Carrying Stillness :: Breathe



As I’ve continued to struggle through this month of learning God wants me to learn to carry stillness and of thinking I heard God say something additionally awful to me about two weeks ago, I’ve been sharing more of the details with some key people in my life and have been reminded of the value of commuity in helping us discern.

Yesterday, I published a piece for CenterQuest that shares more details of that “additionally awful” thing I thought I heard God say and how my community is helping me to discern what to do with it. 

One of the people along that path of discernment is my former supervisor for my spiritual direction traning program, Kay. Kay is one of God’s great gifts to my life. She’s strong and she’s kind and she’s rooted, and she has often helped me notice connections in my journey that I wouldn’t have seen on my own. 

Our SD session last week was no exception. 

I told her about my session with Elaine last month and how what emerged was a sense that God’s inviting me to learn a new way of being inside my circumstances. I told her that I’ve been struggling and arguing with God about this ever since. I told her about what happened two weeks ago on Halloween night, when I thought I heard God saying he would be taking Kirk from me. And I told her I have felt so stuck, not knowing if what I heard that night was actually God’s voice or some pernicious voice or just my own subconscious freaking out in some strange way. 

Then Kay helped me see something new. She didn’t tell me where she thought the voice came from. She never sought to answer that question for me. But she did draw a connection between what happened in last month’s session with Elaine and what happened on Halloween night and its aftermath. 

“Isn’t it interesting,” she said, “how you went from hearing God say you are going to learn a new way of being with the external chaos of life, only to enter into an experience that seems like you’re one small figure inside a hurricane? Everything’s swirling and upended because of what you thought you heard God tell you about Kirk.” 

She was right. It has felt like a hurricane ever since. I have felt like a tiny figure inside a swirling chaos of confusion.

And so she wondered with me:

How might God give me an opportunity to carry stillness in the hurricane of this — whether what I thought I heard was actually God’s voice or not?

When I took time to pray in the session, what came out was mostly tears. 

“I hate arguing with you,” I told God. I cried and tears dripped down my cheeks and nose and all I kept thinking was how much I want to be on the same page as this God I’ve come to love so much. How much it hurts to be in a different place than he is. 

Eventually, I asked him to tell me what I need to know regarding what happened on Halloween night. I hoped to hear a definitive answer, some yes or no that it was him or not him, some sense of closure to this weird thing I just keep carrying around. 

Instead, what I got was breath.

Myself breathing in and out. Him breathing with me. Facing each other, breathing. Then sitting together on the cliff’s edge, looking out over the water, breathing. 

Just breathing. In silence. Breath. 

It was rather radicalizing for me to just be with God in this way. Sure, I’ve sat with him in silence before. Usually it happens in times when I’m struggling toward surrender, as he just waits with and for me to be ready. Other times it happens in contemplative prayer, where there are no images, just silence.

This time felt different. 

This time felt like an invitation to be with God in my breathing. I’m constantly breathing in and out. And as I breathe, God is in the breath. He’s the one who gives me breath. He’s as close as my own breath, or even closer. As I breathe in and out, God sustains me. He’s with me every second of every day. In the one thing that brought me relief on Halloween night — hearing Kirk’s breath — God continues to sustain us with this blessed breath. Even when we die, when we have no more breath, we wake up to the same sustaining presence of God.

Right now, God doesn’t have answers to give me about what happened. He doesn’t seem particularly concerned with giving me those answers that I seek.

Rather, he’s more concerned with breath. With standing, sitting, and just being with me in every moment through that in-and-out blessedness of breath.

This, I’m seeing, is one way of learning to carry stillness. Just breathing. Every moment. With God.

Beginning the Work Again :: It Begins With Awareness

Will you enter in?

Will you enter in?

This new season of formation and healing has me thinking a lot about my first time around the spiral, mainly because doing so will help me in this new place as I remember things I learned from the first go-round.

Over the next several posts, I’m going to share some of the things I’m remembering here with you.

If you’re in your first-ever trek into the process of intentional formation, this next series of posts will, I hope, prove helpful — a bit like a beacon of light, illuminating the pathway forward, in a land that feels new and confusing and unknown and with no map. 

If you’re on your second go-round (or third or fourth or more), hopefully these reflections will serve as a helpful reminder and encouragement to you as you keep walking forward. At least, that’s what they’ll be for me.

I’m reminded that the journey begins with awareness. 

