I’ve frequently mentioned Our Lady of Lourdes, the parish in which I direct RCIA and do a lot of adult faith formation. I’ve written several pieces for that parish’s bulletin. This one, on discernment, appeared in last Sunday’s bulletin. Since I thought others might benefit from it, I share it here:
Discerning with God
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been encouraging you, as part of our stewardship focus, to engage in a process of discernment around how you are being called to share your gifts with our parish community.
I intentionally use the terms “discernment” rather than decisionmaking. Doing so reminds us that exploring what our gifts are and how we are being called to use them is a dialogic process between us and God. Elizabeth Liebert, in her book The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practies for Decisionmaking (a book I highly recommend), defines discernment as “the process of intentionally becoming aware of how God is present, active, and calling us as individuals and communities so that we can respond with greater faithfulness.” Thus, the term discernment implies a prayerful process of determining how God is inviting you to use your gifts. Of determining with God what is your authentic calling.
That means several things. First, since this is about God’s call and not our own individual preferences, we must be open to surprises. Open to the fact that God sometimes calls us out of our comfort zone. Open to the fact that God may be inviting us to use gifts we haven’t even recognized we possess.
Second, discernment is not a one-shot deal (or even an annual deal – something we think about only when our parish asks for a stewardship commitment), but a life-long process. We need to have sensitivity to the fact that God may have different plans for us at different times. That can be difficult because it means that the best one can ever say is I am where I am supposed to be right now, but I need to be open to the fact that God may want me to do something else at a different time. This is important to keep in mind because we often have a tendency to stick to our prior decisions, making it easy to ignore signs that it is time to move on. Change is never easy.
Third, although this is doubtless already clear from what I have said, to say that discernment is a dialogic process with God presumes that we are regularly (daily, I hope) taking time to be with God in prayer. I think that is worth emphasizing because we all have a lot of things occupying our attention and “fitting in” time for prayer requires intentionality. If I want God to help me see the path forward, I need to give God a chance to communicate with me. If you have been a little lax about your prayer lately, this is a good time to re-commit yourself to making time in your daily schedule for God.
I think about my own experience as I share these thoughts about discernment. Eight and a half years ago I was happily settled in New York teaching at St. John’s Law School and on the adjunct ministerial staff of a Jesuit Retreat House. Moving to Minneapolis was not at all on my radar screen, and so when the offer from St. Thomas came, I engaged in extended prayer. Ultimately I was confident that this is where God wanted me to be. Leaving my family, my friends and my retreat house was not easy. Trading New York City for The Twin Cities was not easy. But I was confident in my discernment process and now, in my eighth year here, I have no doubt about God’s wisdom in encouraging this move an I am delighted with where my ministry has taken me.
I engaged in another discernment process last year as I was planning to walk the Camino de Santiago. The result of that process is that after 21 years of law teaching, I have now stopped teaching, so as to devote full time to the spiritual formation and retreat work I do – some at Lourdes, some at the Law School and some in other places here and elsewhere. It means making a lot less money than I made teaching law, but I have prayerfully concluded that that is how God wants me to use my gifts.
That’s some of my story. What about you? Where is God inviting you? And, more importantly, what are you doing to remain open to hearing that call?
Remember that if you are struggling with how God is calling you, Fr. Dan, Deacon Thom or I are available to speak with you.