Not long ago my husband and I were contemplating a big purchase. It would have been a financial sacrifice and a pretty big change, but we could have made it work if it was what we really wanted. After a long conversation over breakfast one morning we decided to go for it.
Before lunch, as I was heading off to a rehearsal, I started to feel uneasy about the whole thing. I wasn’t sure this purchase was something I really wanted. I was happy with our lives the way that they were – in fact, I really liked the way things were. In my heart I knew that the only reason I was thinking about changing things was that I feared that if we ever wanted this change later on we wouldn’t be able to pull it off. (At this point have you figured out we were considering buying a house?)
My anxiety kept rising. I really wanted to talk things over with my husband, but I wouldn’t see him for a few more hours. That evening before mass I saw a mentor of mine and briefly shared the prospect with him, just to hear it said out loud.. He listened without judging. I admitted a few of my reservations, made less intimidating by my freedom to say them.
During mass the homilist preached about generosity and sharing resources. It struck me that though I was willing to sacrifice vacations or other luxuries to make a big purchase, I was not willing to sacrifice being a generous person. The vision of what I want myself and my family to be does not include stinginess.
So that night I went home, talked about things with my husband, who had been having similar thoughts, and we agreed to hold off on buying a bigger home.
Over the course of about 12 hours I listened to my gut, conversed with a trusted friend, envisioned my future, acknowledged that I live in the present, interpreted life in light of Gospel values, and shared all of these things with the most important person in my life.
That is what discernment looks like.
This whirlwind experience of discernment came to mind as I read Chapter 9 of Chris Lowney’s great new book Make Today Matter: 10 habits for a better life (and world). The theme of the chapter is “Control the Controllables: Listen to the Still Small Voice”. The first half of that advice references the Serenity Prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
So how do we find the wisdom to know the difference, and then to make the right decisions about the things we can change? Lowney lightheartedly refers us to a “Wisdom App” which includes some practices of self-reflection that he details in a later chapter (not surprisingly for a former Jesuit seminarian, his recipe includes heavy doses of Ignatian spirituality). What is it the goal of these practices? To be able to hear God’s still, small voice, that voice that is always longing for us to hear it.
What I find most compelling about his advice is that it is not just something you do at the moment you need the spiritual tools to make a big decision. His suggestions are for spiritual exercise, to use Ignatius’s term. By developing our capacity for prayer and self-reflection during the everyday, we will be able to hear the still small voice guiding us when we need those tools of discernment.
When making this decision about a big purchase, I was well served by previous practices of prayer, conversation and discernment. My husband and I could speak honestly about our deepest desires in a moment of crisis because we regularly talk about our hopes the future and our love of the present. I was able to identify that I was motivated by fear because I try to reflect on my emotional responses on a daily basis. I was able to change my mind because my self-worth was not reliant on my certainty or my purchasing power. And most importantly, I was able to determine that a decision would not line up with my values because I have spent lots of my life trying to determine exactly what my values are (and we have spent our marriage doing the same thing, together).
In other words, activating the “Wisdom App” in my own life has served me well. I was delighted when Loyola Press asked me to be part of the Blog Hop for this great book (and even more delighted when – disclaimer alert! – they sent me a free copy). Lowney’s advice for a better life and world are excellent reminders of the small things we can do every day to live more intentionally. The role models he writes about (in this particular chapter it is Walter Ciszek) are thought-provoking examples of individuals who made each day matter. And the bits of wisdom he has crystallized in each chapter are practical steps that can help each of us make each day matter, too.