Friday, June 28, 2013

Discernment: The question revisited of dependence, independence and interdependence

Discernment:  To what is God calling me? That is a question each of us needs to ask ourselves on a regular basis.  We have been created to become our best selves, to rely upon God as an infant or a young child relies upon its parents/surrogate parents but to also to separate from such to develop a healthy dependency upon oneself and finally to become interdependent, recognizing our need for help, the importance of teamwork, of collaborating with others, of empowering others, of building upon the accomplishments of others.  The process of becoming our best selves and growing in maturity involves this climbing the ladder from the utter dependence of childhood and the developing independence as adolescence and  young adults to embracing the challenges of interdependence of mature adulthood.  This growth involves discerning what is asked of us as independent, separate human beings functioning from a state of individual competence to working maturely in unison, in collaboration, in reliance upon my own skills coupled with the skills of others, that is, working interdependently and in communion with others as modeled by the Trinity.

As the author of Ecclesiastes might say “there is a time for dependence, independence and interdependence.”  How well do I discern those times?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Discernment: The Human Cycle of Dependence, Independence and Interdependence

 We begin life totally dependent upon others and then move toward developing independence, a necessary prerequisite to being interdependent. Interdependence is a sign of a healthy sense of self, high self-esteem and a level of maturity that speaks of wisdom, prudence, and courage.   This latter sense of well-being is achieved only by those who have learned to take responsibility for themselves first and know when they need help. Those who are interdependent have built their “houses on solid rock,” as Jesus tells us in the Scriptures.

Discernment, as adults, means 1) that we know when others are legitimately dependent upon us and that we have a responsibility toward them, 2) that we know when it is essential that we depend upon ourselves, our abilities, our talent, acknowledge our dependence upon God working through us and guiding us and, finally, 3) that we know when  and how to work interdependently, acknowledging that we need the help and guidance of others:  Knowing  when and where to seek counsel; knowing when and in what circumstances we are powerlessness; knowing the importance of being open to and having the wisdom to  seek feedback;  in short, having the courage and the wisdom to enter into dialogue and mutual discernment in order to do that to which God is calling us as People of God, as Church, as God’s Kingdom People here on earth, members of one flock, one Shepherd, united in love as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Discernment and Peace

St. Ignatius of Loyola counsels us to avoid  making major decisions when we are not at peace.  How often do we not hear that a person who is recently divorced, or whose relationship with another has broken off, is already dating another person and/or looking for someone to marry ASAP.  He or she has not even recovered from the breakdown of the marriage or of the former relationship, has not taken time to grieve the losses or to reflect on what one needs to learn from the distressing situation so as not to relive the problems in subsequent relationships. 

When the "muddy waters" are churning, that is, one is not a peace, clarity is not possible.  The "mud" needs to settle before we are able to see with clarity, reason with objectively or choose wisely. To discern well one has to 1) allow the "muddy waters" to settle, 2) examine what created the "mud," that is, examine the problematic behaviors that "muddied" the relationship or brought "disaster" to a given situation, 3) reconcile the differences, at least within oneself, and perhaps with other/s, and 4) forgive oneself and other/s.  Once peace is achieved--that may take awhile, perhaps a long time--then we will see clearly to make a decision that, in turn, will lead to peace, to a new way of living, a new way of being, one that is more likely to be in tune with God's will and is not a reliving of past hurts.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Discernment and Belonging

Discernment and belonging:  All of us cherish the feeling of belonging--the place, the people, the work feels right. The feelings of being out of place, of being left out, of being ignored, being treated with indifference are important discernment tools. Those feelings/experiences are calling us to take notice, to do an inventory of sorts.  First of all, I need to examine in which ways I may be the reason for feeling misplaced or displaced.   Do I need to change my attitudes or my behaviors? Or does it have nothing to do with me—this simply is a place where God does not want me to be! I recall a story of a teenager who drove up to a bar. Clearly, she heard: (Sally—not her real name), you do not belong here!  She did not even have to enter the premises and feel the misplacement. God clearly indicated to her that she was out of place in this kind of environment. I’m not sure that she turned around and went home but she heard the message.

When you are feeling left out, when you don’t sense you belong, what helps you deal with these feelings? What steps do you need to take to feel more comfortable with yourself and others?  Finding your answers to those questions, or similar ones, is the work of discernment.  Knowing when to move on to a new career, a new residence, a new attitude, a new way of being, a new outlook on life could very easily be preceded by feeling out of place, feeling uncomfortable.  You may be sayings things to yourself such as: “I don’t fit in here anymore,” “I don’t belong here,”  “I’m in the wrong place,” “The timing is not right,” and so forth.  Paying attention to this discomfort and pondering its meaning will lead you to knowing what God is asking of you.