One day, you’re aware of something new, and you know you must follow it. It’s like Mary Oliver says in her poem “The Journey”: 

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice—

though the whole house

began to tremble 

and you felt the old tug at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers 

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible …

One day, you just know. It’s time, and you must say yes.

In my first intentional formation journey, the awareness moment happened while reading a book. A word — grace — kept popping up on what seemed like every page, inviting my eventual admission that I just didn’t get what that word meant, even though I’d been hearing and saying it my whole life. This time around, it happened in a session with my spiritual director. She asked a question, I began answering it as honestly as I could, and suddenly there it was: something new I couldn’t ignore.

I think the awareness piece comes when we’re ready for it. I think it’s the invitation of God. Our opportunity, at that point, is to say yes and step through the door. 

When have you experienced the awareness of invitation toward deeper formation or healing in your life?

His Response to Peter's Lack of Knowledge

Archangel Michael.

This post is part of the Holy Week 2013 series.

One of the things I love about Peter is his out-loud way of living. 

He takes the lead in so many of the scenes recorded in the gospels between Jesus and his disciples. He’s the one who steps out of the boat to walk on water to meet Jesus in the ocean in the dead of night (Matt. 14:25-32). He’s the one who declares out loud who he believes Jesus to be — the real and true Messiah — before anyone else breathed a word of it (Matt. 16:13-20).

Even when he’s misguided, Peter lives out loud. 

Like when he tells Jesus he’d be willing to die for him (John 13:37), but Jesus tells him otherwise, saying that Peter will have denied even knowing Jesus before the next morning dawns. Or when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and Peter protests that Jesus should kneel and serve him in that way. Jesus tells him this must happen, so Peter course-corrects and says, “Then wash also my hands and my head!” (John 13:5-9). Or when the guards and Roman soldiers and religious leaders infiltrate the garden to arrest Jesus, and Peter draws out his sword and cuts of the right ear of one of them. Jesus redirects Peter’s aggression and impulsivity by telling him to put his sword away (John 18:10-11). 

Over and over, Peter speaks his mind and acts with complete abandon. And a lot of the time, especially as recorded in John’s gospel of the last days of Jesus, he thinks he knows himself and the need of each moment.

But he really doesn’t. 

He doesn’t know himself.

He doesn’t know the full way and intent of Christ. 

And yet, there’s Jesus. Redirecting him. Teaching him. Correcting him. Telling him the truth. And most of all, staying with him through it — and even beyond. When he and Peter have that famous encounter on the beach in the aftermath of it all, Jesus takes him aside and talks with him with patience and even more forgiveness. “Do you love me?” he asks Peter three times, letting Peter respond to the best of his ability (John 21:19). 

And then he gives Peter more responsibility, telling him to feed and tend the flock of believers.

I think one of the reasons I love watching Peter in all his brazenness is because I love seeing the response of Jesus. 

Despite Peter’s presumption and lack of real knowledge of himself and the intent of Christ, Jesus never pushes him away. He never sneers at Peter or shames him for being a bit off-base. Instead, he keeps moving toward Peter — and not just moving toward him, but also trusting him with things to do and leadership.

It tells me that Jesus isn’t exasperated with us in our ignorance. It tells me he can handle giving responsibility to people who don’t have it all figured out and don’t do all things perfectly. 

I love Jesus even more when I see his love for Peter.

It tells me about his love for me.

A (Near) Month of Thanks: Challenges


Diva faces her own challenge.

A reader reminded me yesterday that not all things to give thanks for are easy. Some may be difficult or painful.

But perhaps they help up grow. Or in some mysterious way work out for the best in ways we couldn’t have foreseen. Or are what’s required to get us from point A to point B. 

The apostle Paul encourages us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), and so today, let’s reflect on our thanks for the circumstances that are hard: life’s challenges. 

When it comes to challenges I’ve faced or am currently facing: 

  • I’m thankful for the way challenges help me think more creatively, seeking out solutions or responses I’d not yet considered.
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges connect me in relationships, as I seek out the wisdom and discernment of others. 
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges bring me, eventually, to a point of surrender with God, praying, “Thy will be done.”
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges help me examine myself and my own part to play in making or breaking a situation.
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges—the kind beyond my control—deepen my dependence on God.
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges have made me stronger and ultimately refined me.

In what ways can you give thanks for the challenges you’ve faced, or are facing, in life?

Prayer Can Be ... Writing


Writing is prayer for me. 

When I write here each day for you, it’s an act of prayer to discern what ought to be shared and the best way in which to share it. 

