Discernment & the People in Our Lives

characters-setI hope you had a blessed Easter week. It’s a felt joy to be back here, blogging. This post will pick up where we left off a couple of weeks ago, when we were exploring looking at our lives through a storytelling lens. Today, we’ll begin to look at how the people in our lives affect our discernment. We’ll do this in a fun way by exploring the concept of characters in dramatic storytelling. 

In any good story, the characters—hopefully a diverse and lively cast!—are the most important part.

Our lives—the truest, most important story to us—are brimming with characters! The main character—the protagonist—is key. After all, it’s the protagonist’s story! But we will also look at other “characters” or forces, in our lives, such as the antagonist who seeks to thwart the protagonist either because of a personal issue, or because he or she opposes the protagonist’s mission. Most of us have many “supporting characters” in our lives than would fit in the longest Dickens novel (people whom we count on as friends, rivals, mentors, or sidekicks).

The interplay between God and each person—and how God works through the freedom, words, choices, growth, and personality of each person—is too complex for us to fully grasp. But we know that God often chooses to work through people, so much so that he sent his only Son to take on our human nature and share our human life with us. Today, the Church offers the salvation Jesus won for us by his Passion, Death and Resurrection through human beings: through sacraments administered by a priest, within a community made up of flawed and beloved human beings each on their journey towards salvation.

We never make our discernment journeys alone. The people in our lives play an important role in that journey. We’ll begin with the most important “character” of all: the protagonist.

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Coincidence or God?

If God speaks to us in all these ways, how do we know when it’s God speaking to us, and when it’s just coincidence?

  • For a person of faith, there are no coincidences, only Providence. Providence can be defined as God acting in our world, in our lives. It doesn’t mean that every circumstance of our life is a direct call from God, but the overall circumstances of our lives are an important context in which we are called to listen and to act.When someone is a good writer, there are no coincidences in the stories they write. If it’s included in the story, it serves a purpose for the overall story. Likewise in God’s story for us, there are no coincidences. But sometimes we may need to pray with what an event means before we understand it; sometimes we may not understand God’s purpose until years later; sometimes we may need to simply trust in God’s loving purpose for us.
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Nurse Reading to a Little GIrl by Mary Cassatt (Public Domain)

We cannot limit how God speaks to us; rather, we want to use all the resources we have at our disposal to listen. God gave us intelligence, a heart with the potential to be compassionate, the community in which we live and work, mentors or wise people in our lives, our gifts and limitations, and our circumstances, in addition to faith and the gift of prayer… Just as God will use all of these to communicate his love, to draw us to himself, and to invite us to live our mission, God wants  us to use our heads as well as our hearts, the advice of mentors as well as self-knowledge, to listen to him.

  • Many of us share the same circumstances, but the call or invitation from God can be different for each person. For example on a city street, dozens of people pass a homeless person. One person may be called to pray for that person; another to offer a kind greeting or a smile, or to initiate a conversation; another to offer a sandwich or a hot coffee; another person may be called to start volunteering at a soup kitchen; another person may be called to donate more generously; another person may be called to be grateful for the gift of a home. The truth is that probably every person who passes someone who is homeless on the street is called to do something, but it requires discernment to discover what.
  • Just as a writer “listens” to everything in his or her life to inform the story that he or she is writing, so we are called to be attentive to our entire lives to discover God’s presence, action, and invitations, so that the “plot” of our life follows God’s lead.

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To Journal:

At the end of each day this week, take a quiet moment at the end of one day to look back over your day with this question: How did God reveal his presence and his love to you today?