What are some of the key moments in our life when we might want to pay special attention to discernment? Any time we are going though a big change. Some of these big changes include: the death of a loved one, moving, financial crisis, job loss or change, physical illness, changes in the lives of our closest loved ones (e.g. children leave home, a spouse retires, etc.), changes in our roles or responsibilities, etc.
Changes, whether they seem good or bad, can be are stressful. We may have to learn a lot in a hurry, let go of what we treasure, or develop new attitudes, new routines or ways of doing things. Change offers opportunities for growth and new perspectives, but change can also be overwhelming, anxiety-producing, exhausting, and confusing. Even gradual changes—such as aging—can suddenly make a difference in our day-to-day lives. (For example, a sudden flare-up of arthritis can permanently change our exercise routine. Or a last child leaving home can leave an empty hole in our lives.) Changes that may seem small to others can still have a huge influence on our lives, in terms of stress, adjustment, and routine.
Big moments of change are wonderful opportunities for discernment, which is why it can be so helpful to bring an attitude of discernment to them. Change tends to surprise us with its unfamiliarity and can help us to see things in new ways. Change can open us up to possibilities that we previously might now have recognized. The stress that accompanies change can also make living in a spirit of discernment more difficult.
Paying attention in change
We can bring the spiritual art of discernment with us into the times of bigger change in our lives.
—Change is an opportunity to grow in trust in God. Whatever is new or different can “shake us up.” Change is almost always accompanied by a new perspective and some anxiety. Look for God’s presence and love in the unexpected, in the new, and in the painful.
—Change is also an opportunity to stretch and grow. Try to be open to new insights, new invitations from God.
—Change can also be an opportunity to shift our focus from one thing to another. As we pray about where and how God is calling us in whatever is changing for us, be prepared to let go.
—The stress of going through certain changes can cause us to lose sleep. Our feelings may be more intense and we may react more strongly than usual. Just at the time when we feel the need for more prayer and quiet, we find we have less time. But in times of stress and change, it’s even more important to carve out some moments of quiet prayer every day. We can’t let the chaos of change distract us from our relationship with God. If we truly need to, we can take less time to pray, but we will still want to work in some short times of prayer daily, and be faithful to a longer time of prayer each week.
The next post will talk about dealing with specific constraints, such as deadlines and others’ expectations, with spiritual freedom.