The Wheel of Time and Lessons on Discernment

I love reading science fiction and fantasy, so I’m not sure how I missed Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series for so long! I’ve been watching the series on Amazon, and it’s so intriguing that I’m starting the books as soon as I can get them from the library. A scene from one of the episodes stuck in my brain, and I’ve been thinking about why it was so powerful to me.

I’ll try not to give away any spoilers, but here’s a brief description of the scene. Near the end of Season 1, there is a confrontation between one of the major characters and The Dark One, who wants to win him over to the side of evil. The young man is presented with an alternate future that can be his if he joins forces with the dark. This future offers him a simple, good life with a family and the woman he loves.

What is so striking about this scene is the nature of the choice this character must make. He is at a significant decision point between good and evil. And what’s fascinating is what the “evil” choice looks like. He isn’t tempted with power. Or wealth. Instead, he is tempted by something that appears to be a good thing – a wife, a family, a modest home in a peaceful land. And, of course, he wants this. Desperately. But the catch is that to have this, he has to deny his potential for making a change in the world. Both he and the woman he loves have significant roles in the battle between good and evil; their destiny is not an idyllic family life. So, for him to choose this alternate offered future, he has to deny his own larger potential and the power and potential of the woman he loves (not to mention depriving her of the choice of her destiny).

And I think this says something about the nature of many of our choices. Ignatian Spirituality has the concept of “magis” – often translated as “the better” or “the more universal good.” In an interesting contrast to the scene in The Wheel of Time, St. Ignatius introduces this term in a meditation that has us imagining Christ as a King, calling us to join him in his work to save and heal the world. In The Wheel of Time, the protagonist is called by The Dark One to join him and make a choice that doesn’t serve the universal good.

As unemotional observers with more information, we see that this is an obvious choice for our protagonist. But often, our own decisions aren’t so clear. Sometimes it’s about what is “more right.” These are the more challenging choices, and they often take a lot of discernment.

An essential attitude in the discernment process is what Ignatian Spirituality terms “spiritual freedom.” This means we must set aside our fears and preconceptions and attempt to be free of external pressures and our past conditioning. We have to see our motives and desires clearly and honestly. This is really hard!

For example, I was recently torn between three possible directions for my life. This decision felt serious to me, although it was on a much smaller scale than the fate of the world! I could return to school to further study theology and pastoral ministry, get serious about starting to write, or invest in more volunteering work. I chose the writing path and started this blog, but it took me well over a year to make that decision. All three paths were good choices. But I eventually decided that attempting to write was the “more right” option for me at this point, even though it was the scariest. It felt like this was the “bigger life” that I was being called to at least try, with the hope that it would also contribute some goodness to other people.

I love science fiction and fantasy because it often presents some of life’s most complicated truths, all wrapped up in a captivating story. I’m looking forward to reading this series and hope that I find more thought-provoking themes and scenes in the books.

A Closing Prayer

God, give me wisdom and clarity to make good decisions for my life. Help me gain perspective on my fears and desires so they don’t overwhelm me during my discernment process. Let me be patient and give decisions the time that is needed, rather than rushing to an answer in order to escape the uncomfortable feeling of not-knowing. Amen.

5 comments

  1. All of us reading your blog feel you made the “more right” decision by choosing writing at this time in your life. Your words are inspiring, thought-provoking and educational. They are very right to me.

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  2. thanks for (another) thoughtful and well-written post… i have to keep relearning that discernment is a lifelong process, not something limited to one’s early years.

    “this means we must set aside our fears” always resonates with me – something i will struggle with always, but inspired by those who manage to largely free themselves from the boundaries of their fears. If you want to take a break from SciFi – try “The Alpinist” documentary. :>

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  3. Cathy, just wanted to add that I also think you made the right choice! I am really appreciative of your writings, and you helped me get through teaching my 8th grade faith formation class! This really resonates with me: “We have to see our motives and desires clearly and honestly. This is really hard!” I’m trying to figure out some work stuff and this sums up where it is right now!

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    1. Thank you, Shauna! It makes me happy to think that I helped you and your 8th grade formation class. It always amazes me how clearly I can see someone else’s motivations/fears, but when it comes to myself, I’m so clueless. But I guess that’s one more reason why it’s so important to have good friends – they help us see the truth of ourselves that we can’t see.

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