Discerning in My Weakness: a personal story

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecently, I made a discernment that specifically takes into account my personal gifts and weaknesses. Honestly, I hesitated to write something so specific and personal on this blog, but then I thought it might be helpful for others if I shared the process that I went through. Like the stories I try to write, there’s an unexpected twist at the end!

Gift from God
As a published author, I am often asked to give talks and conferences, or lead retreats. But I’ve always been terrified of public speaking. Over the years, I’ve worked hard to overcome my fears and to become a speaker who really engages with people; I try to make the talks appealing and enjoyable. A number of people have affirmed that they have been touched by the talks and conferences.

Limitations Surrounding the Gift
Despite my best efforts, speaking publicly is still quite difficult and draining for me. While I’m able to present well, I am often quite anxious several days ahead of time. Afterwards, I’m drained and have difficulty for several more days settling into writing and my other demanding responsibilities. I was hoping that over time, the anxiety and energy drains would lessen, but this year’s book tour has shown me that this is not true. Instead, the traveling and stress from the book tour resulted in my being unable to fulfill some of my other apostolic responsibilities well.

Motivation to Discern
This is the reason I started to discern whether I should continue to speak publicly. With God’s grace, I can manages the challenges and sacrifices that speaking publicly requires. But these challenges make me less available to enter deeply into my prayer life and to carry out my other responsibilities.

After the book tour ended in June, I’ve continued to receive requests for public speaking, and my next book will release in eighteen months. How is God calling me with regard to public speaking as an evangelizer for the Gospel? After praying about it and not receiving any clarity, I did a simple “pros and cons” analysis. These were the most important points that arose  when I prayed with the question: Is God calling me to continue public speaking?

 Pros:

  • I am asked repeatedly to speak publicly
  • God seems to bless my talks by touching people’s hearts and lives
  • Public speaking is part of being an author today because it’s an important way to spread the message of the books that I’ve written

Cons:

  • Because I become unduly stressed, anxious, and drained almost every time I accept an engagement, my prayer, writing, and other apostolic duties (given to me in obedience) are often affected negatively, despite my best efforts

When I discern taking on apostolic projects, an important criteria is seeking the greatest good for the greatest number of people. But I puzzled over what that meant in this case. Is it reaching more people through public speaking? How about the people that I reach through my writing, whom I can’t count? What about the quality of my prayer, of how I carry out my other responsibilities, and of my relationships with the sisters with whom I live? And, if I become burned out, how will I be able to effectively communicate Christ’s love?

The Unexpected Twist
After several months of discerning, I suddenly realized that maybe I’d been asking God the wrong question all along. Perhaps I was trying too hard to plan out the future, when instead what I really needed to do was discern the opportunities that were right in front of me. I changed the question from being general to being specific: Am I being called to speak in this particular time and place? Immediately I started receiving clear answers.

And my larger question was answered, too, though not in the way I expected. For right now, it is clear that God is inviting me to discern each opportunity for public speaking individually, on a case-by-case basis, and to accept those specific engagements which I truly feel called to and which my other responsibilities allow.

Finally, I also received an interesting insight in my prayer–that God seems to be guiding me to do his will specifically through this weakness of mine. If I didn’t find public speaking so challenging and need to set limits around it, maybe I would accept so many invitations to speak that I wouldn’t have any time to write another book. Perhaps this balance between public speaking and writing is exactly how God is calling me.

At some point in the future when my situation changes—for example, if I were freed up from other duties—I may find God inviting me to do more public speaking. Or I might be given a duty which precludes public speaking altogether. But for now, in the situation I’m in with my current responsibilities, gifts, and limitations, God’s will is clear. I cannot always say “yes” to people’s requests, but I can be open to the guidance and invitations of the Holy Spirit in each opportunity that arises, in my gifts and limitations, and in my current circumstances.

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