Last week Rachel Mankowitz wrote about hearing and trusting her internal voices speaking of what she does and does not want to do. I resonated.
I learned early on (probably before I was five) that what I wanted or did not want mattered little. I did what I was told—whether I wanted to or not—and rarely got anything I wanted, so I learned to stop wanting.
The depth of the disconnect was made clear to me when I was twelve years old and had my tonsils removed. On the way home from the hospital, my mother stopped at the grocery store and said I could pick one thing I wanted. I had no idea what I wanted and was overwhelmed by having to pick something. I remember standing in the store paralyzed by indecision. What did I want? No idea.
So, I picked something practical, something I thought my mother would like—dill pickles.
I have spent a lot of my life doing things other people wanted me to do—out of guilt or not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings or some other version of making other people happy—while ignoring my own desires.
Therapy in my early thirties started a process of discovery, and by my late thirties, I began to identify some things I wanted.
I took my first real vacation, a windjammer cruise, when I was thirty-seven. It was thrilling to realize that I knew what I wanted and that I could make it happen.
At the end of a retreat in my early forties, I read Coming Down the Mountain by Thomas Hart, and I have kept a “cheat sheet” of questions from that book that I refer to regularly.
These questions have helped me gain clarity, and after years of asking them, I am much better at knowing what I want.
But I can still fall into the old patterns.
When I turned fifty, I made a “travel wish list” of places I wanted to visit over the next decade. Other than the Holy Land, my destinations were in the U.S. or Europe. Included at the end of that list was a thirty-day retreat, something my friend Jim had done, and he thought it would be good for me to do. I put it on the list more as a reminder because I could not foresee a time in my fifties when I would have the money and time to do it.
My sixties’ travel list included the retreat, along with the Holy Land and some of the European counties I had not managed to visit, but my sixties were full of upheaval, and I did not do much traveling. So my seventies’ list closely resembles the sixties’ list, including the retreat.
Now, I am in a place where I can do the thirty-day retreat, and so I signed up. I told my spiritual director, expecting her to be thrilled, but instead, she asked why I wanted to do a thirty-day. “Because Jim thought I should,” was my first response, and even I could hear how lame that sounded.
She suggested I pray about the retreat and ask God for clarity. So, I prayed, and I got clarity.
I realized that I feel passionate about European travel. I am energized by my volunteer work (especially supporting survivors of sexual assault) and the consulting work I am doing. I am excited about the Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and have clarity around how I want to use what I have learned (mainly in helping people process the experience of pilgrimage or mission trips). I am also drawn to officiating at weddings and funerals.
Where is the retreat in all that? I am indifferent.
Discernment is a big part of Ignatian Spirituality and following the process has helped me gain clarity about where God is calling me, and what I want to do.