take.

  7. Invite each person to share the choice that they “want” to make.

  8. Invite each person to share the way they sense God “wants” you to go.

5. Serve the Discernment Soup: Confirmation

a. If all are in agreement, trust God and make your decision, even if you are not certain.

b. If all are not in agreement and you still have time to listen, revisit steps 2-4. Gather together daily for a short check-in asking if anything else needs to be added to the Discernment Soup. Then sit in silent prayer for a few minutes asking God to show each person the way forward. Conclude by sharing any impressions.

c. If all are not in agreement and there isn’t more time to listen, gather one last time. Communicate that there isn’t time left and a decision must be made.

Invite everyone to share their thoughts and feelings on the choice one more time. Make sure that children can share as much as they want. Your job is to make sure that they feel heard.

If you have come to a different conclusion than the children, acknowledge it and explain your conclusion with vulnerability and tenderness. Accept that your children may express hard feelings. Hold center in Christ and keep tender as these are expressed over time. Continue to seek God’s good guidance and cultivate connection even in the midst of conflict.

Resources for Further Exploration:

An Ignatian Framework for Making a Decision:

The Discerning Parent: An Ignatian Guide to Raising Your Teen by Tim and Sue Muldoon

Spiritual Conversations with Children: Listening to God Together by Lacy Finn Borgo

Lacy Finn Borgo is an eternal being in whom God dwells and delights. From this very core flows her work as a teacher and spiritual director with adults and children. Lacy has authored Renovaré’s spiritual formation curriculum for children Life with God for Children: Engaging Biblical Stories and Practices for Spiritual Formation. She has co-authored a family devotional series titled Good Dirt: A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families. She holds an M.S. from SUNY, Geneseo and a DMIN in Leadership and Spiritual Formation from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. She is also a graduate of the Renovaré Institute for Spiritual Formation. Lacy is part of a family that includes two nearly teenaged daughters, one husband, two parents, four dogs, six cats, seven goats, two horses, and numerous chickens all within a quarter mile radius. The rhythms of life and death, place and community have formed her—for these she gives thanks. For more information about Lacy, check out Good Dirt Ministries.

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