As I prepared for my 2018 project, I knew I was being called to do work. Dig deep in myself, ask tough questions, actually answer them. And I innately knew this process would not be easy or quick.
I looked at the year and mapped out things I know that I’ll want to pursue—art, adventure, new experiences, peace—that may yield some revelation to help define and articulate my purpose, my why. Or just be fun. But in order to get to those things, I knew I need to lead from deep rooting in my internal life. I need to be able to hear God and hear myself. And in order to hear, I would have to listen.
Before I move to months focused on my home, my music, or my writing, it was critical that I practice and develop the disciplines of discernment. These are foundational to my journey.
Discernment is defined as the ability to judge well, and within the Faith, it is further defined as judging well by obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.
So how to do this? I crowdsourced. I’m fortunate to have a lot of pastors in my life, and I asked all of them for their advice, perspectives, and reading recommendations. Insight about discernment doesn’t have to come from a pastor, but I do think the intense schooling helps produce a strong point of view on the study of the spiritual disciplines.
Initially, my plan was to focus on the discernment for February. Then I started studying, and I realized I needed more space. Space to practice what I was learning, space to listen. Especially with a super busy February at work, I did not want to shortchange the work. And it’s my project, so I get to choose how I spend my time. I decided spend two months—February and March—on discernment.
Once I considered moving to a two-month focus, I realized that the church calendar beautifully aligned with this desire. Beginning with Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day, the contemplation of Lent would bring a spiritual weight to my time in the disciplines. And Easter on April 1 would lead me out of the months of reflection—hopefully, with some additional habits developed around the disciplines to carry into the rest of my year.
I read Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, which teaches about the 12 spiritual disciplines of discernment. Twelve is a lot of disciplines, so I concentrated on meditation and silence. As an extreme extrovert, these two are tough disciplines for me. But once I started, I found myself craving time alone, quiet, and more and more space to listen.
Since I had begun my year mastering my morning, I was able to make time for meditation in the mornings and on weekends. One discipline was a building block for another.
Full disclosure, I also tried to add fasting, but failed pretty miserably at it. Mostly because I would forget to fast. I’m only a half-Cath, not a full Cath, and I don’t have that muscle memory around fasting. Perhaps for later in the year… the one time I managed a full fast, it was centering.
When I started, I thought I would spend the whole time discerning, if I got quiet, it would be full revelation. But revelation is a process, and God refuses to be rushed. Judging well with spiritual direction—whether my next steps or truths about myself—is not a one-and-done. You get one message at a time. And sometimes, it’s not one you want to hear. And then you sit with it, in the silence or in the noise of life, wrestle, journal, step back, re-engage, and in this pondering, the truth comes alive. And what’s crazy, the vibrant truth, revealing itself piece by piece, is just the beginning of the work.
Photo credit: Matt Fons