"Seeking Union with God"
Personal Spiritual Formation Program
Lesson #12: Discernment and Various Topics Related to Spiritual Direction
Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, OCD
"O my God, Trinity whom I adore...grant my soul peace; make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling, and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.
Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, OCD
This program began with taking a look at our ultimate purpose and decision in life. Deciding to love God and do His will leads to interior peace now and happiness forever in heaven. The lessons reviewed various methods of prayer and growing in holiness. One of the lessons touched on how to renew our minds and about where the truth can be found. There was an overview of the stages of the spiritual life plus lessons on developing our own spiritual rule of life, the importance of the Mass and sacraments, and how to love God and our neighbor based on the commandments. The recommended readings covered much of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a summary of the official teachings of the Church. This last lesson will mainly cover discernment.
When we speak of discernment in the spiritual life, we are talking about how to determine God's will for our life. It concerns making decisions and choices about what is the best thing to do in our circumstances according to God's loving will and plan for us.
When things are clearly spelled out in God's word in the Bible or definitively taught through the teaching authority (magisterium) of the Catholic Church which Jesus established, we have our answer as to what is God's will in many areas.
But how do we know God's will in things that are not clearly a teaching of our Catholic Faith and/or are not found in the Bible in the decisions and choices we make in life?
In order to find the answer to what God would like in a given situation such as choosing between various seemingly good things, we must earnestly seek His will through prayer, study, and also by setting aside as best as we can our own attachments or else they can interfere with us hearing the Holy Spirit inside. This may not be easy as sometimes our own thoughts and feelings make loud reports to us inside, so loud that perhaps we are not hearing or even open to hearing what God's "still small voice" inside has to say.
Our attachments and emotions can interfere with us hearing and/or being open to God's wonderful will and plan for our lives. Fear is one such emotion. Jesus says many times in the Bible to not be afraid, not to worry, and to trust in God. When we pray we should ask as in the Our Father prayer that Jesus taught us, "thy will be done" (not my will be done.) God has a better plan for us than we can even imagine.
Incorrect ideas can also cause us to reject the truths that Jesus came to teach us. If there is a conflict, we may need to examine where our ideas and conclusions have come from and if they are indeed objectively true in God's eyes. We often have incorrect ideas in our minds that we learned in our modern society which rejects some of what our Catholic/Christian faith teaches us. Some of these ideas we just accepted at one point without really thinking them through because a friend, respected teacher, media person, or even a parent said them and they seemed to make sense at the time.
Jesus has the remedy to all our problems and shortcomings and we need to humbly ask for his grace and help to overcome our fears and other emotions that hold us back from following Him and experiencing the joy, peace, love, and abundant life that Jesus desires that we have in Him.
In his book, Saintly Solutions, Fr. Joseph Esper says, "St. John Vianney said, 'God speaks to us without ceasing by His good inspirations' but it is still necessary for us to listen attentively. 'In important matters especially', writes St. John of the Cross, 'we must seek clear lights from God. It happens often that we do not do the will of God, but our own, since we don't seek to know God's will by much prayer, seeking counsel, and much reflection.' "
James 1:5, "But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it."
|The Essential Components of the Discernment Process
An excerpt from the San Jose Cursillo website:
" Assiduous Prayer... Good discernment requires regular and serious prayer so that those involved can be open and hear the Holy Spirit talking to them. They must be aware that the Devil and their own egos will also be trying to command their thought process.
Adequate Information... Good decision making requires that sufficient information, relevant to the choices, is available and known.
Reflection On Affective Responses In Relation To God... This process requires noting, interpreting and reflecting on the feeling and desires that are experienced during the decision making, especially as it pertains to our relationship with God. St. Ignatius stated, "each person must realize that they will make progress in all spiritual matters in proportion to their flight from self love, self will and self interest.
Weighing The Reasons... Participants need to be adequately informed and to give due weight to all the known reasons for and against each and every option applicable to the decision. Objectivity through honesty, flexibility and openness.
Confirmation... Once the decision is made, the participant(s) will experience either peaceful confirmation or uneasiness, and the latter meaning that additional discernment is required."
Scripture Reflections on Seeking God's Guidance and Will
1 Chronicles 16:11: "Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His face continually."
Psalm 25:9: "He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way."
Psalm 32:8: "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you."
Psalm 37:4,7: "Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass ... Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him."
