Acknowledge What You Are

(Learn to Discern,  Principle #12)

“God has a plan for your life!”

How many times have you heard this proclaimed? At church, on retreat, by some street evangelist – it’s a phrase we get used to hearing. But it’s a phrase that’s easily misunderstood.

Sometimes, we think that God having a plan for our lives means that we don’t need to make one. (“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans!” is another Christian classic.)

Sometimes, we think that if we make plans for our lives, God will automatically have something else in mind – as though He wills the opposite of what we want, simply to be contrarian.

But the truth is that God is not a contrarian. God is a God of love. A God who offers us a multiplicity of goods in the created world. There are simply so many good things for us to choose from when it comes to living our lives. We don’t have to be afraid of choosing something good, and we don’t have to be afraid of choosing something that might not be the very best thing in all the universes of possibilities.

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Fear Is a False Friend

(Learn to Discern, Principle #11)

An American friend of mine once found herself engaged in a conversation about family pastimes in Italian. “My mother gardens,” said one girl; “my sister paints,” offered another. “My father makes fruit preserves!” my friend joined in, enthusiastically. “Peach, strawberry, all different kinds,” she continued, slightly oblivious to the growing silence around the table. “The whole family helps, every summer!”

Finally, one of the older women at the table quietly asked her to clarify. “Fruit preserves!” My friend said again, in Italian. Noticing the shocked look on everyone’s faces, she stepped into the kitchen to get a jar of jam. Holding it up, she repeated triumphantly, “fruit preserves! See?”

The Italians then very kindly explained that “preservativi” in Italian does not mean “preserves.” It means “condoms.”

Talk about a learning experience.

Speaking the language through trial and error led my friend to discover “false friends”: words that sound similar in two languages but in fact mean very different things.

“False friends” are dangerous when learning languages, but they show up when we are learning to discern, too. They masquerade as something helpful, so we use them eagerly. Unknown to us, though, they are leading us away from our true purpose.

Fear is a false friend.

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Embrace Silence

(Learn to Discern, Principle #10)

When was the last time you spent 10 minutes in total silence? No noise, no distractions, no background ambiance: just total, complete silence? This was a question I asked some high school students several years ago (before smart phones were even the norm.) Most of them said that they had never done so in their entire lives.

An entire life lived without ten minutes of silence.

Naturally, I assigned them this task as part of their homework. They had to go somewhere alone, preferably in nature, without electronic gadgets and without other people, to sit in total silence for 10 whole minutes. For those who were open to it, this kind of exercise actually changed their approach to life. They learned the value of contemplation and the benefits of settling their souls into stillness in a world of rush and busyness.

Why does silence hold such power? Why can a mere 10 minutes change us?

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Seek Wise Guidance

(Learn to Discern, Principle #9)

Have you ever found yourself looking for help with difficult decision, only to leave the conversation feeling like the other person’s ideas just didn’t fit?  Or worse, have you ever followed a piece of advice, only to realise later that it was terrible advice for you, even if the person giving it meant well? Maybe you’ve received good advice, but were in a place where you just weren’t ready to hear it?

It seems like there are very few occasions in life that are helped by direct advice: either it doesn’t really work for our unique situation, or we need to move forward on our own in order to discover our own best path.

Of course, sometimes in the process of discernment, we can get stuck in our own heads, trapped in a circle of thoughts that don’t seem to lead anywhere. Our position as an ‘insider’ to our own situation can make us unable to see outside things. Sometimes we can even miss things that are glaringly obvious! Continue Reading

Maximizing Prayer

Have you ever had a difficult decision to make, and found yourself praying, “Lord, you decide. Just tell me, and I’ll do it!”?  I know I have.

In his podcast on “Four helpful rules for discernment,” Fr. Mike Schmitz points out that sometimes (not every time, but sometimes,) we ask God what His Will is, for the simple reason that we don’t want to make the decision.

It might seem really godly of us to do whatever the Father wills – but sometimes it’s an excuse for us not taking responsibility for our own choices. Continue Reading