Sometimes a book shows up in your life and you tuck away the knowledge gained from it for another day. Sometimes the words slam into your life and you feel like the author intended every last word for you and God must have ordained its writing for this very moment in time.
Maybe it’s just me that has this kind of gut connection to words sometimes, but I have a feeling it’s not. If you happen to know what I mean, then let me tell you that Emily Freeman’s The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions slammed into my life that is facing major upheaval and just about a dozen massive life decisions pending. When I started listening to The Next Right Thing podcast where she talked about decision paralysis and how people face about 35,000 decisions per day, I knew I needed to read the book at this point in my life.
We are ending our current jobs and moving back to America after a year and a half in South Asia. While this is familiar territory after the move here, it is different. Saying goodbye to life there was hard but we knew what we were walking into and we were excited about the changes to come. While we know where we will be living and are thrilled to be returning to a place miles from family, we don’t know what is next for us. We are walking into the complete unknown and some days we are simply paralyzed by the largeness of the questions.
Enter Freeman’s book that is a beautiful mix of practical and inspiring. If you’re looking for someone to help you make pro and con lists and be certain you are making the wise choices, look elsewhere. If you are looking for someone to help you ask the right questions and dig deep into spiritual practices that will help you be certain you are engaging the process of discernment well, stick around Freeman’s book or podcast for a while.
I want assurance I’m doing the right thing. Instead, over and over again I am getting the assurance that I’m looking at the right person to guide me:
“What I’m finding to be most helpful more than any list, question, or sage advice is simply to get quiet in a room with Jesus on the regular, not for the sake of an answer but for the sake of love.”
I want a clear destination. I am reminded that the path, one day at a time in step with Jesus, is what matters:
“The darkness can invite us into a mystery, a place where we don’t know the answer. We know that seeds need to bury down deep in the ground, sometimes for a long, long time. Eventually, those seeds will break open and take root. But first, they have to settle into darkness. Still, that seed carries with it a narrative of hope. It just hasn’t lived into the whole story yet.”
I want action steps (you do get those in the book and I especially recommend pre-ordering before April 2 so you get free access to the Discern and Decide Video Series that will walk with you through the process of discernment) but I get prayers to breathe out when I can’t find the words anymore:
“Unbound by time or place or gravity, you go ahead of us into an unknown future. You walk toward us with love in your eyes. You stand beside us when we find ourselves in unsure places. You sit next to us in silence and in joy. You watch behind us to protect our minds from regret. You live within us and lead from a quiet place... Let us keep company with you at a walking pace, moving forward together one step at a time. Help us to know the difference between being pushed by fear and led by love.”
I’m daily clinging to this question as I try to take small steps forward: “Does this activity draw me closer to God or push me further from him?”
Yesterday the next right thing looked like listening to the friends who kept saying, “you need a buffer, time with your family as you grieve this big transition” and booking plane tickets, deciding to stop over in Europe on the way back to America. Today the next right thing looked like staying in with a book all day and letting the silence wash over me.
Friends, whatever you are facing today, this is my prayer for you: May you cling to the God who will not let you miss out on the love that is available for you, no matter what decision you make. May you accept grace from his hand and extend it to yourself and others, who are all just trying to navigate their next steps. Grace and Peace to you.
Let us walk together on this journey of listening to God. Sometimes the next right thing in sharing with someone who can sit with you in your circumstances, who can pray for you when you aren't sure how to pray. Please don't hesitate to leave a comment so we can journey together or send an email for my eyes only. I will be praying for you.
I felt the pull to reflection deep in my spirit. As soon as the light through the stained glass of the Romanesque chapel fell on my face, I felt I was transported into a tangible awareness of the presence of God. I knew I needed time alone in this place. Over the course of the two-day writing retreat I was attending, I filled my time with as many interactions with my fellow writers as I could. After all, we had traveled from all over the country to be together. This was a unique opportunity full of divine appointments, prayers whispered, stories shared, and wisdom imparted. I didn't want to miss a moment, but I was missing something else.
As the retreat was coming to a close and dear friends were whispering goodbyes in the hushed lobby as people brushed by us into mass, I wanted to stay but I felt the tug on my heart that I had been denying all weekend. I cracked open the heavy wooden door, stopped a moment to kneel, and quietly slip into the back pew just after mass began. I hoped nobody would notice the tears streaming down my face during the lectionary readings that resounded off the stained glass prophets who spoke their words over and into me.
I met Jesus that weekend in the laughter of my friends, in the impassioned preaching of some of the strongest women I've ever known, over the dinner table, and in the prayers of the friend who scooted close knowing my heart was aching for someone to pray over me. But He was waiting in that chapel all along, too—waiting for me to quiet myself long enough to just be still before Him. Silence tugs at me and repels me at the same time. I know the need and I know the pain of the pruning that awaits there.
Not cold enough to be called winter but dreary enough to still make all life lay dormant under the piles of fallen leaves, this has been a strange season. At the end of it, I am forcing myself to press into the silence. I found the practice of Examen last year (the daily prayer practice laid out by St. Ingatius Loyola), realized what thousands before me have known using this attitude of prayerful reflection for 500 years - that an examined life is a life of growth. Whenever I have practiced Examen daily, I have found such peace and guidance from God. But, in all honesty, I haven't practiced it very often. Because I've also found the dark places of my heart, the places I'd rather avoid. I've heard things I need to lay down that I desperately want to cling to.
