By Arlene Bachanov, Adrian Dominican Associate
Sister Sara’s recent post regarding tools for discernment, in which she shares some creative ways to access our thoughts, feelings, and intuitions when making a decision reminded me a bit of the at-first-glance wacky advice my college roommate once gave a friend. It involved flipping a coin – sort of.
Here’s the story: one afternoon my roommate and I met with a friend who worked at our college. She confided in us that she had a dilemma. Another staff person, who was an eligible bachelor (I’ll call him Dave), had invited her to go to a dinner meeting with him that night. However, she already had a date planned with her current boyfriend (let’s call him Tom).
“If I go to the dinner, I’ll be bored silly. If I keep my date with Tom, honestly I’ll have a lot more fun,” she said. “But I really like Dave and I’d like to see if maybe this could turn into something. If I cancel on Tom, however, that’s the end of that relationship. So… do I go out with Tom and maybe Dave never asks me out again, or do I go out with Dave, thereby blowing up my relationship with Tom, and run the risk that maybe it won’t work out between Dave and me, in which case I’m left having neither one of them.”
My roommate said, “Here’s what you do. You flip a coin.”
Our friend said, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna decide my future on a coin flip!”
“No, it’s not that you actually DO what the coin flip says,” my roommate told her. “But if you flip the coin and look at the result and your immediate gut reaction is “SHOOT!!!!,” then you know that’s not the right choice. The coin doesn’t make the decision for you. It makes you focus on one thing and see how you feel about it.”
Well, long story short, my roommate and I went off to dinner and left our friend to think about whether or not to take Dave up on his invitation. Afterward, on our way back to our dorm, as we walked past our friend’s office, there she was, coming out the door … with Dave.
“Hey, you two!” she called out. “I flipped the coin!”
Eventually, she and Dave got married, and the last time I saw her, they were still happily so.
So, what’s the lesson here when it comes to discernment? Find creative ways, like flipping a coin, to key into your true feelings and deeper intuitions about the decision before you. May your decision lead you to the fullness of life that God so desires for you.
Whether you do as Cathy Arnold suggests and live “as if” for a time, or whether you flip that coin to force a focus on one side of the issue over the other side, do it, see how it feels … and then trust your gut.
More than simply making a decision, spiritual discernment is decision-making that is rooted in self-knowledge as well as a deep awareness of God’s loving presence and action in our lives. Because we know God as our creator and redeemer, we lean on that graced friendship with God to help us make a good and life-giving decision.
There are many tried-and-true tools that help us prepare the soil for a fruitful discernment process. First, we need to define prayerfully the issue for discernment. It is helpful to focus our issue carefully enough to be able to state it in the form of a question that can be answered yes or no. So for example, rather than ask a more general question like, “What shall I do with my life?” we can fine-tune the question to ask something more specific like, “Will I apply to become a sister with the Adrian Dominicans?” Once the decision before us is well defined, we need to apply the tool of fact-finding. What kinds of relevant data do we need in order to make an informed decision? Once all of the facts are gathered, we can begin to assess and evaluate the data. In this process, we stay attentive to all of the thoughts and feelings that arise as we consider the different dimensions of our decision. The tool of journal keeping is helpful here.
Another handy tool in the toolbox of discernment is dialogue with others. We need to share the different aspects of our decision with the wisdom figures in our life, those who know us well and care deeply about our well-being. Equally important is the tool of solitude, where we invite God into our decision-making process. We need to confide in God our hopes, dreams, expectations, doubts, and fears. We then listen carefully to how God responds to us. A good spiritual director can help us in this discernment process.
Dominican Sister Cathy Arnold shared a useful tool of imagination that she used in discerning her call to religious life. Her spiritual director advised her to imagine herself in each choice for two weeks. So for two weeks, she lived as if she had made the decision to become a Dominican Sister. She reflected on how she felt when she woke up in the morning. What were her thoughts and feelings throughout the two weeks? Then she reversed the process and lived as if she had made the opposite decision. How did she feel? Was she relieved or devastated by the change? Click on the following link to hear Sister Cathy’s discussion on discernment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwWPM4QtGwY.
Finally, how do we know that our choice represents God’s deepest desires for us? Signs of validation include feelings of inner peace and joy with our decision, as well as the confirmation of the others who have shared in our discernment process.
Are you discerning an important life decision? What are your tools for the discernment process?
In this week of All Saints and All Souls, we remember the people in our lives that have helped to build our character and shape our sense of Christian discipleship. These special people have been the face of God for us.
I grew up next door to my grandparents on their farm in Vermont. When I was a little girl my twin sister, Sandy, and I would run up the road to visit them. No matter when we came, Grammy and Gramp were always so happy to see us.
Gramp was a tall, slender man. He was not a great dresser. He wore tan, baggy pants, plaid flannel shirts, and big work boots. He sported an old red cap on the back of his head, which was always slightly tilted to one side. He had twinkling eyes and a big arching nose over an equally big grin.
Gramp loved to spend time with us. He would harness his big white workhorse and take us with him into the fields and forests. It was his delight to share with us the wonders of his world! He would point out the wildflowers and tell us the names of all the trees. He was a great storyteller, and there was always a moral to the story. One of his favorite themes was the importance of resourcefulness and creativity. He would say to us, “What if you are out working in the woods with the horse and the harness broke? What could you do?” Seeing our bewilderment, he would explain, “Well, you could look for some tree vines, like this princess pine, braid them together and use it to repair the harness.”
When I was about 4 or 5 years old I wanted to help Gramp with his farming. His response to me was always, “Of course, you are just the girl who can do it.” I felt like I could do anything.
That spring I wanted to help him plant the potato crop. The problem was that potatoes had to be planted a specified distance apart. For some varieties it’s 10 inches apart, others 8 inches. But for a 5- year-old getting the potatoes the right distance apart seemed like an impossible task. So my grandfather cut a stick the right length and all I had to do was put a potato at each end of the stick — stick potato, stick potato. I probably only planted one row of potatoes that whole day, but I felt included in all the good work that was happening in my family.
My favorite thing to do was to drive the horse and wagon. Now Gramp had taught me how to hold the reigns and steer the horse. When we would get into the driveway in front of the barn, he taught me how to make a big sweeping turn so that the wagon would end up in front of the barn door. However I did it, he would say, “I couldn’t have done it better myself.”
When my sister and I would leave my grandparents, their constant refrain was, “Come again.”
Gramp said to us, “When we are not together, and I see the two of you playing, and I am in a distant field, I will call out, “I, YI, YI, YI, YIIII! And you will know that I see you and that I love you.”
Who are the ordinary saints in your life?
Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a new video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!
Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP
Director of Formation
Sister Sara Fairbanks, OP
Director of Vocations, East Coast-Midwest Vocations Promoter
Adrian Dominican Sisters
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Adrian, Michigan 49221-1793
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