7 Steps For Sharing Our Decisions With God

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:

  1. Listen to Our Inner Voice
  2. Pray for Direction and Insight
  3. Pay Attention For His Answer
  4. Move Forward in Baby Steps
  5. Discern Obstacles
  6. Maintain a Sense of Detachment
  7. 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.

Meditation 13 – Seeing God in others, seeing good in others

Are you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray – not to read that book, which excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul? Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you?

I prayed recently that God would help me to see Him in others around me. I don’t know how to do this. And my prayer, while heartfelt, was offered without much real hope of ever ‘getting it’.

And yet, yesterday, I received what I believe is a glimmer of an answer — a clue, at least — of a direction I might follow. What may turn out to be a small miracle in my life.

I reflected on something I’ve known most of my life. It is this:

Those people to whom I have most often been sympathetically drawn seem more ‘worldly,’ an apt word that seems to capture ‘the look.’

It’s in their eyes. The look that says, “I know what you’re thinking.” “I’ve been around the block a few times, too.” “This isn’t my first rodeo.” “We have stuff in common, you and I.”

This insight, thought, realization, revelation – I’m not sure what to call it – occurred to me for just the briefest of moments. The significance of ‘the look’ flashed at my consciousness and then, darted off, to hide in my memory. It peaked out a couple of times from behind a long list of errands and interactions, reminding me that it was important, still there, waiting.

But, it’s only by God’s abundant grace have I been able to capture it finally onto paper (well virtual paper, anyway) where I can give it my full attention.

As I describe the experience here, it’s like seeing a bit of trace gold out of the corner of my eye, then slowly following a trail of little gold nuggets to reveal the mother lode, as it were, of the real message.

These other worldly people – seemingly clever, knowing, attractive – can (wittingly or unwittingly) be some of Satan’s most difficult pawns, sent to tempt us and lure us to a life serving him.

To be sure, even the most-worldly individuals are not necessarily bad or evil. Some may have mastered their knowingness, integrating it with a life of faith and service, as I hope I can do someday.

But, Satan works through our perceptions of others’ worldliness to appeal to our own weaknesses. He perceives those disordered desires and then tempts us with promises of outcomes tailor-made for each of us.

In the end it’s our own perspectives that need to change.

I must no longer allow myself to associate what I perceive to be their worldliness with something attractive. This reaction in me needs instead to put me on my guard, raise red flags, signaling for me to don my armor, prepare my defenses. It needs to trigger in me an internal risk assessment of whether to stay and engage in a holy battle or to walk away – either literally or figuratively – at my first opportunity.

[So, WOW…I don’t know about you, but I need to take just a moment to give thanks for this — to give thanks to God for His goodness and direction and His willingness to communicate with me…to answer my prayers…a small miracle in a way. For everything about this insight feels right.  Thank You, Father.]

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Let’s read again the meditation for today:

Are you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray – not to read that book, which excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul? Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you?

What about those others – those companions, maybe – who annoy us? Those who call us to account, possibly? Or those little or wretched ones who beg for our time or our help or our attention? What about those faithful ones whom Our Father has placed on our path to remind us to walk with Him?

Do their “looks” cause us to avert our eyes in guilt or shame or impatience? Under their gaze do we begin to sense our unworthiness? If we’re truly fortunate, does the light of their spirit illumine the poverty of our own?

In drafting a title for this post, I wrote the words “seeing God in others.” I was quickly moved to the additional phrase, “seeing good in others.”

It made me think about the added “o” in good.

In order to see God in others, we must first have a spirit that appreciates and is attracted to good in others.

And to do this we need to bring to God the extra “o” — a null, a void – the clean slate of our divine selves. Ignatian spirituality describes poverty of spirit as

an emptying of self so that God can fill us with life and love.

As we empty ourselves of our attachments and worldly desires – of those dark ties that will bind and entangle us and cause us to stumble — as we become empty vessels before God, we may then be filled with His goodness. As we grow and become filled with His love, we will in turn be able to recognize and be attracted to His good in all those others about us.

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Gracious, glorious Lord. You have once again fulfilled Your promise to answer my prayers and give me those things, which You know will bring me closer to You.

I prayed this prayer without hope of an answer. For this I ask Your forgiveness.

But I prayed in earnest and You answered with clarity.

You are an awesome Lord and I am humbled.

Meditation 11 – Gratitude awakens humility

Have you no joys to tell Me? Why not confide to Me your pleasures? Tell Me what has happened since yesterday to console you, to make you happy, to give you joy. An unexpected visit has done you good; a fear has suddenly been dispelled; you have met with unlooked-for success; you have received some mark of affection – a letter, a present; some trial has left you stronger than you supposed. All these things, My child, I obtained for you. Why are you not grateful? Why do you not say, “I thank You”? Gratitude draws benefits, and the benefactor loves to be reminded of his bounty.

God loves our gratitude. For me, gratitude is accompanied by a strong sense of humility.