The end of this particular season lends itself especially well to reflection as we also leave Ordinary Time for the Lenten season in which we focus especially close on our own sinfulness and cravings, preparing our hearts for the redemption that is to be celebrated at Easter. I love the practice of reflecting on what we've learned at the end of a season (be it the seasons of the calendar year or the church year). As I was preparing to join Emily Freeman and her community in sharing what we've learned this winter (don't forget to hop over to Emily's place to read some of the other "What We've Learned - Winter Edition" posts), I wanted to share cute and light lessons. But again I felt the tug to something deeper. This year, as the end of winter and the end of Ordinary Time coincide, I am noticing how looking back on what we learned is another form of Examen. I want more than just to reflect back on the season; I want the reflection to turn to prayer and the prayer to change the next season of my life.
If you too are wanting to look back on the past season before you head into the next, join me in examining your life before God, turning what you learned into a prayer of thanks, of repentance, of an openness to grow in yet deeper understanding in the next season. Spend just a few minutes or as much time as you can allow. There is nothing mystical about Examen. It is simply an attitude of reflection that leads to prayer. Traditional Ignatian Examen is done mid-day and at the end of the day. I have started using Examen at the end of the week during Sabbath and planning for the week ahead, or at the end of the month or season. You can journal your reflections if it helps or simply find a quiet place and be with God. Sit in the stillness for a little while. Listen before you speak. Look back. Look ahead. Most importantly, look up.
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Leave a comment for me and the benefit of others or send me an email (for my eyes only). I'd love to hear what you're learning, how you're hearing His voice in the noise, and how we can pray together into this new season. Blessings!
I love the changing of the seasons. It so easily lends itself to reflection on what you learned and where you are headed next. Fall is my favorite time of year and I really tried to savor it this year. As fall is ending and we're heading into the expecting and waiting of Advent, I am joining Emily Freeman's "What We Learned" series and reflecting on some things I learned this fall...
- I desperately need real rhythms of rest in my life.
We took a trip with my immediate family to the North Georgia mountains to experience all the things I love about fall - pumpkin patches, apple picking, the changing leaves, and time with family. It was an incredible time to recharge and slow down. But I also need to learn to truly practice Sabbath each week and find times to rest not just when I can get away. Thanksgiving week was a time of real rest as well. I learned I still truly struggle to slow down and just be and that I constantly have to remind myself Sabbath time isn't wasted time. It is just as important as all the tasks ahead. I am not there yet, but it is a practice I journeyed in more this fall.
2. I still love Stars Hollow as much as ever.
The day after Thanksgiving I entered a lovely Gilmore Girls cocoon. Stocked with lots of coffee and Gimore-appropriate food (cheeseburgers with lettuce essence), my girls and I spent 9 hours watching, laughing, and crying. Maybe it is the connection with the best friend I got together with weekly to watch the first round of Gilmore seasons back in the day, maybe it's the fast-talking, coffee-loving ladies I identify with in many ways - but my journey back to Stars Hollow was the best TV binge of all time.
3. I am in love with Bullet journaling!
Don't get me wrong, I put everything on my family Google calendar. But I have always been a fan of still having a paper calendar and to-do list. But I haven't found a system I truly love until I started bullet journaling. Like the Sabbath practice, it's a practice that is a work in progress. But I love having every to-do list, shopping list, writing idea, and other things that jump into my scattered brain throughout the day all in one place. I love it!
4. I practice contemplative prayer so much better with guidance.
Not being a part of a faith community that focuses on contemplative prayer but having been reading all I can and being drawn to the practice for a couple years, I have really been trying to focus this year on lectio divina, examen, and centering prayer. But I get so distracted and give up so easily practicing these disciplines on my own. I discovered a couple apps that are changing that for me as I feel like I have a personal guide, someone journeying with me: The Pray as You Go (my favorite) and Jesuit Prayer app have been my companions in prayer this fall and they are growing my prayer practice immensely.
5. I love social media but I need regular breaks from it.
Having friends all over the world, social media is truly a love of mine. The ability to connect with people anywhere and share life with those I can't be with in person is priceless. But the negativity on social media especially this fall was wearing on my soul and I found that my weekend social media sabbaths were stretching into the week more and more. I learned there are seasons I need to step back from being on social media too much for the good of my mental health and soul. I won't ever abandon it completely but if I am silent for a while, know that I'm still present online but needed a breather.
6. Transition is hard, but also one of the best training grounds in total dependence on God!
As our transition to South Asia gets more real —packing commenced this fall and we started putting some of our belongings in the shipping container that will hold most things we own back in America as we decide what to pack in two suitcases each— so does the excitement and the grief that comes with an international move. This fall has been an emotional roller coaster and I know it is only the beginning of those feelings. But it has driven me to crying out and leaning on Jesus more than much else in my life has. It's a hard, beautiful place to be and I am grateful.