Psalm 37:23: "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord."
Psalm 48:14: "For this is God, our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even to death."
Psalm 119:105: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
Proverbs 1:33: "But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil."
Proverbs 2:6-9: "For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice, and He preserves the way of His godly ones. Then you will discern righteousness and justice and equity and every good course."
Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."
Proverbs 6:22: "When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you."
Jeremiah 33:3: "Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know."
Matthew 6:33: "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
Luke 11:9-10: "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."
John 8:12: "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
John 14:26: "The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."
John 16:13: "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come."
James 1:5: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach."
Seeking Wise Counsel
Proverbs 11:14: "Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory."
Proverbs 15:22: "Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed."
As these two Bible verses teach us, it is a good idea to seek wise counsel especially when we have important decisions to make. It isn't because others are necessarily smarter or holier than we are, but because others can bring an objective perspective to our situation. Some ways to seek counsel are through spiritual direction, talking to a knowledgeable priest or other knowledgeable person, bringing up a short question in confession to the priest, and by having good spiritual friendships. (For important life decisions it is also a good idea to ask input from spiritual persons and family who have known us well over time.)
Also as Catholics, it is helpful to be involved in good Catholic groups, organizations and associations where one can get to know other people interested in growing in their spiritual life. Getting involved at Church and with other practicing Catholics is one way to meet some spiritual friends. If there are no groups that interest you, you might even want to start one yourself by asking the pastor and putting an ad in the bulletin (such as a Bible study or study group of some type).
For an indepth resource on spiritual direction, I'd recommend a book called Seeking Spiritual Direction by Fr. Thomas Dubay. For information on receiving personal spiritual direction through e-mail or telephone click here.
|On Spiritual Friendship by St. Teresa of Avila
from St. Teresa of Avila's Autobiography ("Life" Chapter VII).
"32. It is a great evil for a soul to be alone in the midst of such great dangers; it seems to me that if I had had any one with whom I could have spoken of all this, it might have helped me not to fall. I might, at least, have been ashamed before himand yet I was not ashamed before God.
33. For this reason, I would advise those who give themselves to prayer, particularly at first, to form friendships; and converse familiarly, with others who are doing the same thing. It is a matter of the last importance, even if it lead only to helping one another by prayer: how much more, seeing that it has led to much greater gain! Now, if in their intercourse one with another, and in the indulgence of human affections even not of the best kind, men seek friends with whom they may refresh themselves, and for the purpose of having greater satisfaction in speaking of their empty joys, I know no reason why it should not be lawful for him who is beginning to love and serve God in earnest to confide to another his joys and sorrows; for they who are given to prayer are thoroughly accustomed to both.
34. For if that friendship with God which he desires be real, let him not be afraid of vain-glory; and if the first movements thereof assail him, he will escape from it with merit; and I believe that he who will discuss the matter with this intention will profit both himself and those who hear him, and thus will derive more light for his own understanding, as well as for the instruction of his friends. He who in discussing his method of prayer falls into vain- glory will do so also when he hears Mass devoutly, if he is seen of men, and in doing other good works, which must be done under pain of being no Christian; and yet these things must not be omitted through fear of vain-glory.
35. Moreover, it is a most important matter for those souls who are not strong in virtue; for they have so many people, enemies as well as friends, to urge them the wrong way, that I do not see how this point is capable of exaggeration. It seems to me that Satan has employed this artificeand it is of the greatest service to himnamely, that men who really wish to love and please God should hide the fact, while others, at his suggestion, make open show of their malicious dispositions; and this is so common, that it seems a matter of boasting now, and the offences committed against God are thus published abroad.
36. I do not know whether the things I am saying are foolish or not. If they be so, your reverence will strike them out. I entreat you to help my simplicity by adding a good deal to this, because the things that relate to the service of God are so feebly managed, that it is necessary for those who would serve Him to join shoulder to shoulder, if they are to advance at all; for it is considered safe to live amidst the vanities and pleasures of the world, and few there be who regard them with unfavourable eyes. But if any one begins to give himself up to the service of God, there are so many to find fault with him, that it becomes necessary for him to seek companions, in order that he may find protection among them till he grows strong enough not to feel what he may be made to suffer. If he does not, he will find himself in great straits.
