Friday, June 22, 2012

Discernment & What Ifs

What if… you’d married the beer-loving football hero you dated in college; never turned in that starter job application at The Coffee Bean; stayed home in Llama County instead of flying off to the Big Apple; didn’t sit beside the girl with the pink polka dot hair-bow that first day of school; took the smog-congested freeway to work that one morning; kept up with your music/tennis/ballet lessons?

Surely, anyone who’s ever had a wide awake moment of silence in the middle of the night has their own version of sighs regrets and sighs of reliefs. Or has simply posed the BIG WHAT IF?

            Twelve years ago, the nagging, whopping question mark in my life was: WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?

With the help of a spiritual director, I learned to discern which of the open paths that lay before me had God’s finger pointed to it and which one would lead me away from my destiny.   “Destiny,” as Fr. David Lonsdale SJ paints it, is “God’s hopes and dreams for our lives” if we discern and follow where He leads.   “Listening to the music of the Holy Spirit,” the title of Fr. Lonsdale’s valuable book is  “the art of discernment.”

             Although I (usually) discern before making important decisions, there is no avoiding the occasional “what if.”  But the answer is always, “It wouldn’t have been part of God’s will for my life.”  And there is immeasurable peace knowing that.  I can go back to sound sleep (except when co-sleeping with a nursing baby or with the exhausted hard-working occasional snoring roommate-- can't help you there). 

My husband and I are currently facing a crossroad in our lives so I’m drawing up the significant points of discernment from my old journal and summarizing it for clarity.   You are welcome to peek into my diary, but don’t take this post as a substitute for spiritual direction.

A crossroad if I ever saw one.
1.    Pray.  Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to do God’s will.  Set a reasonable time frame for a period of discernment.  God doesn’t want me to be in a state of indecision indefinitely.

2.  Read the Bible.  It speaks God’s word.  The answers may come immediately but sometimes, they are also hidden in layers of the stories, uncovered after thoughtful reflection of scripture or revealed in devotionals and homilies. 

3.   Find a spiritual director.  People can say all they want about the liberal Jesuits but it is a Jesuit’s distinct charism to spiritually direct the faithful so if I can, I need to find an experienced one that is faithful to the Magisterium of the Church.  And if not, then find a priest who is faithful to the Magisterium of the Church or go on a directed retreat.  (I like the Benedictines, too and not just cause they pay for our bread and butter.)

4.    Listen to the wise counsel of other people.  (I know to include my parents since their lives show the fruits of the Spirit and not to include the opinion of a random People magazine contributor.) God has often placed people in my path who have something to teach me so I need to be alert to those voices.

 5.   Weigh the opportunities or invitations that are presented in front of me.  God is always providentially at work in the situations around me, particularly when there is a proverbial door that is opened or shut. Journalling helps. Blogging, too (though I wouldn't recommend it when you're deciding whether to quit your job or not, your employer just might beat you to it).

 6.   Consider my heart’s desires.   Desires must always be consistent with/obedient to the teachings of the  Magisterium of the Church, never in opposition to it and they must not be the sole determining factor of my decision. Ignatian spirituality places emphasis on the feelings of consolations of the choice that brings me closer to God.  As St. Therese of Liseux once said “God would never inspire my heart with desires that cannot be realized.” 

7.    Identify the choice that gives me peace.  Commit to the choice and do not waver in the face of desolation, doubt, fear.  Just do it.

Hope that list helps you as it's already helping me. I'm going to continue my discernment, privately, this time.


Elizabeth said...

I'm struggling with something right now, and your list is helpful. That quote from St. Therese is wonderful.

Thomas at Listening for the Shepherd said...

Great post. It's important to discern, and once discerned, to trust that God saw to it you were guided the right way when you were searching for His will.

Nancy Shuman said...

As a big fan of the Ignatian spiritual exercises, I really like this. Very helpful!

Rebecca Duncan said...

"As St. Therese of Liseux once said “God would never inspire my heart with desires that cannot be realized.”'

I always think of this quote when I'm thinking about this kind of thing. I say it to God all the time but I'm kind of being sarcastic when I say it these days.

Great post.

mary333 said...

Thank you, Anabelle - I love this post!

But what if I MARRIED that beer-loving football (well, rugby) hero?

Kidding. But he DOES snore when he's exhausted and I have to put in my bright purple earplugs (they didn't have turquoise or pink unfortunately) in. By the way, I lived through the whole co-sleeping thing too ;)Note the word "lived" not the word "sleeping"