Much of our culture doesn’t reward humility. I have worked for many years in a career where individuals become “subject matter experts” or SMEs. Even those who don’t promote themselves this way in the beginning can eventually be affected, drinking the koolaid and taking their pumped up biographical descriptions seriously. Others will further inflate SME credentials in order to promote their own personal agendas, their own value.

In meetings filled with inflated egos there’s often little room for God or humble recognition of His goodness and might.

So, what’s joyful about this particular recognition? It is this:

After so many years toiling in this particular field, staying centered on Him in the midst of all the self-promotion was a challenge I wasn’t always successful in meeting.

But God is good.

Through His grace can I now — finally — awake each morning remembering Him first and, upon remembering, feel an almost overwhelming sense of relief and gratitude for His presence in my life. Just that.

Remember to say good morning each day to God. Acknowledge His presence with me. Invite Him into my day.

Because in doing so, I can’t help but take the additional mental steps to acknowledge Him as the source of my being, the architect of any success I might enjoy, the origin of my existence and my ability.

Thank you, Father, for the grace to remember You each day.

Only as You allow me to remember You, am I able then to acknowledge Your role in my life. Credit You for all the ways in which You have blessed me. Give You thanks.

And through all these, to feel consumed with humility for how meager my contribution would be without Your blessing.

Seven steps to a deeper faith

I prepared a little mission statement and annual plan for this blog for 2014. It goes like this:

Mission: In 2014 I want to achieve a deeper understanding of God’s purpose for my life.

Objective: To achieve this I will document here life’s little miracles as they happen to and around me.

Kind of formal, but mission statements can be that way. Obviously these will be miracles that happen to me and to people I know. But, I’d like to hear from you, too, and to share your miracles, as well.

Why miracles? Let me first give some examples of what I’m talking about.

Early in 2013 my husband and I were climbing into a cab to the airport. We were headed out of town for a New Year’s get-away. As we climbed in, his cell phone rang. Our son was calling to tell us that he and his wife had made an emergency run to the hospital in the middle of the night and their baby girl had just been born…several months early.

By our Lord’s intervention we were able to return to town and see and hold her for a few minutes of her short life. We were able to grieve with and comfort her parents as she passed. And we were all able eventually to begin healing some of our fractured family relationships and deepen our faith.

Later in the year, our son passed along to us a book by Father James Martin, The Jesuit’s Guide to (Almost) Everything. The messages in this book and several others by Fr. Martin spoke directly to my heart (see other of my descriptions of these here and here).

These miracles were big ones for me. They were obvious and easily identifiable as miracles as they were evolving, right then and there. But, life is full of little miracles every day…convenient parking spots at just the right time, answers to prayer, serendipitous phone calls, chance encounters….otherwise infuriating traffic slow downs that result in missing a police speed trap. We don’t always pay much attention to them.

So, what do I mean by noticing these miracles? And what purpose will this serve?

First, I want to recognize these little miracles and acknowledge them. Sometimes our lives seem to move so fast. Things happen, and we don’t stop long enough to understand or appreciate the gifts that we’ve been given.

Next, I want to savor these little gifts from God, considering all the aspects of their influence and effect on my life.

Then, I want to write them down, so I won’t forget them. Because if these experiences, these little miracles, are memorialized somewhere permanent, I can cherish them later and savor them over and over again.

I want to give thanks for them and allow myself time to feel a sense of gratitude for how gracious and loving our God is…even when we’re not paying attention or asking Him for His help or intervention.

Finally, I want to share them with others. Recognition of how God is working in our lives strengthens our faith. Others’ understanding of how God has worked in our lives can strengthen their faith. Having the opportunity to help strengthen another’s faith is still another miracle. All are gifts from our Father.

In his book Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints, Fr. Martin imagines Jesus (as one who is fully human and fully divine) only gradually coming to understand His mission on earth.

“But even after his stay in the desert, there still seems a lingering reticence in Jesus to embrace his mission. For what is traditionally considered as his first miracle seems a distinctly reluctant one. There he is at the wedding feast at Cana when the wine runs out…When his mother points this out to him, in effect, suggesting that he do something, Jesus says, somewhat caustically, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” (John 2:4). In other words, what does this have to do with me? I’m not the person you want! I’m not yet the person I am called to be! Here Jesus may still be grappling with his mission, with his vocation, and with his true self….

…he tells the steward to fill large earthen jars with water and serve the guests. But it is not water that comes out of the jars, it is wine. It is his first miracle.

I have always wondered if Jesus himself wasn’t surprised by his first miracle…

…The fruits of one’s ministry and one’s life are often astonishing, and the hand of God can be seen as clear as day, even when the results are simple ones. How much more surprising, then, might the miracle at Cana have been for Jesus!”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says

“The signs worked by Jesus attest that the Father has sent him. They invite belief in him. To those who turn to him in faith, he grants what they ask. So miracles strengthen faith in the One who does his Father’s works; they bear witness that he is the Son of God.”

Similarly, the little “signs” in our every day life attest to our Father’s love and affection for us. So, too, do they invite our belief. So, too, might we bear witness to His presence and work in our lives by sharing these experiences with others.

