On this first day of our Lenten journey, as we travel from the depths of winter to the promise of spring, we enter a liminal space, a time of being in the sacred in-between. Lent is time of becoming, shedding all that hinders us from greater love of God, Self, and Others, letting go of that which holds us back from becoming our best selves, and humbly and gracefully bowing before our own humanity. This can be both rejuvenating and uncomfortable. During this forty day journey of prayer, meditation, and becoming we will take some moments to look at discernment and its tools and gifts that can aid us as we make the ascent to spring when all things are made new, when all is resurrected in holiness.
YOUR NEXT BEST STEP…
It can be a challenge to discern your next steps in life. I have often found it helpful to refrain the idea of your “NEXT step” to the idea that you are asked to consider your next BEST step, as that is what the Lord asks of us. To choose the best step before us that will make us more human, more of whom we are called to become, more loving of God, self and others. Sometimes your next best step may not make sense to others close to you. It must however, give you some peace and some joy as you move toward it.
I know I have struggled with decisions when two good options present themselves to my good fortune.
- Discernment, the act of prayerfully considering your options to make a decision is based on your interior responses to the outside world you live in.
- Discernment does not occur with a good and a bad option at hand, for that decision to most is obvious, but with two goods. When we are presented with two goods, that is when we are called to slow down in our daily living to decide which choice before us will lead us toward more life.
On Wednesday night, February 24, 2010, the Sisters of the Visitation begin a three part series of discernment evenings for young adults, assisting them in considering their next best step. I have found discernment easier to do on the bigger questions and opportunities in life if I have been doing it in my daily life before the fork in the road arises. St. Francis de Sales taught a radical thought of his time, that God is found in the ordinary, in the practical, he said, “In life we are only asked to do ordinary things, but extraordinarily well….The soul which holds itself ready and open to do God’s will on any occasion, can do this even while sweeping the floor.” St. Ignatius of Loyola put this sentiment another way to hold an attitude of “finding God in all things,” this includes our daily lives, not just our big decisions!
I had the good fortune to be educated not only by the Visitation Sisters of Mendota Heights, but also the Jesuit Priests of Boston College. There, I learned a tool that Ignatian Spirituality uses for discernment called, “the Examen;” an ancient Christian practice of prayer. St. Ignatius told his men that they could miss daily mass if they had to, but not to ever miss doing the examen. By using the daily examen as a tool for discernment you begin to gently notice the patterns and invitations of your life, and when the moments arise to take your next best step they are gentler, clearer, and more connected to your heart.
How to do an examen? What does it look like?
- Become aware of God’s presence. No matter where you find yourself, office, classroom, mountain top, car, call to heart and mind the Lord.
- Review the day with gratitude. Using your five senses recall the gifts of the day—the smell of your morning coffee, the feel of your feet in the dirt, the meeting of a good friend, the touch and scent of a flower. Recall your strengths that God has given you to more fully participate in life and thank God for the big and small moments of your day.
- Pay attention to your emotions. Ask God to shed light on your actions, your emotions, your intentions so you can look on them with love and honesty.
- Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. As you look over your day, what situation or moment calls your attention to pray more deeply, to see where Christ was inviting you to respond with more compassion, or where you wavered to help, or where your heart may have been divided in a particular situation. Ask for guidance, wisdom, and insight so that you may continue to love yourself and your neighbor as you love your Lord, more deeply and more truly.
- Look toward tomorrow. As you close your prayer, finish with a heart to heart talk with Jesus about your day, and ask for guidance on your tomorrow.
The examen is one way to practice being attuned to the present, and finding God in the moments of our daily life. As you practice the examen you too will find your own rhythm with it.
Just as the Sisters of North Minneapolis Visitation meet each Monday morning to prayerfully look at their needs, their emotions, and the work’s week, so can a family use the examen to consider the pulse of the family, the needs, and the opportunities before them. It can be done as simply as what are the highs and lows of our day and where was God in those moments? Active discernment is like dating someone or considering what religious community to join:
- *you take note of your feelings when you are with them,
- *you ask are they bringing out the best in me, and I in them,
- *you note the moments when you feel most alive,
- *and recall the moments of frustration or tension and ask what was going on in them.
Eventually when it comes time to marry, join religious life, or remain single, you have a plethora of information, of moments to base your heart’s decision on, and so when it is time to say yes, you can say it with a resounding yes. As you live into this major life decision you continue to recommit to that yes, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. On the easy days you do not notice the recommitment, on the tougher days you make a conscious effort to say yes.
And so I part today’s blog with a resounding, “Yes!” – that you, too, can choose your next best steps with grace, insight, and wisdom this Lenten Season. Or more eloquently put by St Francis de Sales, “Think only of Today, for when tomorrow comes it too will be called today, and then we will think about it.”
Happy Discernment during this Lenten Season,
Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan
Visitation Alum ‘93 & Blogger