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,
A line from Scripture jumped out at me today: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Once in a while, people come to explore a vocation with an unhealthy spirit of sacrifice. They may think, “I’ve sinned so much; I have to make it up by giving my life to God” or “I made a promise to God that if he got me out of a situation I would become a nun.” The thing is, there is no joy or freedom in this approach. God always invites, and does not demand. Of course any life commitment involves sacrifice, but it’s not supposed to be a resentful, begrudging sacrifice. It’s a willing sacrifice that is also graced by mercy, by compassion, and by love.
That’s an important piece for discernment. Are you free? Could the decision go either way and you could still trust that God is walking with you and guiding your life? If you say, “I just have to be accepted by this congregation” or “I’ll just die if he doesn’t marry me” you aren’t free. God wants our love, not our sense of obligation. In whatever you are discerning in your life, where do you find yourself most drawn to make a healthy sacrifice in a spirit of love?
If you are exploring religious life, you have probably come across the term discernment. Discernment is really deciding between two or more goods. If you are making a choice between one thing that is clearly good and one thing that is clearly wrong, choose the good. No discernment required.
But life often presents us with many options that are good. There are the big life decisions: Do I choose marriage, religious life, or a committed single life? There are the ministry discernments – what job should I do that best uses the talents God gave me and best serves the world?
But even when we have these aspects of our life figured out, discernment comes up daily. Of the many things I have to do, which is a priority? Should I bring up a difficult issue with someone or let it go? Should I get out of bed and exercise or sleep thirty more minutes? Of course, the more serious and major the discernment the more time we put into it. But becoming a discerning person will help you every day of your life. You will learn to assess with God what is the most life-giving path for you, in the big and small pieces of your life.
If you are making a big decision, a great book is The Way of Discernment by Elizabeth Liebert. It gives you a whole variety of prayer exercises to use to help you come to clarity.
Remember God promise to Jeremiah is God’s promise to you: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”
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Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP
Sister Mariane Fahlman, OP
Adrian Dominican Sisters
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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 new video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!