Tag Archives: discernment

Spiritual practices

My heart was a theme during my retreat last month. I sometimes worry that my heart has become too guarded or even closed.

The last seven years have been a time of great loss for me, so I understand my inclination to protect my heart from being broken again. I also know that a broken heart can be the most loving heart if I allow the fissures to heal rather than become deep crevices, if I allow the breaks to be entrances rather than chasms that are impossible to cross.

At the end of the movie Frozen, Elsa declares, “Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.”

I cried as I watched this children’s movie—and not just a few tears trickling from my eyes, but wrenching sobs escaping from my heart. Did Elsa’s insight touch me because my heart is frozen? And what act of true love could thaw my frozen heart?spiritual-practices-love-prayer

Many people have touched my heart with friendship and great acts of generosity and kindness throughout my life. I have been abundantly blessed.

So in an attempt to unthaw my heart and as an act of love, I decided to write a letter every day during February and connect with people who have been loving toward me. Twenty-eight days of love—that is how I have been thinking of February.spiritual-practices-love-prayer

Every morning in prayer, I pay attention to who comes to mind, whose name is planted on my heart that day, and then I write a note.

Two things I learned from this practice:

The first is that praying about the people I love sparks memories and gratitude. Images float into my consciousness, recollections of friends rush in and warm my heart. I am reminded of how blessed I am to be so loved.

The second is a reminder of the benefits of discipline.

Discipline disposes us toward whatever we are practicing. Prayer, meditation, acts of kindness, service, etc., dispose us toward positivity. Starting my day with thoughts of love predisposes me to look for love during the day—and helps me to more quickly identify words and acts that are not loving. Awareness helps me make better choices throughout the day.

Facebook reminded me this week that I started this blog four years ago. Writing daily and posting weekly has been a good discipline for me.

Discerning what to share in my blog helps me see more clearly where God is calling me to grow, especially when I write about a frustration or some old hurt and its residual anger. The discipline of writing also helps me to be more aware of everyday blessings and the many, ordinary ways God touches my life.

What we focus on becomes a bigger part of us.

I want to focus on trust instead of fear and on love instead of hate. I want my words and actions to remind me daily that Jesus’ heart is all love and that I am invited to live that love.spiritual-practices-love-prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

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God whispers

Whisper is a word that has been catching my attention lately—as in, hearing God whisper.

Figuring out God’s will for me has not always been easy. For many years, I was watching and listening for God to proclaim the plan for my life in obvious ways—like peals of thunder and flashes of lightening or neon signs—something I could not miss.

But, as I look back on my spiritual journey, I can see that God’s guidance was much quieter; God mainly whispered.

My conversion experience when I was twenty-two set me on a path of trying to discern God’s will. My deepest desire was to hold nothing back from God and to live the Gospel radically. Ten years later, I still felt unsure of a direction for my life that would be enough to repay God for the forgiveness and love God had given me.

I considered becoming a Catholic sister, and when that did not seem radical enough, I moved into a l’Arche community and several other Christian communities after that. Even though some of those experiences were incredibly difficult and painful, none seemed radical enough. I am not sure what I was looking for, but I knew the things I was trying were not enough.

And then on retreat one year, when I was pleading my case before God, explaining all the ways I had to find God’s will for me and how I had tried to live the Gospel radically, God spoke. I never told you to go to l’Arche, God told me. I was pleased with the way you were living and the work you were doing. You wanted something more radical. You were not satisfied with the good work you were doing. Your life was radical enough for me.

Walking the retreat center grounds, I replayed God’s words in my head. Had it really been my will instead of God’s? In a flash, it became clear—I had been projecting my insecurities onto God and acting out of my belief that I was not enough and whatever I did was not good enough.

God’s assurance that the work I was doing was good enough and radical enough freed me. Suddenly, I saw that the radicalness of living the Gospel is a new way.

While I had been looking for some big sign, God had been whispering, “That person, love her,” and “That person, forgive him,” and “That person, be compassionate to her.” If I could do that and do it consistently, I would be living the Gospel radically, I would be doing God’s will.

One thing I learned from my earlier efforts to live more radically was that just about the most radical thing I could do was to touch my own brokenness and vulnerability and to allow others to see my wounds. Loving, forgiving, being compassionate to the people I meet every day—and doing that from a place of my own brokenness—now that is radical.