37. This, I believe, must have been the reason why some of the Saints withdrew into the desert. And it is a kind of humility in man not to trust to himself, but to believe that God will help him in his relations with those with whom he converses; and charity grows by being diffused; and there are a thousand blessings herein which I would not dare to speak of, if I had not known by experience the great importance of it. It is very true that I am the most wicked and the basest of all who are born of women; but I believe that he who, humbling himself, though strong, yet trusteth not in himself, and believeth another who in this matter has had experience, will lose nothing. Of myself I may say that, if our Lord had not revealed to me this truth, and given me the opportunity of speaking very frequently to persons given to prayer, I should have gone on falling and rising till I tumbled into hell. I had many friends to help me to fall; but as to rising again, I was so much left to myself, that I wonder now I was not always on the ground. I praise God for His mercy; for it was He only Who stretched out His hand to me. May He be blessed for ever! Amen."
St. Ignatius of Loyola on Discernment
St. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).
|"For St. Ignatius of Loyola, the discernment of spirits is part of everyone's spiritual journey. No one who is trying to make spiritual progress should attempt to do so alone - a spiritual director is required. [My comment: If one can't find a good spiritual director which is often the case, advice can also be obtained in the confessional or from a spiritual person or friend.] A director assists a Christian in examining the motives, desires, consolations, and desolations in one's life. Objectively, one can know what is right from looking at the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins in a thorough examination of conscience. But the broader picture of one's life is often not so clear. A Christian should, according to St. Ignatius, share everything with a director who can see things objectively, without being swayed by the emotions and passions of the Christian seeking advice. Discerning whether the good spirit (the influence of God, the Church, one's soul) or the bad spirit (the influence of Satan, the world, the flesh) is at work requires calm, rational reflection. The good spirit brings us to peaceful, joyful decisions. The bad spirit often brings us to make quick, emotional, conflicted decisions. A spiritual director can assist both by personal experience, listening with care, and giving an objective analysis." (From the Wikipedia website)
Discernment: Recognizing God's voice
(from the Catholic Charismatic Renewal website from Melbourne, Australia)
This article gives a good overview of discernment and I recommend you click on the above link and read the entire article. Here is an excerpt:
"The Three Ways of Making A Choice
Ignatius says there are three ways of making a choice:
1. Revelation. Here, there is no doubt that God is speaking to you. No discernment is necessary here because of the certainty. An example would be St. Paul on the Damascus road. This is a rare event (although not very rare; every person would probably experience this at one or more points in their life).
2. Reasoning. In this circumstance, God seems to be completely silent. Great uncertainty exists here. First, we must collect all the facts and weigh the pros and cons of our choices. We might use our imagination (What would I advise someone who came to me with this same question? What would I rather have done when I am on my deathbed remembering the choice I made?)
This is not discernment either it is only a stage (perhaps a very necessary stage) before discernment proper can occur. From this, we must go to God in prayer. Ignatius says that, after we have come to our choice by reasoning, 'we must now turn with great diligence to prayer, and offer to God our choice that He may accept and confirm it if it is for His greater service and praise.'
3. Discernment. Ignatius says that this is a time when much light and understanding are derived through the experience of desolations and consolations, and the discernment of diverse spirits.
St. Ignatius' Rules for Discernment
Below is an excerpt from Fr. Fio Mascarenhas article from the Holy Spirit Interactive website. Click on the above link to read the entire article. It also explains "desolation" and "consolation" and how to act when we are in these states.
"A Practical Method To Follow
When seeking to discern God's will in a particular situation, e.g. choosing one's state of life, or for other major decisions like changing one's job, or also for the smaller yet important decisions one must make in daily life, one can follow this method. (One must be personally 'indifferent' about the choice, and ready to follow whatever one perceives is more for God's glory).
1. After prayerful reflection, write down on a sheet of paper the pros and cons (in two columns) of the possible choices. Then, according to right reason ("and not because of any sensual inclination"), take a decision one way or another about it.
2. According to the importance of the decision, spend some days in this second stage. (If it is a matter of one's state of life, 8 days are recommended, if about one's job 3-4 days, for smaller decisions 1-2 days, for quick decisions even a short moment of silent prayer). At the start of the day, present the decision you have made to God, asking the Spirit to confirm that it is the right one 'for God's greater service and praise'. Then go about your business as usual. At the end of the day, prayerfully reflect on how the day has gone: did you experience the fruit of the Spirit ('love, joy, peace...' - Gal.5:22), or were these absent? Note this down.
