Becky Eldredge over at the dotMagis blog for Ignatian Spirituality wrote a few months back of her experience in deciding between two possible places for her and her husband to move to and make their new home.
For the past year, my husband and I have been discerning our future steps after my husband’s graduate degree was complete. The choice was between relocating to one of two cities. The process of discernment was arduous due to a rather crazy day-to-day rhythm of life, which impacted my ability to find stillness in prayer, and because we felt we were choosing between two goods.
At one point this spring, about eight months into this discernment process, I shared with a friend that I was struggling to find peace about this decision. I told her, “We have learned all we can about both cities. We have prayed about this for months, and I no longer feel pulled strongly to either city. It’s driving me crazy! Why won’t God give me the answer?”
She gently smiled and chuckled and said to me, “Struggling a bit with the grace of detachment?” via The Grace of Detachment.
It reminded me of a time when my family was planning a move, returning to an area of the country my husband grew up in. He had been called for an interview and the organization wanted to fly him and our family half-way across the country to meet people and learn about the community. Our airplane tickets were in the process of being booked!
As potentially exciting as it all sounded and as much as we were both looking forward to hitting the reset button on our lives, I was concerned about several issues, including (top-of-the-list) leaving my mother behind who was at the time in her mid-80’s.
I prayed to God that He give us direction.
“Lord,” I prayed, “this train seems to be moving on a fast track. If this direction is not one that works for You for whatever reason, please give me/us some sign. Let me understand Your plan. In the end help me, Lord, to be certain. Sweep away all other possibilities with the clarity of Your purpose and Your plan for us.”
I remember clearly that I prayed that prayer on a Monday.
That Friday, I was busy working when I received a call from a woman whose home my husband and I had tried to buy a year and half earlier in a nearby community about an hour away. At the time we had done all our research and concluded that the community, its schools, the house…everything…were exactly what we were looking for. Yet, in the flat housing market of that time, nothing was moving and in the end, the deal fell through.
Fast forward and the same woman is calling me out of the blue without the benefit of a realtor to let me know that she was again trying to sell the same home…only now she was asking substantially less than her original price!
Her call caught me at a time when I was completely focused on a project that I was working on. I told her of our plans to move out of state, but said I’d discuss it with my husband and let her know if we had any second thoughts. I thanked her for letting me know, wished her luck and hung up.
I then promptly forgot about her call as I moved to finish my project, get dressed to run errands, pick kids up from school, meet husband, take one of the kids to a sleep-over 40 miles away, have date-night at a nice restaurant…you get the idea.
It wasn’t until we were allowing ourselves a highly unusual shared dessert following dinner that I remembered the phone call. I told my husband about the woman’s offer, describing the details dismissively, with the assumption that he and I had already made up our minds to follow a different course.
After hearing my story he said, “Well, wait a minute. What are we giving up by moving away?”
With just that one short question we were both stopped dead in our tracks. It was as if some mighty hand had just pulled hard on the hand brake of our lives. All of the memories of our earlier desire came flooding back — the community, the schools, the house, the property. And I belatedly remembered my prayer from earlier in the week.
The Lord had heard me and this was His answer. All of our senses from a year before about the perfection of the place were not wrong after all…their timing was just a bit off…or so it seemed.
Over the next couple of hours, we did a full 180. By the end of the weekend we signed a purchase and sale agreement. A month and a half later we moved in to our new home.
I relearned several lessons from this experience.
The first is to Listen to Our Inner Voice — that nagging sense of concern, in my case. It felt like we were already barreling down the road and that the decision was already out of my control.
In a different situation inner stirrings might instead be like a magnet drawing us to a particular outcome. In either case sorting what our inner voice is saying (oft times I have to get my inner voice to quit screaming at me in fear or excitement, just so I can actually hear what it’s saying), allows us to articulate a more focused, detailed prayer to place at God’s feet.
Next, Pray for Direction and Insight with a detached attitude always of wanting only those outcomes that He wants for me, that are part of His plan for me, that are His will. After assembling all the facts of my situation, I prayed that God would allow me to understand them through His eyes and His plan (as it turned out His knowledge and memory of our earlier desire was better than our own) .
After we lift a prayer to God, even as we let it go, trusting in His goodness, we still need to remember to Pay Attention For His Answer. To be conscious over the next several days or weeks of all the possible ways through which He might seek to communicate with us.
In this case I almost missed the message. I need to be more fully present with Him in each conversation or encounter, as I moved through my day (Editor Angel – this is one you seem to need to relearn every few hours!…well, yes, shhh!)
The third lesson is one I’ve experienced multiple times in my life. That is, when I move forward in a decision, even one about which, after much discernment, I feel convicted, I try to Move Forward in Baby Steps.
Without exception in my life, if there are too many obstacles placed in my way toward some objective, it has invariably been a bad idea. And, if I finally achieve my objective after fighting bullheadedly through all the obstacles, it has always been with uncomfortable, sometimes, dire consequences.
If I move slowly and thoughtfully, I am in a better position to Discern Obstacles, to determine if they are just part of a necessary to-do list, or something more important. If necessary, I can more objectively redirect my efforts.
We need to Maintain a Sense of Detachment. As my husband and I moved forward over that first weekend to meet with our seller, take a new look at the house and community, review our earlier assessments against an updated backdrop of alternative opportunities, negotiate and sign papers — as prepared as we were to be surprised and excited — we were also just a little stunned and awed with God’s hand at work in our lives. We were detached and prepared to back away, if insurmountable obstacles began to appear.
We eventually baby-stepped our way through all the throes of what moving entails. As we did we were instead continually amazed at the way obstacles just fell away. Just as we sighted each new challenge on the horizon, it would fade and disappear as we drew nearer. This was when I was finally certain we were on the right path.
All this was nearly 18 years ago. Not once over that time have I questioned our decision. I am instead awestruck and grateful each time I Savor The Joy of Sharing Our Decisions with God. And savoring God’s hand at work, especially when we allow Him to share those big, life-altering decisions, is possibly the sweetest step. It’s one which I like to imagine Him sharing with me, as we sit before a warm fire on a cold winter day, recollecting our good times together.
So, here’s the recap:
- Listen to Our Inner Voice
- Pray for Direction and Insight
- Pay Attention For His Answer
- Move Forward in Baby Steps
- Discern Obstacles
- Maintain a Sense of Detachment
- Savor The Joy of Sharing Our Decisions with God.
I have included a couple of links above to the Ignatian Spirituality website at Loyola Press. There are many more resources at the site for understanding how to walk with our Lord.
I would recommend, as well, Fr. James Martin SJ’s humorous, insightful, and highly accessible book, “The Jesuit’s Guide (Almost) Everything.” In it he discusses discernment, and a spirit of detachment, how to pray, how to find God in prayer…it really is a ‘guide to almost everything.’
Have a blessed day.