But also, when I write privately, the entries I compose on my typewriter are prayer. I feed sheets of paper through the roller and pound away at the vintage keys. Sometimes I speaking directly to God. Sometimes I’m just getting my thoughts and feelings on paper.

The whole time, I’m seeking to get at what’s really true.

What’s happening now? What do I think and feel about those things? Where is God in here? What am I learning? What’s difficult? How can my previous experience shed light on this? How will I respond?

These questions, for me, are prayer. They’re an act of opening my heart to the truth and of inviting God to tell me the truth, too.

They’re moments of clarity. Of repentance. Of contrition. Of discernment. Of holy truth-telling.

How is writing prayer for you?

Living a Rhythmed Life: How Have Things Changed for You?

Outside the window.

Hi, friends.

We’re at the end of our rhythmed life series today. I’ve really enjoyed walking through this process with you!

I’ve heard from a number of you along the way about decisions you’ve made as a result of this series, and I can’t tell you how much it excites me to hear how this process has helped you think through discernment questions and make decisions about how you want to live.

I’d love to give you a chance to chime in and share how this series has met you personally.

How have things changed for you? What have you learned or noticed or decided?

Living a Rhythmed Life: Getting to Say Yes


Hi there!

Yesterday we talked about having to say no, and today we get to talk about the fun part: getting to say yes! (This is my favorite part.)

And so, to orient us to this part of the process, I’ve created another little video for you that you can watch here:

If you can’t see the video in your e-mail or RSS feed, click here.

As I mention in the video, it’s taken us quite a long time to get to this point of actually planning out what a rhythmed life might look like for us individually. There’s so much to consider before we can even get to that point. 

But hopefully now, with the foundation we’ve laid over the last three weeks, you have a great sense of what matters most to you and what elements ought to stay or go in your life (and why), so that you’re able to begin plotting out the rhythm points of your life.

To download the chart/visual aid mentioned in the video, click here: 

Getting to Say Yes

Next week, I’m planning to do some wrap-up thoughts on this series — sharing some things I’ve learned, some challenges I encounter with living this way, and devoting some time to what it can look like to live a rhythmed life online. 

Do you have any remaining questions about living a rhythmed life?

Living a Rhythmed Life: Having to Say No

Glimpses of light.

Today we’re turning a corner in this rhythmed life series that allows the reality of a rhythmed life to show up in our daily world. 

We’re going to talk about having to say no. 

Ouch! So hard. (At least, it is for me.) 

And yet, as I share in the video below, saying no helps us be able to say yes to what really matters. 

If you can’t see the video in your e-mail or RSS feed, click here.

As I mentioned in the above video, I’ve gotten some practice at saying no of late. It started back in 2009, with my original decision-making tree of discernment that I shared with you early on in this series, and in the 3 years that have elapsed since that time, I’ve continued to learn how to better flex that “no” muscle. 

I’m not fond of flexing that “no” muscle at all, but I’ve learned something important about this: 

The more intentionally I live my life, the easier it is to say no. 

Because I’ve created a rhythm for my life that’s based on my values, my way of being, my sense of calling, and the realities of finite time and personal limits, it’s become easier and easier to tell when something does or does not fit into the life that Kirk and I share together and that I feel called to live.

Do you want some examples? Here are things that have gotten my “no” recently: 

  • Maintaining three separate blogs
  • Offering spiritual direction by phone
  • Making plans on Sundays
  • Being the coordinator of a spiritual formation blog
  • Freelance projects that aren’t purely editorial
  • Grocery shopping on the weekends
  • Making appointments before 1PM
  • Creating a new online course

Some of these have to do with my sense of calling. Some of them have to do with values Kirk and I have for our home life together. Some have to do with the reality of my limits. Others are purely practical and made in the interest of my sanity (hello, crazy shopping world on Saturday afternoons!).

Where do you have to say no right now?

Living a Rhythmed Life: Do You Have a Sense of Call?

“If ye have judged me to be faithful.”

Hello there!

We’re heading into our third week of the “Living a Rhythmed Life” series, and this week will be a return to the practical. We’re going to answer a few more questions about our lives and then turn to our trees of discernment to begin making decisions. 

The first question I want you to consider, then, is: 

Do you have a sense of call? 

This may not seem like a practical question, but I promise that it is. A sense of call impacts the decisions we make about our life’s rhythm. For instance, I’ve had a sense of call significantly impact the practical details of my daily life at least 3 times in the last 3 years.

I’m going to share those 3 instances with you here. 

