The Subtlety of Discernment

IMG_1775 2
Dame’s Rocket

Along the roadsides in our area there are several beautiful flowers growing in abundance. They brighten my days as I travel up and down the roadways. They look inviting and I have been thinking of finding a time to stop and create a wildflower bouquet, but I really was interested in what their names were.


I knew exactly who would know.


I have a good friend whom I got to know when we were both tutoring in a local school some years ago. She was a biology major and had a keen eye and knowledge about nearly anything and everything in nature. I have fond memories of taking some hikes with her in nature areas near us, hearing her name nearly every tree, plant, and flower that we passed. Sadly, I don’t recall most of the names save one, trillium, and Ohio’s state wildflower, which brightens the woods and hillsides in the spring.


I connected with her to ask about these two lovely flowering plants I have seen such a plethora of. One had an abundance of purple, lavender and white blooms. I thought that one might be phlox. The other looked a bit like Queen Anne’s Lace, but the blooms were smaller and arranged differently on their stems.


Within a few minutes, she responded with the information, as I knew she would. The varieties of purple blooms were not phlox, but do look similar except for the number of petals on each flower. She told me that these known as Dame’s Rockets (hesperis matronalis) are what she called “invasive aliens”. They are a part of the mustard family.


The second flowering plant that looked like Queen Anne’s Lace was actually Poison Hemlock (conium maculatum), member of the parsley family.

IMG_1774 2
Poison Hemlock



Despite their lovely appearance, she warned me that the plant is toxic posing a health risk to anyone or anything that might have close contact with it. They are masters of disguise and appear like many other harmless plants. All parts of the plant are poisonous and should not be touched. They comprise the fourth most common cause of nationwide poisoning, more than 100,000 reports to poison control centers. Area farmers have great concern about the risk to livestock as the plants are multiplying rapidly.


I was so glad to learn the truth about both plants from someone with the knowledge and discernment to recognize each of them accurately for what they are. It reminded me of the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13:24-30.


Many times it can be very difficult to discern whether something we see is good or harmful.


 It is very important for us to learn and know the difference in not only things like plants, berries, trees, and the like, but also to recognize other choices that are good or harmful as well.


What gets in the way of our discernment is not simply whether or not we see that as one of our giftings.


We have a lot of information and experiences coming into our knowledge base. Some of it is accurate. Some of it is true. But not all of it is true or accurate.


All of these data points are swirling in our thoughts and reactions creating a logjam that hinders our power of discernment.


All these unfiltered data points affect our ideas, judgments, and responses. Never is this truer than in my relationships with others.


 Added together, these can create mistrust, fear, and suspicion creating false judgments and discernment causing our hearts to be harsh and sometimes fill with criticism, resentment, and bitterness. They distort our perception.


Since our perceptions have great influence on us, this can be dangerous or even deadly for us. They hinder our capacity to love and without love and peace in our hearts our judgments on others will be harsh and most often false.


I love what Francis Frangipane says about discernment:


Discernment comes from abounding love. What is abounding love? It is love that leaps out from us toward others. It is motivated by long-term commitment; it is anointed by sacrificial charity. True discernment is rooted deeply in love.”


 He also indicates that such false discernment has coldness to it that might on the surface appear to be packaged as love, but really comes from criticism.


So, how can we discern rightly?


First and foremost, we must seek the Lord, quieting our hearts so we can truly listen and focus on what He is saying to us. This is foundational to wise discernment and righteous judgments. It is also hard to accomplish. We can be so impatient and want to respond, defend, react, set right, or fix.


Secondly, we need to keep in mind that how we perceive life is always based on the condition of our hearts. If our hearts are not right, we must not assume we have accurate discernment with, toward, or about anyone.


When I wanted to learn about two plants, what they were and if they were good, I did not assume I knew. I went to someone who did.


Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.   Proverbs 3:5-6






11 thoughts on “The Subtlety of Discernment

  1. We can’t always judge by appearance can we? The beautiful plant that was poisonous is an example. Thanks so much for sharing with us at #blogginggrandmotherslinkparty. I’ve pinned and shared on social media. Catch you at the link up next month!
    Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond.

  2. Yes, discernment is so important!! Thank you for sharing at #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty

  3. WOW! I don’t know plants very well but who would have thought something so pretty could be poisonous. Thanks Pam for linking up at the #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty. I shared this post.

  4. We have that Hemlock in many places where I live, too. They seem to like our climate! “If our hearts are not right, we must not assume we have accurate discernment with, toward, or about anyone.” This reminds me too, of why time is our friend. If there is a change in our lives, are in grief or in loss, it’s not good to make any major decisions. “Time is your friend,” as Andy Stanley points out. So true!

  5. I didn’t know about the hemlock either. Thank you so much for sharing this!


  6. Thank you for these great words. I am reminded of a quote by Oswald Chambers, that always brings me back to God’s heart: “Discernment is God’s call to prayer.” I needed this reminder today, because we can become so confused in this world! But the pressure is off when we take it all to God, and to His Word, praying about it all. Blessings to you!

  7. I was so surprised to learn that the pretty wildflower resembling Queen Anne’s Lace is actually poisonous hemlock. I’ll be on the lookout for it, now. It’s appearance is so lovely that one might be tempted to pick some blooms and take them home.

    1. Hi Carol! Yes, it can be deceptive indeed! I am aware as we drive along the highway this early summer there is so much more of it growing than I recall seeing last year when I first learned about this dangerous weed. It seems to be proliferating and perhaps there is a lesson in that as well!!

Leave a Reply