The Lord’s promptings

In most situations, I have been reluctant to follow the Lord’s promptings, fearful that I would make a mistake or not measure up; convinced that I was mistaken in my interpretation of God’s call—why me?

Moses, Jeremiah and Jonah have been my brothers in questioning the call, and like them, eventually I give in and try to do what I believe God is asking. I let go of my fears—or push through them—to take the first step on the path before me.

Becoming a religious sister was one of those paths.

After college, I explored the possibility of religious life. I was fine with the exploring stage; I even enjoyed it. Having a spiritual director was a requirement, and that step has proved to be incredibly beneficial. But then one day, about three years into the process, the Novice Mistress pushed me for a decision. Was I going to enter or not? I said “yes,” and as soon as the word was out of my mouth, I knew it was wrong. I knew I could not go through with it, and I changed my “yes” to a “no.”

I stepped away, but with gratitude for the discernment process, which had revealed insights into my relationship with God and my spiritual journey.

My time with the Sisters deepened my desire to live the Gospel more radically, and l’Arche was the next step on my journey. That, too, proved not to be a good fit. But, it was also a great learning experience and helped me move further along my spiritual path.

Life post-l’Arche put me in a suburban parish with people who had heard of l’Arche but not seen it. They were curious, and their curiosity made me feel odd.

What was it about me that I was willing to leave everything behind and try something as different as l’Arche? And how could I explain that something that was so difficult, something I had failed at so miserably, was also a great gift? It was not logical.

Like Jonah, I wanted to hide, to be left alone. I wished a fish would swallow me! But, no such luck.

When people asked about my time in l’Arche, I demurred and suggested they go visit a l’Arche community to see for themselves.

God has continued to prompt me, and I have learned to narrow my path. I now know that everyday living has plenty of opportunities to live the Gospel in very radical ways. Small acts of kindness can make huge differences in the lives of people who are ill or confined. Practicing forgiveness and letting go can fill my days.

Where I believe God is prompting me now is to claim what God has taught me on my journey and to share what I have learned. I still have to push through doubts and fears. And I remind myself that in the spiritual journey, it is God who leads the way; my part is to show up and be open.

Living the Questions

My tenth-grade biology teacher told me I would make a good scientist. “You ask a lot of questions,” he said. Hearing criticism in his comment, I apologized. “Don’t apologize,” he responded. “Asking questions,” he said, “is a characteristic of a good scientist.”

A career in science was not in my future, but my inquisitive nature has played a major role in my spiritual life.

In my relationship with God, questions matter. God uses my questions to reveal where I need to grow.

This week, I started rereading old journals, and I find them filled with questions.

Repeatedly in my journals, I ask, “What does this mean for me? What is the lesson? The invitation?” Those questions appear in response to words of scripture, world events, conflicts at work and struggles in relationships. Almost anything can elicit these questions for me—books, movies, nature, a sentence or even one word overheard on a train or in line at a store. God catches my attention in many different ways and invites me to seek insight and meaning, to ask for direction.

In one of the journal entries from the time I was leaving my employment with the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I reflected that for more than five years, while working with the Sisters, I had been pondering the love of the Sacred Heart. And then I asked, “How am I doing on a love-o-meter? Am I acting out of love? Is love my motivator?”

The image of a “love-o-meter” tickled me. I had forgotten writing that; but the image still works for me, as do the questions.

A few months later, when reflecting on the love of the Sacred Heart, I wrote about “the soft eyes of Jesus—accepting, seeing the best, seeing the potential.” That is what love does. Do I?

I have been reading journals from 2005-2006 and some of the questions I was asking then are still with me today: “Will this matter at the end of the week? In ten years? At the end of my life?”

Asking “will it matter…?” questions gives me perspective and helps me make decisions about where to put my energy. I try not to give too much energy to things that really don’t matter much.

One thing I learned from Jim as he was getting ready to die was that very little of his old life mattered at the end of his life. What mattered most was to be reconciled with the people who were important to him.

The past three years have been very difficult, with Jim’s illness and death and then my move back to Michigan. My old life is gone; God is doing something new with me. In this time of transition, I sometimes feel like I am on shifting sands. Perhaps it is time to resurrect the “love-o-meter” to help me keep on track in this new adventure.