hour of sleep the night before rather than sleeping through class or doing something crazy like jumping over a car hood on a longboard or punching a reinforced window with a bare hand. I could go on and on. Say what you will about adolescent motivation but they will always find ingenious ways to hurt themselves. In spite of this short-term blindness, a kind of practical nearsightedness, young folks still have questions about what comes next: where will they live, what direction will careers will take, who to spend life with. Much of their quiet mental state is flummoxed with thoughts about the long-term future.
They want to find THE pathway, and hope that someone else will point it out to them. I will not just pick on millennials, because I see this tendency in most people's lives and in my own life, for that matter. Instead of discerning God's purposes for in life, there's a tendency rely on external "signs" to point the way. Seeking God's will has become a Christian ruse for paganistic divination. There are problems with this approach to the future at two levels: the finding the path and the path itself.
Finding the Path
Knowing one's future is the process of discernment, from the Latin meaning to "distinguish" or "sort out." The myth of discerning the future is illustrated well by the Sorting Hat of the Harry Potter universe. When Harry or Hermione arrive at Hogwarts, they along with all first year students take turns putting on the Sorting Hat which will whisper which of the four "houses" they will join. More recently, the Divergent series of young adult novels uses a similar process of determining what part of society an adolescent will join aided by a chemically induced dream state. I cannot help but wonder if personality inventories, strengths finders, and spiritual gift inventories are not the same kind of thing.
To hear a voice is at the root of the word "obedience" in the Hebrew language. To be able distinguish God's singular voice evolved from the human capacity to pay attention. Daniel Levitin in The Organized Mind (2014) identifies the attentional filter as the cognitive process that helps human beings extract important information from a constantly changing environment whether it's bumps in a road to the hair color of a parent's child lost in a crowd to a divine calling whispered in the darkness of night. Levitin writes, "The human brain evolved to hide from us those things we are not paying attention to." (p. 11) Another way of describing this is Frederick Buechner's advice, "For God's sake, pay attention." If the focus is on the Divine, entering into practices that place us in proximity to God will make His voice recognizable, and take us a step closer in God's direction.
More on the Path Itself in Part 2.