The first time was in 2009, when I created that very first discernment tree I shared with you during a particularly overwhelming season of my life. At the time, when I stopped to think about it, I had a very clear sense of the direction my life was headed. I had received a call to ministry in 2007-2008, and so I was completing graduate work in spiritual formation and training as a spiritual director as a result.

I didn’t necessarily know what that calling to ministry meant or what it would look like or where it would lead, but I knew that it was a calling I needed to respond to and follow. Additionally, over the previous year I’d become significantly moved in the direction and study of nonviolence. The subject and its practical implications in our own hearts and lives had an inordinate occupation in my heart and mind.

And so, consequently, I knew that my schooling and training needed to take priority over other things in the sorting out of that very tumultuous time of 2009, and I knew that the ongoing invitation to the study and consideration of peace and nonviolence needed to stay in my life.

I couldn’t turn away from these things. Other things would have to go.

The knowledge of this impacted the way I made decisions after drawing my tree of discernment.

Another sense of call came when I graduated both study and training programs in 2011.

I had spent some time discerning with a few key people in my life in the months leading up to the completion of both programs about a specific call to serve in online spaces.

These mentors in my life had noticed with me that most of my spiritual direction clients had come to me over the years in long-distance contexts, with many of the directees coming to know me first through my blogs. I had completed my spiritual formation training in an online cohort context, so doing the work of spiritual formation online was not new to me. I was very comfortable with it. And, to top it all off, I had just finished my master’s thesis proposal on the intersection of digital connectivity and spirituality, and through the research process had developed some very clear ideas about what is needed for us to tune into our spiritual lives amidst all the noise and stimulation and distractions of our increasingly connected online lives.

The online medium had become, surprisingly, a space for me to exercise my call.

And so, as a result, I decided to commit, first of all, to this online space of Still Forming. I began writing here five days a week. (And just recently, I celebrated a year of faithfulness in this space.)

More recently, God has been bringing even more refinement to my calling.

I’ve come to see in recent months that my work is that of creating spaces for people to reflect on their lives with God. Still Forming is that kind of space. The Cup of Sunday Quiet is that kind of space. The Look at Jesus course is that kind of space. And the spiritual direction I offer to people is that kind of sacred space, too. 

This refinement of calling has required even more decisions that affect my daily rhythm. I recently made the decision to close down two personal blogs I’ve kept for quite some time. I’ve also had to turn down or adjust my involvement in certain opportunities based on the way they fit or don’t fit into that clear sense of call.

It’s about letting the call get my yes — and adjusting my daily rhythm to support the continued creation of those sacred spaces.

A sense of call impacts our rhythm. 

Do you have a sense of call at this point in your journey?

Living a Rhythmed Life: What's Going On in Your World?


Hey there!

In yesterday’s post in this series, we did an interior pulse check of sorts to learn our most natural rhythm — the rhythm of life that is most native to us. This provides a great starting point as we begin to explore the different facets and realities of life and how we might best live intentionally within them. 

Today, we’re taking the very next step: looking at what’s here. 

And I have another video for you, recorded this morning:

(If you can’t see the video in your e-mail or RSS feed, click here.) 

If you happened to watch the video from yesterday’s post all the way through, you’ll remember that I mentioned an exercise involving a tree drawing that I created to discern my way through an overwhelming season of my life. Today, in the above video, I’m sharing more about that tree exercise with you and am inviting you to draw your own!

As I mention in the above video, this is just a starting point.

We’re not going to try and figure out our lives all at once in drawing these trees right now. Instead, I’m inviting you to take an afternoon or a couple days or even a week to draw your tree and just be with the reality of what your life really looks like right now. 

And so try, if you can, not to judge your tree and all that it contains. You may feel it has too much on it. Or that the branches and little twigs and smaller branches you chose to include are silly. Or that perhaps your tree is not full enough.

Try, to the best you are able, to set aside those judgments.

This is not the day for making decisions about your tree. This is the day for simply seeing and being with what is

What is it like for you to do this tree exercise?

A Turn in the Suffering :: When It Connects to a Broader Scope

Sun over trees.

I mentioned yesterday that my first turn in the suffering happened about 10 years into my heart’s journey with Jesus. One morning, I was sitting in a session with my spiritual director and was presented with the invitation to revisit a particular wound. 

I could see myself in that scene I shared with you already of being nine years old and given responsibility that was way beyond my years and then being held responsible for the disaster that resulted. I saw myself in the room of my sentencing, and my spiritual director gently invited me to explore whether Jesus was in that room with me that night.

