By Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna ’93
A colleague and myself developed a five week discernment series when we worked together at Santa Clara University. Over the next few weeks I will share portions of this work for your own vocational discernment, this is part three of five.
Mantra for prayer: Pruning helps us grow in a good direction.
This week we further our understanding of discernment by carving out time to intentionally become more reflective about how our heart is moved by what happens in the world? Noticing if you are in balance or out of balance? And why?
For some the daily examen is a wonderful way to be reflective. For others getting out in nature and taking a walk in the rose gardens of Minneapolis. There you can contemplate how a rose needs to be pruned to stay healthy and grow, and how you might be called to prune your own life? This kind of reflection on our lives we invite to happen in the context of God’s grace and love, that is why the examen begins as it does praying for light. God’s grace and love provide the “standards” for our discernment and for the choices we make accordingly.
In Judeo-Christian Scripture and tradition, the standard is the image of God in ourselves. Jesus Christ is that image, and the model for us. (St. Paul has lots of metaphors for that: putting on Christ, having the mind of Christ, being conformed to Christ, etc.) Tradition teaches us that the more we come to know God’s grace and love, and the image of Christ in ourselves, through our spiritual lives, the better we’ll get to know God’s will and the clearer our discernment can be. Perhaps the question is not so much “what would Jesus do,” but “what is the Holy Spirit doing in me” or “who would Jesus have me become.”
According to the examen, or any tool you use for getting into a reflective space, we make choices based on what leads us toward
Christ and what is leading us away. Hence, the pruning metaphor. What has been pruned away in your life? What was the gift of this pruning? Was it a gift?
Some ways to further practice reflective discernment is to “try on a decision.” Discernment does not happen between a good and a bad decision, but usually between two goods. So try on the decision you are least excited about, this may give you insight into what you truly desire and what God desires for us. Imagine telling your friends and family, perhaps even go so far as to tell one of them. How do you feel? The other discernment exercise is to imagine yourself on your deathbed, it is called the Final Examen. The book Sleeping with Bread explains the final examen:”In your prayer imagine that you are 85 years old and dying. See the events in your life flash before you. For what are you grateful? What do you wish you had done differently? Pay special attention to the years between your present age and your death.”
Suggested Texts for Prayer on Reflection:
- John 15:1-5 (NRSV) What are you being invited to let go of, in order to bear more fruit?
- Genesis 1:26, 27 Can you imagine having something in common with God?
- Galatians 5:22-23, 25 How does your life invite you to live by these fruits?
A closing prayer:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is a lot of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability –
and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas and mature gradually – let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ.