Your Mission if you choose…..

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”—Luke 4:18-19

At our annual Daughters of the King retreat, the leader, Martie McMane, asked us to form a “mission statement.”  In her book, LIVING GRACE, Spiritual Growth in the Everyday World, she says, “Having a mission statement, a core purpose, or a life purpose allows you not to get stuck at a crossroad or not to try to go in competing directions at once.”  She quotes Fredrick Buechner who wrote, “The kind of work that God usually calls you to is the kind of work a) that you need most to do and b) that the world most needs to have done.” Martie said that when we discover our Holy Spirit gifts and connect them to something God needs to have done in the world, it isn’t hard work.  Doing the work to which God calls us gives us energy and joy. Finding your gifts and connecting them to what Jesus wants you to do takes time and discernment.

Jesus’ mission statement is quoted above. Years ago, while reading the Bible, these words jumped off the page and grabbed me.  I realized that this was my mission, too.  As apprentices of Jesus, this most likely applies to all of us, but within our mission—our purpose in life, there are different calls and ministries.  Sometime later than the mission statement, I was given my, “how to.”  A scripture passage, about Lazarus being raised from the dead, zinged me.  The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Untie him, and let him go free.’”—John 11:44 (NAB).  Other translations say, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  I heard, “Unbind them and set them free.”  Somehow my pleasure and God’s pleasure were wrapped up for me in this verse.

I have spent many years following this directive in many different venues.  What God gave me was mostly a ministry of listening and of praying.  I started listening to people’s stories and helped them link theirs to God’s story.  It was just something I did, and it took a while to realize that this was a call from God.  I listened within a music ministry.  I listened in Cursillo—later as a certified spiritual director— then in prison ministry and so on. I listen during meetings and I pray.  I have been involved with inner healing prayer for over 40 years and God has done, and continues to do, amazing things.  I have done speaking, teaching and writing—all very interesting to me as I never intended to do these.  My latest “pleasure” is a Facebook ministry, but I don’t have room to explain—all of this is to “unbind them and set them free.”

I am grateful that Martie presented this question at our retreat because it gave me time to think about my mission statement.  Is it still the same?  Yes.  Has it changed?  How I live it out – somewhat.  What is your mission statement?  For what purpose did God create you?  What is your deep gladness?  How does God want you to live that out in the world?  Where do you feel God’s pleasure?  What has your name on it? Answering this will take time, prayer and discernment.

I like this quote by Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  It is humorous, but we don’t want to take just any fork in the road but the path for which God has created us.  It will give us both joy.

A Piller of Cloud and Fire

“Whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, then the Israelites would set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the Israelites would camp.”—Excerpt from Numbers 9:15-23, 10:29-36 – a scripture reading from this week. 

The Israelites, led by Moses, didn’t know where they were headed on their travels to the Promised Land, but God in the form of a cloud, led them by day and, at night, the cloud appeared as fire.  They were told to stay where they were unless the cloud lifted from the tabernacle where God was in residence to lead them on the next step of their journey. They followed, but not without some grumbling as they were not too happy with the conditions nor with the waiting.  This story is so like us.  We haven’t changed much. 

This is a story of discernment – seeing God in the circumstances and then following his leading. It’s somewhat like the story I related to you last week – a telegram discernment – not difficult to understand and not often sent.  There are other ways of discerning God’s voice and his will for us.  Some use the Open door/Closed door method.  If the way opens up, persons go through but if the way is blocked they must continue the process.  Others use the Peace/No peace method. In this method a person follows the peace they are given.  If there is no peace, they stay put.  And there are more. 

St. Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises, would call this peace/turmoil, “consolations/desolations.” It is not really a method but “rules” of discernment – a way to help discern the presence of God from not God, and which, I believe, the two methods above resemble. Ignatius said that in all of our discernments, we need to give God a “blank check” for whatever he wants to write there.  He also said that we should never make decisions in crisis or major turmoil unless we have to, because it is very difficult to discern God’s voice in such times.

I have been sharing my discernment process with you over the past seven months or so.  Often, during discernment, I have inner images.  This time, I started by facing two paths – one on either side of a tree – sitting with Jesus in the midst of them and, then, standing facing them.  I have been carrying a black square – maybe a laptop, maybe not.  Before choosing a path, the way began to be obscured by clouds and darkness.  Later, I sensed that we had turned toward one path but were waiting for an event to happen. 

Still in clouds, we began walking on the path but only for a short distance where we wait.  I am not able to see anything so I hang on tight to Jesus lest I get lost or separated.  Very recently, the clouds and darkness have started to lift and I have a little clarity on why we are waiting.  The “event” has either happened or is in process.  Time will tell.  Discernment does take time, but where there has been turmoil, there is beginning to be peace. The scripture passage above has given me new insight.  The “clouds” that have obscured my journey are not just “obscuring clouds” but the presence of God.  They are God, himself, surrounding me and within me.