Where was he? What was he doing?

He was sitting right there next to me, and he didn’t lift a finger.

It really angered me to see that — to see him sit calmly by while injustice happened to me. What’s more, as I’ve already shared, that night had far-reaching ramifications on my life, and Jesus did nothing about it. 

That really, really hurt. 

I sat in my director’s living room, eyes squeezed shut and tears streaming down my face. My thoughts raced with anger and sadness, wondering what Jesus could possibly say to me, wondering if he could say anything at all that would begin to help me understand or make what happened — his inaction — okay. 

I didn’t think it was possible. I’d lived with that wound far too long. 

But then slowly, like an onion, I felt him unraveling the cloth strips that were wrapped around my head, covering my eyes, the cause of blindness. 

Slowly, he unwrapped them in order to let me see. The weight of the cloths began to fall away. Dots of light began to shimmer on my eyelids.

And quietly, gently, I heard him say to me: “My daughter, it is true. I did allow that to happen. I was there, and I did not lift my finger. But you see, I had a greater scope in mind. I saw a vision beyond the story you could see. There is the greater story of your life, and how I’ve planned to use you. Because of what you’ve carried, you can come alongside those who also carry these burdens. You can touch them, because you know how they feel. You know what it feels like to be where they are.”

It isn’t that God was absent. It isn’t that he was uncaring. It’s that he had a different aim in mind entirely.

Sometimes our suffering connects to a broader scope that we cannot see. When we are in the woundedness, it pains us to even hear that. But when we are ready to heal, Jesus can lead us through.

A Turn in the Suffering :: No One Reason Fits All

Let's experiment, shall we?

As we begin our turn in the exploration of suffering, I want to share right from the outset that I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all response to it. 

I’ve noticed this on even just a small scale in my own experience as I’ve been holding this exploration in my heart the last few weeks. I’ve gone back to key moments in my life history that created shock-waves of suffering, and here is what I noticed: 

  • The way those situations impacted me often differed from one to another.
  • The way God met me in the suffering of each often differed from one experience to another.

Each experience of suffering meets us in a unique way.

Each time, the effect of suffering has to do with an amalgamation of so many factors — our life history up to that point, what certain relationships meant to us, what we believed about the world at that point in time, what we believe about God, our specific hopes and dreams, and so many other factors, too.

How something affects me at 5 years old is different than how something else will affect me at 25 years old — even if both are real experiences of suffering.

Who I am, how I take in the world, and what I understand about myself and the world around me will be different in each instance because they happen at different points in time. My understanding of reality has changed in the space between them.

Therefore, the way each instance of suffering impacts me will differ in both.

And the same holds true when it comes to making meaning out of the suffering and finding healing in some way. 

Each case is unique — and this holds true inside the scope of our own suffering experiences as well as from another person’s experience compared to ours. 

In this series, wherever we range in the exploration of suffering and how to hold it, I want you to know this is my heart toward you and where I’m coming from. I will share some of my own meaning-making and healing experiences with you, but these will not be meant to be prescriptive — just descriptive. Descriptive of my own unique experience and what helped me understand or led to healing, and descriptive of just one of the many possibilities that exist in the realm of suffering and how we might hold it.

This is my heart toward you: making room for your own unique experiences and needs. 



A Turn in the Suffering :: What Does It All Mean?

Curiosity workshop.

When I was in Nashville last week, I attended a conference hosted by Donald Miller. During one of the conference sessions, we spent time talking about negative turns in our life stories, and specifically, in that context, the work of Viktor Frankl. 

Frankl was a psychotherapist with a background of success in helping individuals on suicide watch move away from their desire for self-harm. But he is most famous for his work Man’s Search for Meaning, which was based on his experiences and those of his fellow prisoners in the concentration camps of World War II. Specifically, the book shares his observations on the nature of suffering, how it affects our humanity, and the importance of meaning-making in the midst of it.

I’ve not yet read the book, but I’ve just placed a copy on hold at our local used bookstore and look forward to learning from it and sharing any insights gained from it here.

But what struck me most about what we learned of Frankl at the conference was his incredible conviction about all this — about man’s search for meaning — by believing it is meaning that fuels hope and life, even in the midst of horrific suffering and even death. 

Does this resonate with you? 

Is the search for meaning important in your own experience of suffering?

Discerning Our Way to Trust

I'm not sure why, but I love this.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I’m given an opportunity for discernment, my knee-jerk reaction is frustration and fear. I have an initial preference for how I want the situation to work out, and my gut tells me I won’t get my own way. So I feel defensive — and just a little bit mad. 

