I have heard church leaders say that discernment is one of the most valuable spiritual gifts -- the ability to make apt decisions in a world of choices. I know in my life I have had to make choices that at the time seemed ambiguous -- the choice to change my career path from pharmacy to nursing, the choice to have a baby earlier than we had originally plotted out, the choice to work at this point in my life rather than be a stay at home mom, which I feel like is the more "normal" choice for other women in my position. All of these choices came with guidance from the Holy Ghost, but none of them were easy to make. All of them have brought their share of difficulty and doubt, but ultimately have blessed my family and my life more than the path that would have been easier for me would have. (I am not saying it is easier to be a stay-at-home mom, or a pharmacist, or a woman without a child -- just saying that for me personally, those choices would have been more comfortable for me at the time I chose against them. Clearly the Lord had other plans for me).“Discernment, the ability to see beyond the literal to the divine essential, has ever been God’s gift to women. Since Eve, women have faced the challenge of ambiguous choices that carry with them holy, life-altering consequences. On the correct resolution of these ambiguities hangs the future of generations, the civilizing of society, the basic dignity of the human race, and mortal life itself. Daily, women must make decisions based on things not seen or even known clearly. Often these decisions require great leaps of faith. Frequently these decisions must be based on what serves the greater good for the greatest number. Often such decisions require women to set aside their own well-being in favor of another’s. The very process of bearing children illustrates this truth dramatically. It is a source of strength and comfort to many women to know that inherent in their divine nature is this innate ability to be in tune with God’s purposes.“Even more awe-inspiring is the knowledge that the Lord has such abiding faith in women’s judgment and wisdom. By His very actions, He has shown women that He wants them to claim and properly act on this gift. Women are surely beloved of the Lord for Him to have placed them in such a position. As He relies on women to embrace the greater law, to bow to the greater commandment, He affirms their intellect, their integrity, and their righteousness.”
This also reminds me of the reason we chose Cal's name. He is named after one of the central characters in the John Steinbeck novel East of Eden, Caleb Trask (who goes by Cal, too). In the novel, Cal has a series of trials that seem to doom him to a failed life. However, he learns that as a human being endowed with personal agency, he can choose his actions -- he can choose to overcome his situation, to make the difficult choices that may lead to temporary discomfort but if he can endure it will lead to lasting joy and self-mastery. The essential word that epitomizes his experience is timshel, a Hebrew word meaning "thou mayest." Steinbeck explains this word in a conversation between Cal's father, Adam, and their family's servant, Lee:
‘Ah!’ said Lee. ‘I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order “Do thou,” and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in “Thou shalt.” Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But “Thou mayest!” Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.’ Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.Adam said, ‘Do you believe that, Lee?’‘Yes, I do. Yes, I do. It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there. [...] I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed – because “Thou mayest.”'
(If you are familiar with Mumford & Sons, their song "Timshel" puts this concept into poetic song as well). (Also, I wrote a blog post about this concept in literature at my book blog a couple of years ago).
I am so grateful that God trusts us enough to give us choices, the greatest gift given to humanity. We can choose darkness or light, and when we choose light, we are progressing to live again with Him.