Do you have the courage to enter into the feelings of mis/displacement, the feelings of not belonging?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Discernment from a "Winner's Perspective"

Consider yourself a winner!  Feel the energy of putting yourself in the winner's circle!  Imagine looking back at each day's accomplishment from the perspective of "How did I win today?" Discerning what direction to take from that stance is effected in a positive way!  Imagine being a nominee for a Young Person's Award: you have been nominated for your courage in having left home and entered college; for leaving a job that was, in no way, using your skills or which was totally contrary with the values you hold as a Christian. Or maybe you have been nominated  because you have had the courage to go back to school or you have become involved in helping the poor at a soup kitchen or assisting the mentally or physically challenged at a summer camp.  In short, you have and are making decisions that witness to the strength of your character and that affirm your ability to make choices that are best for you. 

This is what discernment is all about!  God has given you the ability to know what is best for you.  Another person may think he/she knows what is in your best interest--only you know that!  Each time, then., you direct yourself in ways that brings out your best self, you have accurately discerned God's will for you.  Doing that in ways mentioned above paves the way for you to take on even bigger decisions like a lifetime commitment in marriage, in religious life and/or priesthood.  Discerning what is best for you in less weightier matters prepares you for discerning the way to take in weightier ones.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Discernment and Self-esteem

Discernment and Self-Esteem:  Considering marriage? Religious life? Priesthood?  Our decision to follow any one of those calls, I believe, can very well be thwarted by a poor self-image.  If one’s self-esteem is strong,  a person, most likely, will not doubt succeeding in the vocation to which God calls. However, if one’s self-esteem is low and the person does not believe he or she has anything to give to a marriage, to religious life or to the priesthood, or that failure is inevitable in whatever vocation is chosen, that is, the person is saying something like: “I won’t make it through training” or “I won’t meet the educational and spiritual demands that vocation will ask of me,” most likely that individual will hold back.  A vocation to which one feels strongly attracted may be dismissed  because, in the case of marriage, the individual may consider her/himself unworthy of connecting with the person that  would make for a strong marriage. Or the individual may consider him/herself  unworthy of being a priest or a religious sister. Obviously, then, a person’s discernment of his/her  vocation  would be seriously impaired. 

How to proceed, then, to strengthen one’s sense of self, to build one’s self-esteem, to change one’s negative image into an image of self that is open to the graces of the vocation that is right for the discerner?  Some of the following behaviors might be helpful:

·         Identifying  the negative self-messages invading one’s being and replacing them with positive sayings and doing so consistently

·         Looking  for positives in one’s life and acknowledging those experiences

·         Identifying one’s strengths and choosing to develop  those

·         Engaging in activities that build a healthy sense of pride in who one is and who one is capable of becoming

·         Setting a goal/goals and working toward achieving that goal/those goals

·         Finding a spiritual director who can help you achieve all of the above

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Discernment and Self-trust

Discernment is strongly effected, it seems to me, by one's ability  or inability to trust in oneself.  Self-trust may take a beating, if you will, by others' dismissing our contributions as insignificant. Eventually, if we experience this often enough, we begin to believe it personally.  Our self-trust is also eroded by being told by our parents, our teachers or other significant adults in our lives that "we don't know what we are talking about" or that "children are to be seen and not heard," or by simply being ignored whenever we'd attempt to share our views.  Other children may also have made fun of our insights. A teacher, verbally or nonverbally, may have communicated her/his disappointment in our answers to questions or our input into a topic under discussion.  Critical thinking skills, analyzing, thinking through situations, doing research and trusting our findings or conclusions may simply not have been encouraged in our home, school or church environments--however, we can still develop these skills. Or all of the reverse may be true and our self-trust is strong. Then, too,  I believe, is our trust in God's direction rising from within.

Apart from the above examples of how mistrust is nurtured, we may have personally weakened our ability to trust ourselves by having been deceitful in our dealings with others, having told "white lies" to get by with something or to avoid embarrassment or shame.  We may end up doing or saying something we really do not want to do or say because we are trying to please another and end up betraying ourselves. When we lie in order to avoid that of which we are afraid or in order to avoid hurting another, the person we ultimately hurt is ourselves.  When our goal is to please others at our own expense, we betray ourselves. Trust is eroded, weakened or shattered and needs to be rebuilt.

Ever say "Tell me the truth," or "Be honest with me."  Above all we want people to be honest and we ourselves want to be truthful with others.  We want others to trust us. Trust begins at home, as does charity.  As we build self-trust, we also strengthen our ability to discern God's truth, God's will for ourselves.  Grace builds on nature.