It occurs to me this is really an issue of trust. 

Do I trust that Jesus is attentive to me? That he knows what I want and also knows the best solution? That he has a greater scope in his viewfinder than I do in mine? That he knows what he is doing? 

Once I realize this is an issue of trust, I can slow down, breathe, and answer these questions. And that’s when I realize — thankfully — that my relationship with him has built a foundation of trust in me toward him. I do trust him, and I want to keep trusting him.

Sometimes it just takes slowing down, stepping back, and really evaluating my level of trust in Jesus. And that makes going into discernment quite a lot easier than it was before. 

How do you feel about your own level of trust in Jesus? What are the ways you’ve learned to trust him? What are the reasons you struggle to trust him still? 

Discernment: It's an Embrace of Mystery

Shadows on wall.

As I shared in a previous post in this discernment series, we often think of discernment as finding an answer to our question of choosing option A, B, or C for our lives in a particular moment. But really, it’s about something of a much greater scope.

It’s about the wholistic work God is doing in our lives — our lives seen in their totality, from beginning to end — as he seeks to conform us more and more into the people we actually are and the image of God we were created to bear. 

This means there is quite an element of mystery to embrace when we’re about discernment. 

Think of it this way.

Even when we wait and look and listen and discern the invitation of God in our lives toward a particular decision, we don’t know what will happen once that decision has been made. We may discern that, yes, we are going to accept that job offer — but even if we ascertain that job offer to be the next stone on our pathway forward, we don’t fully comprehend why. 

We only know that God is nudging us toward it. It aligns with the wholistic work he’s been about in our lives. It’s clearly the right choice for us at this point in our story. 

But toward what end? Not simply for the job itself, but toward the end of it being used to further our formation. 

The decision was not a destination but part of a larger process — a process we cannot fully perceive or apprehend and never will. It exists in the mind of God. 

Our part is to discern and follow, and in that sense, to be part of a great mystery that’s beyond us.

This morning, I read a short string of words in Psalm 40 that reminded me of just this truth: 

More and more people are seeing this: 

they enter the mystery,

abandoning themselves to God.

— Psalm 40:3

Life with God teems with mystery. He is so much greater than we are, and he is intimately acquainted with our life and ways and story. He knows the work he is about in us, and we see that work but dimly, simply following the next stone on the path.

Will you accept the holy mystery of this life with God, the invitation to something greater than your eyes alone can see about your life?

Di Cenere: From the Ashes

Bougainvillea strand.

At the retreat that prompted the writing of this short series on discernment, I learned something new. 

Discernment comes from the root di cenere, which, literally translated, means “from the ashes.” 

What does it mean for discernment to come from the ashes? I’ve been thinking on this question since I first learned of the word’s translation.

The retreat instructor said that discernment isn’t meant to point toward the deadness of things, but rather toward where the ashes came from: they came from fire, from energy, from life. 

This has caused me to linger on what remains when a fire finishes. When we sift through the ashes, what remains? What elements proved of stronger mettle than the fire? What emerges when we pick through the ashes the morning after?

Which then turned my thoughts to this passage: 

No one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have — Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials — gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value.

— 1 Corinthians 3:11-13

The passage speaks of the end of time, but it also, reflexively, asks us to consider the elements at the core of our lives. 

What is the gold, the silver, the jewels at the heart of your life? What are those things that simply will not burn away? How can your knowledge of those elements guide you in your process of discernment?

Discernment Concerns a Process, Not a Conclusion


When I was at the retreat that prompted me to write this short series on discernment, one of the instructors shared a quote by Richard Rohr that I find to be immensely helpful when considering the role discernment plays in our lives: 

“God becomes more a verb than a noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is someone dancing with you, and you are not afraid of making mistakes.” 

— Richard Rohr, The Naked Now, p. 23

This gets at the idea I shared in my previous post about all of life being a process of foundational experiences that reveal to us the unique story of redemption and healing and wholeness that God is about in our lives. 

So often, when we are in a process of discernment about a choice we’re trying to make in our lives, we are focused on the concluding outcome of that decision. What is the right decision here? What am I supposed to do? Did I make the right choice? Have I landed in the place I was supposed to land? 

But in the quote from Richard Rohr above, we are reminded that life with God is more about living through a life with God than arriving at a particular point or conclusion or decision. Life with God is a verb and a process, he says. It is active and ongoing. It involves continuous change, and that change concerns our inward and outward being. 

