Looking back over my blogs I’ve noticed that many of them have to do with discernment about big changes in my life. We all have to face these kinds of questions. Is it time to end a relationship, change a job, retire, switch majors in college?
How do we go about making a thoughtful decision? In this two-part series, I’m going to share two ways that are very different but equally effective in helping guide your future: Ignatian Discernment and a Quaker Discernment Circle. I have used them both to good effect.
Ignatian Discernment: In a previous blog, we tried the spiritual practice of the Examen. Take a quick read if you need a refresher. Basically, it is about reflecting back at the end of the day and asking yourself two questions: “Where did I see God, or experience my truest self,” and “Where did I miss God or act from my false self?”
This is a small part of the wisdom St. Ignatius left regarding spiritual growth (seriously, you should google the guy, he’s amazing!). And, he taught you can use the Examen in discernment. It’s easy. For three weeks do the Examen six days a week and quickly write down your findings. On the Seventh day, read over what you have written and look for themes that stand out for you. You can circle repeated words or phrases. At the end of three weeks make a list of things that came up when you were being your truest self and a list of the things you did not enjoy.
I believe that God wants us, and has created us, to be our truest selves. The things that come up on the daily Examen can become our guideposts for our decision making. We need to be living into our true selves and moving away from the false. This may lead to some stark revelations that are hard to face. People have realized their need to end a job or a relationship when realizing that it was not supporting the joy of who they were created to be.
When I did this recently, the words “new,” “learning,” and “teaching” came up over and over. It confirmed that I value learning new things and teaching them to others. It also showed that I have less energy for the mundane things that I’ve spent a lifetime doing, like cooking, cleaning, and caregiving. This led to an unexpected amount of guilt on my part because I felt like I was asking my husband to pick up the slack. But when I shared the results of the exercise with my husband, he said men never feel guilty about wanting to grow or learn new things, and he affirmed my desire to transfer much of this household work over to him.
This idea, that men never feel guilty about wanting to grow and expand, brought home in new ways one reality of white male privilege. It was eye-opening for both of us.
Of course, there will be times when some things are revealed which can only be held as a hope for the future and not lived into the present. A single mother may realize that her true self longs to be a writer, but writing may have to be a hope deferred until she is in a more secure situation. However, it is good to know what really gives us joy and to plan and make a way for it in the future.
Next time we will talk about “Quaker Discernment” which is a form of discernment that you do with friends. In the meantime, give this method a try and let me know how it goes.
If you’re interested in a fun way to learn more about Spiritual Practices, check out my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It’s fiction but you will learn many new formation techniques along the way, and you will get to know some quirky new characters as well.