When I was a first year family therapist, I had the good fortune of working with a gentleman who was intent on healing from some debilitating issues getting in his way of living a healthy life. He was faithful to his appointments and clearly did the emotional work he needed to do with his family between sessions. What happened to me after several months of working with him surprised me.
I consulted with a supervisor at the time and lamented to her that I didn’t know what else to do with this man. Everything I suggested, every question I asked him came to a dead end. I was stumped. She wisely commented, “Maybe he has finished his work with you.”
Stunned, I replied, “Oh, it never dawned on me that someone actually finished their therapy! I guess that’s it!” Later he confirmed he’d finished his work for now.
I bring this up because the same surprise could be in store for us when we’re discerning a life choice. When we’ve spent adequate amounts of time in prayer, weighed our options with friends, family members and wise mentors, the thing that’s left is to decide, to choose one direction, one life path and try living it. It’s the only way to know whether or not this path is a “fit”.
Just as in a vegetable garden there comes time for the harvest. To neglect picking the vegetables is to let them die or fall to the ground. No one wants to eat them then. Let’s be alert for our time to harvest.
Enjoy the harvest in its time,
More than simply making a decision, spiritual discernment is decision-making that is rooted in self-knowledge as well as a deep awareness of God’s loving presence and action in our lives. Because we know God as our creator and redeemer, we lean on that graced friendship with God to help us make a good and life-giving decision.
There are many tried-and-true tools that help us prepare the soil for a fruitful discernment process. First, we need to define prayerfully the issue for discernment. It is helpful to focus our issue carefully enough to be able to state it in the form of a question that can be answered yes or no. So for example, rather than ask a more general question like, “What shall I do with my life?” we can fine-tune the question to ask something more specific like, “Will I apply to become a sister with the Adrian Dominicans?” Once the decision before us is well defined, we need to apply the tool of fact-finding. What kinds of relevant data do we need in order to make an informed decision? Once all of the facts are gathered, we can begin to assess and evaluate the data. In this process, we stay attentive to all of the thoughts and feelings that arise as we consider the different dimensions of our decision. The tool of journal keeping is helpful here.
Another handy tool in the toolbox of discernment is dialogue with others. We need to share the different aspects of our decision with the wisdom figures in our life, those who know us well and care deeply about our well-being. Equally important is the tool of solitude, where we invite God into our decision-making process. We need to confide in God our hopes, dreams, expectations, doubts, and fears. We then listen carefully to how God responds to us. A good spiritual director can help us in this discernment process.
Dominican Sister Cathy Arnold shared a useful tool of imagination that she used in discerning her call to religious life. Her spiritual director advised her to imagine herself in each choice for two weeks. So for two weeks, she lived as if she had made the decision to become a Dominican Sister. She reflected on how she felt when she woke up in the morning. What were her thoughts and feelings throughout the two weeks? Then she reversed the process and lived as if she had made the opposite decision. How did she feel? Was she relieved or devastated by the change? Click on the following link to hear Sister Cathy’s discussion on discernment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwWPM4QtGwY.
Finally, how do we know that our choice represents God’s deepest desires for us? Signs of validation include feelings of inner peace and joy with our decision, as well as the confirmation of the others who have shared in our discernment process.
Are you discerning an important life decision? What are your tools for the discernment process?
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Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP
Sister Mariane Fahlman, OP
Adrian Dominican Sisters
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Adrian, Michigan 49221-1793
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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!