Who is God making us to be? What is the fullness and wholeness of us that is his aim over the whole course of our lives? And how does one decision or another affirm that work of wholeness in us? 

These are the real questions at the heart of discernment. 

It is not about one right answer or another that will bring us to a place of arrival. It is about how a decision continues to shape us into the person God intends for us to become in the broader, longevity-seeking scope of our lives. 

What is the work of healing, wholeness, and redemption God seems to be about in your life? And how might the decisions you are seeking to make be a part of that broader work?

How Our Foundational Experiences Can Aid Our Discernment III

Inviting rest.

Earlier in this series on discernment, I invited you to consider your foundational experiences of God, and in the second post on that subject, we narrowed our consideration to those experiences when we knew in an intimate way that God was speaking to us or intervening in our lives. 

Today, I’d like to broaden our consideration of foundational experiences to those experiences in our lives that made an impact on us in some significant or meaningful way. 

What are the experiences that marked you, scarred you, taught you, helped you, harmed you? What are the memories you revisit often, that made a deep impression on your heart? What moments in your life contributed in great measure to the person you have become?

I’d like to suggest that even these experiences can aid us in our process of discernment, too.

In fact, I would like to suggest that every meaningful moment of our lives — the moments that form the stuff of our story — are part of the specific story of redemption, grace, healing, and purpose God is weaving through our specific lives. 

It is my deep conviction that the stories we are living are not senseless.

In the places we experienced deep wounding, God wants to touch and heal us. In the places we were misguided, God wants to come and redirect our steps. In the places we experienced great consolation, God wants to teach us about himself and about ourselves.

When we look back over our lives, we may see the litterings of tiny moments or big moments that made an impact in some way. And it is in those moments that God wants to enter in and heal, touch, teach, and guide us.

He wants to make us whole and complete, lacking nothing, and therefore is about the work of redemption in our lives in exactly those places that broke us, splintered us, harmed us, or de-formed us.

This is how our foundational experiences — whether they were specific encounters with God or simply encounters with life — can guide us in our process of discernment. 

What is God about in you, because of your story? What are the themes of needed redemption in your life? How might that inform the decision you are seeking to make? Which path will take you deeper into the healing or fullness of that redemption?

How Our Foundational Experiences Can Aid Our Discernment II

Sky above trees.

We’ve been talking quite a bit lately about our foundational experiences — and specifically our foundational experiences of God — and how they can serve as a guide for us when we are in need of discernment.

There are so many ways to undertake a process of discernment — so many ways this subject has been explored and examined and written about through the centuries and the ages — and so much of that material is immensely helpful in uncovering what discernment is, what the process is about, and how to learn and determine the best path forward. 

We’ve been spending a bit more dedicated time in this small series on discernment exploring an aspect of discernment that is, I think, quite lesser known and considered as a point of value in the process. 

Let’s consider for a moment what discernment is about. What is being discerned, exactly, when we are needing discernment? 

Usually this is a process of trying to determine the right way forward in our lives. This could apply to a large decision we are trying to make — whether to take a particular job, whether to move to a new place, whether someone we are dating is the right person for us to share our lives with, what to do with our lives.

It can also apply to the smaller, everyday encounters of our lives. How ought we respond to that person with whom we have such difficulty? What is my real motive in wanting to pursue a particular path right now? Is this the right church for me? 

And then, there’s perhaps the most intimate question of all: how is God speaking to me right now?

As I mentioned above, there are volumes that could fill whole wings of very large libraries on the subject of discernment. It is clearly not a simple subject for us humans to understand, and we have been trying to understand it and seeking guidance on the matter from the wise ones we know for a very, very long time. 

I think something helpful to notice here is that discernment is needed in those very places that are not clear cut. If there was a simple answer to our question — a very clear response that God indicates would be the right way forward in a given situation, given what has been indicated to us in the scriptures or the tradition of the church — then discernment is not really needed. 

Discernment is required in those very grey and fuzzy places where we don’t have the readily available gift of a black-and-white answer on the matter. 

And this is where our foundational experiences, I’m coming to believe, can provide an immense gift of their own.

One thing I will say about this approach to incorporating our foundational experiences into our process of discernment is that it assumes God is personally acquainted with each one of us. And not just acquainted with us, but invested in us.

It assumes that the significant experiences of our lives — every single one of them — is part of the specific formation God is about in us. 

