Wies Schuiringa, NSW Regional Meeting.
“Going forward in Faith and Clarity”, (Elaine Polglase, Wahroonga Local Meeting).
The relationship between leadings and wilfulness is intriguing as well as contentious. Are they twins, siblings, second cousins or distant acquaintances?
A Friend’s leading can concern one’s individual life and may only impact upon close family members. Acting on such a leading may not even be noticed by many others. Acting on a leading can affect several Friends, a Local Meeting, and the Friend’s family. Acting on a leading can also affect a larger group of Friends, a local community, Australia Yearly Meeting. When, through a discernment process, a leading is recognised, what are the implications for other F/friends or family? When a leading affects others, discernment needs to take into account what may be required of them e.g. spiritual, practical, financial, emotional support. As these implications unfold, further discernment needs to take place so that Friends are clear where support for the leading is taking them.
Where do leadings come from? Did the Friend have a physical and deeply emotional experience, one that the Spirit, Jesus, God has communicated in such a way that the Friend now needs to follow? Or can it be less of a “Road to Damascus” experience, and instead a slowly growing sense of a new direction in one’s life that is unfolding and retains a clarity that the Friend starts to experience as a leading. Can it also be an affirmation that, despite difficulties, the Friend needs to continue on their current path? The Friend may experience a sense of being guided; being led by the Spirit or a deep sense that this is right and good, a congruity of self and purpose.
Why test a leading in a Quaker Meeting, in a meeting for Worship for Business or a specially convened Meeting with several Friends? Friends can act upon their leading and not ask for discernment and support from their Meeting. This leading may have a Quaker foundation and the Friend acts on this leading in their personal life without involving the Meeting. One would hope that Friends make decisions in their personal life that are based on Quaker values and that could, at times be called a leading.
It may not be because of “wilfulness” when a Friend acts in their personal life without discerning their leading in the Meeting. The Friend may be happy to share what they are doing without expecting support from the Meeting. It could be “wilfulness” if the Friend realises that it is unlikely that the Meeting will support their leading and therefor goes it alone. The name “Quaker” is not protected and can be used by Friends when they act upon a leading and use the name Quaker to the wider world.
It is important to de-mystify leadings and to avoid the difficulties that pour from leadings having a status that should not be analysed or contested. It can seem inappropriate to ask questions about “who, what, where and how much will this cost” when a Friend, or a group of Friends give an articulate and authoritative presentation or an emotive presentation about their leading. Such questions will ground and test the leading and its significance for the individual or the group of Friends. Often the consequences and implications are not clear and the Friend may not have the answers. By asking for clarity about the consequences and implications, the individual Friend, as well as the Meeting , becomes clearer in their discernment. The Friend may ask to “be held in the Light” as they discern what their leading may mean and actions that could follow. Further discernment can be offered.
There are some positive inferences in the definitions of wilfulness but the definitions indicate that wilfulness results in significant difficulties and needs to be curbed so that the person themself, other people or circumstances are not negatively affected, or that no damage is inflicted. When wilfulness is applied to pursuing “good causes”, it would mean a strongly held belief in one’s leading and not being distracted or open to different ways of doing things, following a course of action regardless of the consequences.
On the continuum of being risk-averse and risk taking, the “wilful” Friend would be regarded as taking such risks that are very likely to require the Meeting to pick up the pieces later on. However, bold new leadings require risks and the Friend or the Meeting need to identify if these risks can be accommodated. These conversations need to be open and frank and not be overshadowed by the spiritual “mystique” of the leading. By naming and discussing the implications and risks in accepting a leading, confidence about the strategies and ways forward can be developed. This may strengthen the leading and the support from the Meeting, not reduce it. Friends need to act in faith but also with clarity.
Wilfulness comes into the process when a Friend or group of Friends expects that the leading will be supported and that most Friends will provide the support that the leading requires. This Friend may already have made the decision to accept their leading and act upon it. Can a Meeting support the Friend in this leading but distance itself from the consequences or implications? Does the Meeting become morally responsible by association, by its support for the leading, by financially supporting the Friend to act on their leading? It may depend on the risks that acting on the leading may involve. Early Friends acted on their leading to travel in the Ministry to America and some were executed there. James Naylor survived torture, but the early Quakers realised that acting upon one’s leadings can bring such disrepute that the movement may not survive. Corporate discernment and decision making became the norm to contain or disown “wilful” Friends.
What is the relationship between leadings and wilfulness? In the discernment process it will become clear how closely they are related, what the leading is about and if the consequences and implications of the leading are understood by the Friend and the Meeting. The Friend may be so strongly convinced of their leading that risks are minimised or do not enter into their discernment. However, from twins to distant acquaintances, leadings and wilfulness might not be far away from each other when it is difficult for a Meeting to support a Friend’s leading.