Connecting Lent & Discernment: 2 Amazing Journeys

sand-768783_1280Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of an amazing six-week opportunity for a spiritual “makeover,” for deepening our relationship with God, for experiencing anew God’s great mercy.

So many connections between our discernment journey and our Lenten journey are immediately obvious. Any time that we focus on renewing, revitalizing, and deepening our relationship with God, our ability to discern is also going to grow. This Lent, in addition to making the 7 Qualities of Mercy online mini-retreat, I have decided to focus my Lent around listening. Listening is a wonderful quality that is a prerequisite for genuine communication—with God first of all, but also with self and with others.

Pope Francis talks about the importance of listening in our relationships in this year’s Message for the 50th World Communications Day:

Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.

Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the “holy ground” of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.

You might have noticed that Pope Francis talks about listening as a form of self-emptying love, similar in a way to Jesus’ kenosis in taking on our human nature and in dying on the cross. Listening can be a sort of martyrdom. In truly listening, we can imitate Jesus’ self-giving, sacrificial love for us, by putting ourselves and our agendas aside and becoming deeply receptive to whomever we are listening to. Deep listening enables us to become aware of the sacredness of the other. Even if we are just having an ordinary, everyday conversation, deep listening takes us beyond the surface to glimpse the depth of someone else’s humanity and thus, how beloved they are by God.

Lent is a time to die to ourselves so that we can rise with Christ. Learning to listen better is a concrete way to die to self and to welcome the other in a genuine encounter of love and mercy. When we really hear one another, we are more likely to respond to them with compassion, gentleness, and mercy. As attentive listeners, we can discover God speaking to us—not just in prayer and in his Holy Word, or within ourselves in the depths of our own hearts—but especially in the words and unspoken longings and vulnerabilities of others with whom we relate.

Deep listening will enrich our discernment journey, eventually becoming more and more foundational to our prayer and our daily seeking the will of God.

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Join me in making the 7 Qualities of Mercy Online Mini-Retreat.

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What’s My “Character Arc”? Personal & Spiritual Growth in Discernment

 © Daughters of St. Paul, by Sr. Chelsea Moxley-Davis

© Daughters of St. Paul, by Sr. Chelsea Moxley-Davis

Picking up from Monday’s post about how discovering our desires is part of our “character arc” (or personal growth) as we continue to be the co-protagonists with the Holy Spirit on our discernment journey:

The character arc in the discernment journey—the inner part of our journey towards choosing God’s will in our lives—is twofold:

1) a journey towards understanding ourselves and our deepest desires and needs

2) a progressive freeing of our minds, wills, and hearts from anything that will limit our free choice and availability to God’s call

Our character arc—the personal and spiritual growth that is needed for a wise and authentic discernment—is often what requires the most time on our discernment journey. This is why we need patience, faith, and trust in God for the discernment journey, because it’s a spiritual journey that goes largely unseen, and is hard to explain to others and even harder to understand from the outside.

Coming to know ourselves—as we’ve been exploring—is not easy. It takes prayer, self-reflection, and courage. But coming to freedom, which is so essential—even critical—to our discernment, can be even more challenging. It’s critical because our full and free assent is the only kind of “yes” that God wants. God wants our greatest joy and happiness—but to be truly joyful and happy, we need to be truly free. Growing in freedom—from sinfulness, selfishness, old ways of thinking and acting, past habits of relating to others and accomplishing our goals, old and limited ways of seeing things—letting go of all of these can be extraordinarily challenging!

Becoming truly free is a lifelong journey, and it doesn’t need to be fully accomplished in order to make a good discernment. But lacking in freedom in certain areas can make it very difficult to discern God’s invitations in our lives. When we pray for the light and grace that we need on our discernment journey, we are often mostly praying for the grace of spiritual freedom.