I’m going to write a bit more about this on Friday. (I won’t be writing here tomorrow, which is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States.) But until then, I’ll invite you to consider this question: 

Have you ever viewed the foundational experiences of your life as significant to God in some way and integrally a part of the formation he is about in your life? 

How Our Foundational Experiences Can Aid Our Discernment I

The doorway.

So, it’s taken several posts to get here, but I’d like to invite you to consider how your foundational experiences of God can help you navigate through a process of discernment. 

I mentioned in Friday’s post that I’d like for you to recall those foundational experiences of God that you knew at a very deep, intuitive, gut-level place inside of yourself were a true encounter of God interacting with you. 

As you take and hold those experiences, I’d like to invite you to regard those experiences as having provided you with a sense of God that can continue to direct you. 

To make this a bit more practical, let me share with you an example from my own life.

This has to do with the way Kirk and I have learned to discern God’s direction in our life about big decisions — where to live, where to work, whether to say yes to an opportunity being offered to us, and so on.

We’ve learned that, for us, God’s direction often carries the quality of a stone emerging out of the water at just the right time. 

This sense of God’s movement in our life was born out of several foundational experiences that all carried that similar quality of God’s provision and direction and which we have now learned is a means of guiding us continually in these kind of life decisions.

One of the first times I can remember this happening was when Kirk and I got engaged on St. Patrick’s Day in 2006.

I had a feeling Kirk would propose that day, even though we hadn’t discussed any particulars about getting engaged, nor had we discussed anything about when or where we would get married, where we would live when we got married (while we were dating, I lived in Southern California and he lived in Central Florida), or what our life would look like after we joined together. 

Still, I had a feeling we were going to get engaged on the weekend that we did, so in preparation, I began to mentally brainstorm some of the more specific details I knew we would discuss once he asked me to marry him and I said yes. 

One of the first things I knew we would discuss was the wedding. Would it happen in California, where my family lived, or in Florida? Would it be a large or small affair? Would it be a regular kind of affair at all? 

This was a second marriage for both of us, and I had known all along, after my first marriage ended, that if I ever married a second time, I would not want a normal kind of ceremony. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I just knew all along I would want it to be different.

I began to consider the idea of eloping to Ireland.

What a strange idea, I know!

But it seemed very much in line with who we were — we had first met and become casual acquaintances in Ireland, we had begun our initial e-mail correspondence on St. Patrick’s Day, and we were (most likely) going to be getting engaged on St. Patrick’s Day the following year. You could say that Ireland already loomed rather large in our life and history together.

But the real “foundational experience of God” in our life of decision-making together happened when we did, indeed, get engaged. For the very first time, we began to discuss some of the particulars and possibilities for our wedding, and I shared with Kirk the idea I’d begun holding in my heart about the possibility of eloping to Ireland.

I am not joking when I say that he pulled the car over to the side of the road, opened the trunk, and pulled out the latest issue of National Geographic that he had received in the mail that very same week. The cover story concerned the ancient Celts, and inside the cover story was the mention of a monastery ruins site on the island of Inis Mor in Ireland where a priest regularly performed wedding rites. 

Needless to say, that’s where we got married, and I cannot imagine the process being any easier than it was.

And really, our continuing life together these last five years has been comprised of many similar moments.

It often looks like this.

We will begin a seemingly innocent conversation — perhaps about whether to move out of our first studio apartment, or whether to revisit the possibility of employment for Kirk in a certain place, or what sort of next steps might be possible for me when my graduate program ends — and very simply and deftly, the answer to our question will emerge out of nowhere, often very soon after the conversation begins. We’ll come upon a house for rent while out for a Sunday drive, or the phone will ring and it will include a job offer we didn’t know existed at that very same place we had been considering employment, or we’ll be invited to breakfast with friends and a new opportunity will be presented that I couldn’t have imagined for myself. 

We’ve learned again and again that God brings just the right thing at just the right time to us, without our having to go searching or hunting or planning or forcing it along, just like our wedding in Ireland came together for us.

Accordingly, since we’ve learned that God often works in this way with us, we can revisit this foundational sense of God’s work in our life when presented with new opportunities. Does it have that similar quality as all those other opportunities did, like a stone emerging from the water at just the right time and place? Did it come to us organically? Does it feel like it’s happening in an unforced and natural manner?

These things guide our decision-making often, and it’s one practical example of how a foundational experience of God’s movement in our life can aid in our process of discernment.

How might your own foundational experiences of God guide you in a similar way? What sense do they give of God’s interaction in your life that can provide a compass of sorts for your decision-making?