The season of autumn in the north is traditionally a time marked by letting go. Leaves fall off trees, warmer temperatures depart in favor of cooler ones, and light diminishes as we move steadily toward December’s shortest day of the year. Change affects our human lives as well.
Some people get into the mood of clearing out cluttered closets, drawers, and storage areas at home. Wardrobes change from lighter clothing to warm sweaters, jackets, and long sleeves. In addition to these outward signs of change, there are internal signs of letting go too.
Discerning well is like the season of autumn because it involves letting go and leaving behind some choices. If you’ve made a list of life options available to you, you’ll find yourself crossing some of them off your list. If you’ve taken your top three choices where you feel called in your life and listed pros and cons for each of them, it may be easy to see which one(s) need to be let go next. This, of course, takes time. Then, there’s one more thing.
Unlike the season of autumn when trees let go of their leaves to make room for the new growth, it’s hard to imagine the trees feeling sad about their losses. For us humans, sometimes letting go of what we had thought we might be called to do and taking up another choice, risky or not, may leave us feeling sad. Like the tiny new buds that appear on trees even before the leaves fall, it helps to feel assured that we have discerned well. Now it’s time to try on our choice.
May you live in such confidence and trust,
If you are going to make it through the birth canal, baby girl, you need to change your direction. I hate to tell you this, but you are going the wrong way! Your twin sister has already left the womb. She was positioned headfirst and made it out with no problems. Since you are positioned feet first, you have a more complicated assignment. Don’t panic! I made you resilient and adaptable. Help is on the way. A female doctor with small hands is reaching in as we speak. Her gentle touch is encouraging you to make a somersault and head out in the right direction. Ah! There you go! You did it! Welcome to the world!
As you may have guessed, I was a breech birth — born one hour after my twin sister. Back in the 1950s, breech births were a threat to the life of both the baby and the mother. So, first of all, I feel blessed to be alive. The story of my birth, however, speaks an urgent message: new life demands necessary change! Hard fought effort on our part is required. God takes the lead and shows us the way.
Here is where discernment steps in. We need to decide when change is a good thing. Change for change’s sake, chasing every new experience for the excitement and pleasure of novelty, or running away from healthy commitments do not equal healthy, life-giving change in our lives. If God is calling us to make a change for the better, it is usually because we are beginning to experience a failure to thrive in some important area of our lives. Like me in the womb; I had to make a change in order to experience new life.
Are you heeding the call to healthy change in your life? Do you believe you can make the necessary changes with the help of God and others?
Change can shake-up our image of self, others and God. While we naturally fear and resist major changes, change can help us to grow and develop in ways that create more trusting and loving relationships. In her book Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction, Susan Phillips describes a man she calls John whose experience illustrates how even unwanted changes can yield unexpected benefits (80-85).
John had been a pastor at a conservative evangelical church for many years. At some point, political currents within the faith community changed and he was asked to resign. Unemployed, he turned to gardening and part-time factory work while he looked for another church to serve. His self-image suffered a big hit because he was strongly identified—by himself and others—as pastor. Moreover, it was painful for him to accept that his wife was now the main breadwinner in the family.
At his new factory job, everybody knew he was a pastor and they were not sure they could trust him. Many of these workers thought differently than he did, many had lived rougher lives, some were gay. Gradually, however, they got to know him and began to invite him to go out with them after work. Likewise, he slowly warmed up to them and a sense of acceptance and companionship developed. As trust built, the men began to seek out his counsel. John remarked how strange it was: “I am not a pastor of a church, but I feel more like a pastor than I did at the church.” There is very little God-talk, but “I listen to what’s in people’s hearts.” John explained that as pastor in his church he focused on what was wrong with people, their sinfulness or lack of faith that God’s light exposed. Now in his new role, he focuses on the good in people as God’s beloved children. Seeing them in this way has helped him to see himself in a more positive light as well.
Reflect on the important changes in your life. How have they been opportunities for growth in love and trust in your relationship with yourself, with others and with God?
Something about the start of a new year gives us hope -- a chance to start again, make better choices, set up new, healthy patterns for our lives. At least that is how we start out. We may think of all the little and big things we want to change in our lives and make resolutions, but then life happens and those changes often don't occur.
Some good discernment can help us with that. We know we can't change everything all at once, and God doesn't ask us to. Also, although we may want to change something, we may desire even more a habit or attitude that is holding us back from attaining our truest desire. Perhaps this something has a hold of us.
Discernment can help us go deeper. Ask yourself, "What do I really want to change in my life?" Then pause and ask, "What is under that? What do I really want to change?" Keep going as many times as you need to get to the core. It is only by going very deep that you can find out what you truly desire.
Another path is to share with God all the things you might like or hope to change. Then sit in silence and ask God to show you which of these is the most important for you to change now. Be open to what God might show you. It might even be something that wasn't on your original list.
Discernment involves going to the deepest place in our selves and being open to the God of surprises who dwells within us and beyond us.
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!