Key Moments To Discern

pexelnature-sky-sunset-manWhat 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.

Best Attitude for “Big” Discernments: Do Not Be Afraid!

Loantaka_Brook_Reservation_bikeway_horse_path_and_stream_and_reflectionsLiving in a spirit of discernment is a wonderful spiritual attitude to cultivate and grow in daily. One of the benefits of living with a discerning heart is that, when the time comes to make a big decision in our lives, we have the tools of discernment at hand to help us discover God’s will for us.

(Just a note: if you are jumping into this blog/book and starting directly here because you are in the midst of a big discernment, you may wish to go back and read a couple earlier posts, especially “Four Essentials Principles for Discernment,” which give a context to the exploration of specific kinds of discernment that follows.)

In books and classes about writing, writers are taught how every good story has key moments, or turning points, when the protagonist must make a choice that will change the direction of the entire story.

In our lives, we have—or will come to—the same kind of moments. Choosing a course of study, taking a new job, finding a place to live, following our vocation, committing to our marriage partner, or any other big change in our lives—these are key turning points that will affect our lives from this point on. As disciples of Christ, we want to seek God’s will at these important moments. But how do we do that?

Growing in our relationship with God and living in a spirit of discernment are the best long-term preparation we can make, but there are also concrete things we can do in the short-term that will help us at these key moments of life. Additional concerns or constraints bind us in these moments, especially when we are facing a big decision that could require big changes. In these next few posts, we’ll look at turning points of our lives, and then specifically at vocational discernment, since discerning our vocation is likely one of the most important discernments we will ever make.

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Pope St. John Paul II often repeated Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid!” We do not need to be afraid because, if we are seeking God’s will, God will guide us. In the Scriptures, God might seem to withdraw from his people but only to teach them a lesson. God never actually abandons his people who seek him. Certainly if we are trying to live God’s plan for us, God will be with us, giving us all the help that we need. We can take courage, knowing that God has a loving plan for us. When we are in the midst of the stress of making a big decision, the most important attitude to have is trust in the Lord. As we allow the Lord’s love for us to banish our fear, we become even more free to hear clearly God’s loving call.