I was in kindergarten, and our music teacher had gathered the class to sit at her feet. She hummed a series of notes and asked, “Did those go up or down?”

In unison, the class answered, “Dooooown.”

But the teacher responded, “Which one of you said, ‘Up’?” The students all looked at each other, shrugging.

Again, the teacher asked, “I heard somebody say, ‘Up’. Who was it?”

Timidly, I raised my hand.

I was filled with shame at being the only student who had gotten the answer wrong. I had wanted to remain anonymous, but since the teacher clearly was waiting for someone to claim the error, I had no choice.

Then, to the great delight of my kindergarten self, the music teacher told the class that I had been correct! She said, “Shannon, good job! You were right–the notes went ‘up’!”

I beamed. I had been right, when everyone else was wrong.

This isn’t my earliest memory. (I wrote about that one here.) But it might be my second earliest. They say that your earliest memories–those events which invoked enough emotion to burn themselves deeply into conscious memory–can tell you something about yourself.

So what does this story tell?

I love being right. Especially when the rest of the group isn’t. The fact that I can still recall this obscure little moment from 38 years ago is evidence of my how much I love being correct in the midst of error.

As an adult, I’ve labeled this trait as ‘discernment’–being correct when others are… misguided. I’ve often thought of myself this way–as being discerning. Of course I don’t tell people this. (That wouldn’t be very discerning!)

Recently, I was sharing some of my ‘discernment’ with some friends–trying to help by pointing out some error. To my great surprise, they were hurt! I was shocked at how deeply I had hurt them without even realizing. I was a little angry, too. I was only trying to help; couldn’t they see that? Why couldn’t they appreciate what I was trying to do?

As I sought the Lord by pressing into his Word, he showed me–through many tears–that my love for truth had been folded into an ugly love for being right. And the two are not the same thing. I had wanted my friends to see the truth. I had wanted them to be free of error. But mostly, I had wanted them to see that I was right. In essence, I wanted another ‘kindergarten music class’ moment.  

I confessed all of this to my friends, and they graciously forgave me. But the whole interchange has left a lingering impression upon my heart. I still want to be discerning. I still want to guard against error. But I also want to graduate from ‘kindergarten’.

That music class moment, 38 years ago, was a big moment for me, but not anybody else. No one else would ever remember it!

When I love being correct, or being seen as ‘discerning’, I love myself. I limit my life to small, easily forgettable moments, which are focused on me.

Any discernment that God gives isn’t intended to create big moments for ourselves–which are really quite small on the grand scale. Discernment needs to be bathed in love and selflessness. Not making big moments for ourselves, but rather lifting Jesus higher by loving others instead of ourselves.

This, after all, is a life of true discernment.

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