  ~ Donna

A Telegram Please

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”—Romans 12:2 

Thomas Green, Jesuit priest, teacher and author of the book, WEEDS AMONG THE WHEAT, says, “Discernment, like prayer, is an art.  It is learned by doing, not just by reading about it.”  However, it is often wise to have some help and instruction along the way. Thomas teaches, writes, and as a spiritual director, helps people in the mechanics of discernment and the relationship with God which precedes discernment.  A meditation on a Friday can’t begin to cover it all. 

Green gives “three times” of making a discernment taken from St. Ignatius’, Spiritual Exercises.  The first, Ignatius calls a “revelation time” in which the voice of God is so clear it is hardly discernment at all. I call this a “God telegram” and it would be lovely to always have this, but we wouldn’t need much faith development if it were. However, it is a prerequisite to spend enough time with God that we can tell his voice from other voices. 

This story concerns my husband, too, who was still working for IBM but had been an ordained priest for seven years.  We had been part of a traveling music, teaching, preaching ministry that had come to an end and were looking for a church to attend.  Some members of our little congregation had gone to church in Windsor, so one morning I made the suggestion that we visit if we could make it from Longmont in time.  We called; we could; we did. 

When they knew Dave was available, they asked him to come help their priest who was not physically well and would soon retire.  He accepted and we went there twice a week – on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  When Dave was ordained, we had made the decision that he stay with IBM until he could retire which was about 10 years more.  We needed the retirement pay and insurance.  It seemed God was OK with this. 

After some time, Dave was invited to become the Rector.  We explained our situation but Dave checked with IBM to see if they were giving early retirement buy-outs.  They weren’t nor did they intend to.  But…I noticed that I kept decorating the Rectory (Priest’s house) in my imagination.  I told myself that this was a bad idea; I was just going to be disappointed, but I couldn’t seem to stop.  Finally, I prayed that if this was God calling, to please make it clear.  A telegram couldn’t hurt.   I didn’t tell Dave. 

A week or two later, Dave called from work and said that IBM had announced a bridge buy-out to retirement; we could keep our insurance and retirement but not his salary.  He ask me to pray about it and I said, “No.” He was shocked, so I quickly told him that I had been praying and this was the answer.  A telegram.  I like them.  It might be a text-message, today. 

Continued…… 

“Discernment is first of all a habit, a way of seeing that eventually permeates our whole life. It is the journey from spiritual blindness (not seeing God anywhere or seeing him only where we expect to see him) to spiritual sight (finding God everywhere, especially where we least expect it).” ― Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation

Stay Blessed – Donna

Jesus promised…

This Sunday is Pentecost when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church.  The promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit and power, for which we have been waiting has come.

 “…gifts [are] given by the Spirit for the common good…one is given the word of wisdom…, another the word of knowledge…, another faith…, gifts of healing…, the effecting of miracles…,prophecy…, distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”—1 Corinthians 12:7-11

“…He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”—Ephesians 4:10-12

Many of us have taken inventories to discover what our spiritual gifts are and we use the gifts given to us in ways that are uniquely us.  The problem comes for me, and maybe for all of us, in knowing what we are to do and when we are to do it.  What is Jesus calling us to right now?  How does he want to use the gifts he has given us?

Discernment, which is itself one of the spiritual gifts—the gift of distinguishing of spirits—helps us know whose voice we are hearing?  God’s? The Worlds?  Our own? The voice of the evil one?  The last voice loses its strength in the life of an apprentice of Jesus, so usually, our real choices are between what is good, better, best, and God’s will for us.   As we pay attention, we are called to discern where God is working in any given situation and to discover if this is where God wants to use us.

Discernment is one of my strongest spiritual gifts and I am also trained in it.  I often am able to see and know where God is and what he is doing in a given situation, but I started trying to discern God’s call a long time before I was trained in how to do it. Before training, a friend thought I should, and suggested I apply for the program for spiritual directors. In her recommendation for my application to seminary, she wrote, “She is always asking, ‘Where is God in this?’ and ‘What is God doing in this situation?’”  I wasn’t aware of asking these questions, or of a call from God, until she stated it.  This became part of my discernment to answer positively.

Another example of my discernment was in the call to write.  I had always been asked to write up notes and put group thoughts down on paper, but it was not a passion.  When I left seminary, I said that I wasn’t going to write anything, again.  Ever. As you can see, that hasn’t turned out as planned.  One day, I heard the words, “Would you like me to write something for the newsletter?” coming from my own mouth.  I couldn’t stuff the words back in so the rest is history. It seemed that God was pleased.  Sometimes, he sneaks up on me and I am doing what he chooses before I know it.

Recently, I have had the sense that I am being called to something else, maybe in addition to what I am doing now. Clouds have covered the path, but I sense movement, a path chosen and the journey begun, but the discovery of where I’m headed is still shrouded in the mist – in mystery and in mysticism.  I have to hang on tight to Jesus who is with me or I am likely to lose my way.

To be continued…. 

Think of times when you knew God was calling you to use your gifts for ministry?  What happened?  How is he calling you, today?

Jesus said [to his disciples, us, his apprentices]…“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”…he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”—John 20: 21-22