On a scale from 0-10, how would you rate your self-trust?  If low, what may be the root cause of your lack of self-trust? What can you do to strengthen your ability to trust in yourself?  How can you strengthen a weakened trust of self?  Only you can do that. That is why it is called self-trust.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sexuality and call

Sexuality and Call:  All of us are made for others. We are called to wholeness, to union  with other human beings/with God.  We are incomplete without the other, without relating to others.  The other fact is that no one is capable of completing our incompleteness. Only God completes us. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God,” St. Augustine tells us. We will always feel somewhat incomplete, somewhat empty, alone.  That is a given!
However, we  are sexual beings and as such are called to strive toward union, a union modeled by the Blessed Trinity. Jesus prayed that we would be one as the Father and He are one, one with one another and with God. Male and female God created us.  Neither sex is able to be complete in itself.   To answer the call to move toward wholeness or completeness, to the point humanly possible, we need to be in relationship with one another on more than one level of being human. Those levels are the level of the intellect, the physical level, the emotional level, the level of affect, the psychological level, the social level, and the spiritual level.  The depth of the levels from which we connect with others, in any state in life—marriage, the single life, the priesthood or religious life--is the depth of our sense of wholeness and completeness that we will experience in our relationships.  The depth of self that we experience also depends on whether or not we are nurturing and growing on all levels of our humanness.  Our call is to develop all levels and to relate with others in ways that gives life, fosters union, and brings out the best of who we are as persons created in the image and likeness of our God.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Discernment: Listening to our Pain

Ever wonder what your pain might be telling you, what its message is?  We live in a society that teaches us to medicate our pain, to do whatever possible to be pain free.  A sore muscle, a headache, a back pain—pop a bill.  A little discomfort, go shopping!  To relieve the day’s stress, numb out with a cigarette, a puff of marijuana, a few drinks, a bowl of ice cream, a bag of chips, a candy bar, a good movie. Fed up, go gambling, play video games, surf the internet until one feels better. 

Compulsive behavior is a way to freeze our pain, whether physical, psychological or spiritual. At some point in time the “anesthetic” does not work at the original dose; a higher dosage of the original “painkiller” or a more powerful “drug” is needed to numb the discomfort.   As long as we keep denying our hurt, our fears, our anger, our sadness, our discomfort, the more likely it is that we will get caught in an addictive cycle.  At some point, to become free of the addictive behavior, we need to pay attention to the message from which we were seeking an escape.

The pain may be a warning that we are “surfing” down a path that is not good for us, goes contrary to our values, is downright dangerous, or is detrimental to our growth.  Discomfort may be inviting us to die to selfishness, envy, jealousy, to our need to be in control of another’s life, to arrogance and pride; and, yes, even to choices that are leading into a sinful lifestyle.
Are we ready to confront the pain instead of running from it? The challenge will be difficult—freedom comes with a price.  Making changes that will lead to a fuller life will not be easy, by any means, but will certainly be rewarding in the long run.  Growing pains are far better than the pain of avoiding growth.  Which do we prefer?

It might be helpful to reflect on the following questions:
  • What are the pains that we are attempting to escape?  What messages might these pains be telling us?
  • How were we taught to cope with fear, sadness and anger? Parents, what are your teaching your children when they are afraid, sad, angry?
  • What helps us to confront pain without running from it?  What do we do to help ourselves face some of life’s more painful moments?   Parents: what do you do to help your children face life’s most painful moment? What are you teaching your children?
Source:  O’Brien, Margaret, OSU, Discovering Your Light: Common Journeys of Young Adults,  Resurrection Press, Mineola, NY, 1991, pp. 20-21.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Discerning God's Will: One Step at a Time

There are days when it seems impossible to move out of feelings of being bewildered, overwhelmed, lost without even an inkling of where to begin, what to do, or what God wills for me that day!
In fact, sometimes we may think that God does not even care. In the first place, we might wonder, where was God when I got into this mess: I lost my best friend, my girlfriend/boyfriend dropped me like a hot potato, I failed that test and lost the possibility of any scholarship whatsoever; a parent died or my parents got divorced and there went any possibility of a college education (child support did not happen).  "Where God are you? Your will? My welfare? My happiness? It does not look like it, Lord," we might be saying.

Behavioral scientists suggest that, when we  feel lost, overcome by life's curve balls, not knowing which foot to put ahead of the other, not even what direction to take, that we choose one small task that we know is workable, doable, possible.  Completing that itsy, bitsy task gives us the energy to take another step, no matter how small,  in the direction toward which we want to go.  Each small step brings a sense of accomplishment, a little bit of happiness and satisfaction and prepares us to take the next step.  Like a child learning to walk, pretty soon we are running toward a desired goal, toward a sense of peace and a little bit of happiness. That is God's will for us.  Not easy but doable in small increments!

Source: O’Brien, Margaret, OSU, Discovering Your Light: Common Journeys of Young Adults, Resurrection Press, Mineola, NY, 1991, pp. 216-17