A Road Map for Discernment
By Joel Stepanek
Life Teen, 2016
236 pages, $15
To order: shop.lifeteen.com
As believers, we’re aware that God is present in and has plans for our lives. The process of discovering his personal will for us, however, can be difficult, particularly when trying to make significant life decisions. Consequently, Joel Stepanek, director of resource development for Life Teen International, has taken the time-tested rules for discernment originally proposed by St. Ignatius of Loyola and broken them down in his new book, True North: A Roadmap for Discernment.
As Stepanek explains, “This book is about … recognizing the movements that occur in our lives that point us toward the places that God is leading us. It is about understanding the different voices in our lives and then knowing if we should act on those voices or reject them.” St. Ignatius was passionate about helping people discover what God created them for and where he was directing them. Stepanek is remarkably effective at communicating the saint’s techniques to modern readers.
Since the author is a youth minister with a decade’s worth of experience, he directs the book to teens and young adults attempting to discern their lives’ paths. As a result, his concepts and comparisons are easy for anyone to understand and relate to, even in regard to the complex spiritual life.
I was particularly struck by Stepanek’s description of a time when, as a teen, he unsuccessfully attempted to navigate the three-hour drive to his grandparents’ house on his own. As a result, he ended up back at home, spending Christmas Day by himself.
Throughout the book, he uses this experience as a fitting analogy for the difficulties of navigating life in regard to spiritual direction. He notes the mistakes that prevented him from reaching his destination, explaining these as the same missteps that frequently cause us to veer off course in life.
For example, in mentioning pride as having been one of his downfalls, he explains, “When I was lost, I didn’t ask for help from someone that might know more than I did at critical points in my journey.” Other anecdotes like this, which Stepanek uses throughout the book, make it easy to understand common errors in the spiritual life.
Additionally, Stepanek writes with a clear yearning to draw readers closer to Christ and demonstrate the freedom that comes through living virtuously for him. I found myself drawn to a deeper practice of humility due to the author’s description of it:
There is freedom in humility. It is a freedom to live even more deeply in God’s love. A freedom to stop worrying about how much we need to “do” to remain in God’s favor. You are in God’s favor. You don’t need to earn God’s love. Yet, in trying to “work” for these things, we often lose sight of the only thing that God wants — a relationship with us.
To aid readers in the process of discernment, Stepanek concludes each chapter with a prayer challenge as well as several thought-provoking reflection questions. The final set of reflection questions involved one in particular that I found myself pondering for several days after completing the book: “Imagine yourself at the end of your life — would you be satisfied with the choices you are making right now? If not, what needs to change?”
Of course, these questions, along with the rest of the content, are deep and challenging, requiring a fair amount of self-reflection. As a result, True North is not meant to be a quick read. Although simple to understand, it is a subject matter that is not easily taken in and applied to our lives all at once. Instead, it’s meant to be a constant aid on one’s life journey. Fittingly, this is why Stepanek calls it a road map.
Elizabeth Pardi writes
from Columbus, Ohio.