Miracles, recognizing them, acknowledging them, understanding them, savoring them, memorializing them, cherishing them, sharing them with others, all help to deepen our faith. In deepening our faith we deepen our understanding of God purpose for our lives.

God’s Lost and Found

For years I have gone to God when I’d lose stuff…keys (top contender, by far), earring-backs, books, files…nothing terribly important in the whole scheme of things, but stuff I needed at one particular moment in order for my life to continue to run smoothly.

The way it started is kind of embarrassing, actually. I wasn’t yet familiar in any personal way with God. I’d been taught about God in broad strokes as a child and a young adult, but most of this early learning was just so many words with no personal experiences to which I could attach them.

Along the circuitous way that I’d traveled in my search for God (Editor Angel – Ahem, you had no idea at that point what you were looking for. I was there, remember?), I sought out and met a couple of times with a fortuneteller. That’s what we called her, anyway.

Her name was Dolly. She only met with people who came to her based on the recommendation of previous client. She lived simply and referred to herself as a mystic. She said her ability of Sight, as she called it, was God-given. (Honestly, I wasn’t far enough along at this point to appreciate or care much one way or the other where her ability came from as long as it worked.)

If there was ever an example of God finding us wherever we are, I’m it. (Really, Lord? I search for a fortuneteller and You just get in line?)

Anyway, it was Dolly who suggested a book to me, The Mystic to Cosmic Power by Vernon Howard, which prompted me to find lost items in the way I’m about to describe. I gave my copy away a long time ago, but I remember that somewhere in it there was a suggestion for how to appeal to a high power (the forces of the universe…?) for help. I don’t recall the suggestion using the word “prayer.” But when I made my first appeal for help in finding a gold earring-back that I’d just dropped into the carpet somewhere near or around my feet, that’s what it felt like. I remember thinking “What the heck. What can I lose by just trying this?”

First I closed my eyes and became quiet, then I visualized my earring-back and then I asked for help in seeing it with the sight of the One who could see everything.

Then, BAM, I opened my eyes, gave them a minute to refocus on the carpet and sure enough, there it was. Just like magic, I thought.

Over the years since, I’ve imagined that a VERY patient and long-suffering Lord knew I was open to belief, but needed some sort of small demonstration of His presence.

I never really believed in magic. I just didn’t have other explanations at the time. I’ve since revised this act into a real live prayer, complete with first acknowledging God’s authority and hand in all things; asking Him to give me His sight to see where I’ve left some object. Then, I remind Him that He promised us that anything we ask for in Christ’s name will be given us (this feels a little like a small child saying, “You said You would. You promised!”…but then, to God we are all small children. So pride, deftly set aside, I continue). Finally, I thank Him in advance for His help.

That’s it. I try to keep it simple since I don’t know enough to make it complicated. I can’t remember a time that that prayer hasn’t yielded exactly what I asked. Normally within the next hour…often during the next few minutes…I will have found whatever it is I was looking for.

I use this prayer primarily when all my frustrated attempts to find some trivial item have failed, though every once in a while I’ll pray something similar when one of our children or someone close is looking for a job or a new direction. (The little devil on my shoulder periodically whispers in my ear to pray it and then go buy a couple of lottery tickets. I ignore him.)

But it was only this morning that it occurs to me that I could pray this prayer for those times when I might lose sight of God in my life. (Note to self: Write this down somewhere so if you get depressed, you’ll have a reminder for where to turn. Note back to self: That’s what I’m doing!!!)

I don’t know how effective it would be to pray it for others who either lost sight of God, or never had Him in their sight – their free will can still thwart – but God knows. He can see not only where these others are in their journey; how far from or close to Him they are. He can also see the resources that He might best use to get their attention; to get them to see Him and His love for them; or, if that’s too big a ticket for the first step, He’ll know whether a gentle tap on the shoulder will make them turn to Him, or whether it will take a Mac truck to move them. He’ll know. He knows. And what we ask for in Christ’s name will be given.

So, the point, I guess, of this rambling is: If you’ve lost something, pray. Ask for God’s help in finding it. Then watch to see what happens. Then pray a prayer of thanks for His help.

Pray for little things – God enjoys pleasing us, especially when we pay attention to see how He answers our prayers. And He loves our gratitude when we remember to thank Him and credit His awesome power.

Pray for big things – He has a plan for each of us that is so much better than any plan we might construct for ourselves. He’s patiently waiting for us to understand, name, and ask for our deepest desires – either lost or not known, then He will fulfill them to the top an overflowing.

Pray for others who are lost – their free will and pride and arrogance can pose mighty barriers to His love, but our prayers are mighty as well. They both demonstrate our faith in God and, when we pay attention to see the answers to our prayers, they help build our own faith.

I may never know how my prayers work in the lives of others, but as my prayers are answered in my own life and in the lives of people I can witness personally, I know – with a certainty born of an increasingly stronger faith – that they are working to bless others whose lives I don’t see.

What is lost in our world is not lost to God. He knows where everything is and He knows how to lead us to find our heart’s desire (and our keys, praise God). Most of all He knows where each of us is and what we need in order to find Him. It’s all there – including God – just for the asking.