Do the same exercise over again daily in the time allotted to this discernment. You will see a pattern developing, according to which either the fruit of the Spirit has been predominant or the opposite. (It does not mean that you must all the time experience love, joy, peace, etc., but that on the whole this has been your experience). If yes, it is a sign of confirmation. If no, then the rightness of your rational decision has not been confirmed, and you must enter into a new process of discernment.
This is a method, based on St.Ignatius' teachings, that is to be used in "a time of tranquillity, when the soul is not agitated by different spirits, and has free and peaceful use of its natural powers" (Spiritual Exercises, 177-183). Help may be required from a Spiritual Director to learn how to be sensitive to the movements of the Spirit."
All My Liberty, Chapter 12: Discernment of Spirits by Fr. John Hardon from therealpresence.org website. Below is a short excerpt from the linked article and another resource for learning about discernment:
"How to Act in Consolation: Assuming that a spiritual consolation is known to be from God, to derive maximum profit from this visitation a man should first 'consider how he will conduct himself during the time of desolation, and store up a supply of strength as defense against that day.' ... Consequently, 'he who enjoys consolation should take care to humble himself; and recall how little he is able to do in times of desolation when he is left without [special] grace or consolation.'
How to Act in Desolation: The basic rule to follow in times of spiritual depression is 'never make any change, but remain firm and constant in the resolution and decision which guided us the day before the desolation, or in the decision to which we adhered in the preceding consolation.' "
|Simplified Guidelines for Discerning Choices
(based on St. Ignatius of Loyola's writings)
Clearly define what you are trying to discern.
Remain open to various possibilities and detached as much as possible to the outcome, not preferring one to the other.
Pray for God's guidance and the will to follow it.
Make a pro-and-con list for each choice, thoroughly examining it.
Examine the list to see which choice that "reason more inclines" you to make.
Take your conclusions to God in prayer with an open heart and ask for confirmation or guidance that your discernment is correct.
Using the Imagination:
Prepare yourself by setting aside as much as possible your own personal preferences and keeping in mind the love of God in imagining the issue.
First Imagination: Someone comes to you with a similar choice or dilemma that you are facing. What advice would you give them if they asked you for advice?
Second Imagination: Imagine yourself on your deathbed looking back at the decision you are now making. What do you wish you would have chosen?
Third Imagination: Imagine yourself at the final judgment, face-to-face with God, reviewing your life. Which choice do you wish you had made?
If interested in reading more about the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola you might want to take a look at his writings here: The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
||While we examine our feelings as part of the discernment process, we do not just do what we feel (as is a common practice in modern society). Feelings alone are not a reliable guide.
"Reflect that your guardian angel does not always move your desire for an action, but he always does enlighten your reason. Hence, in order to practice virtue, do not wait until you feel like it, for your reason and intellect are sufficient." St. John of the Cross
Discerning Supernatural Occurrences
Discernment of Spirits (William G. Most from the EWTN website).
"What kind of Spirit is at work when someone receives a vision, a revelation, or a more routine favor? To determine this is called the discernment of spirits. It is of great importance to find the right answer. It is evident that there can be three sources: good spirit, evil spirit, auto-suggestion." I would advise that you read the entire article at the above link to better understand problems associated with supernatural revelations especially if you are having any yourself. The article tends to focus on the problems with such things.
St. John of the Cross teaches, for example, that supernatural revelations such as visions and locutions can come from God, our imagination or even the devil. In general, he says we should set them aside and not focus on them. He says if they are from God they have already had their good effect, and if they are from the devil or our imagination they will mislead us.
So how do we tell which are actions and gifts of God, versus from our own imaginations or even the devil?
We know that some private revelations have been investigated and approved by the Church such as Fatima and Lourdes. They have accompanying miracles that give them further credence. We also know that even though the Saints are models of virtue with helpful insights and teachings for us, that they are not infallible in their teachings and perceptions and made mistakes at times. So private revelations and visions of Saints are not infallible. Even when authentically from God, sometimes the Saints misinterpreted the messages given to them or didn't understand them completely. And this is also often the case with us if and when we have supernatural occurrences in our lives.
The Church teaches that private revelations are not a part of the deposit of our Faith. We are not obliged to believe in any of them, even approved ones. On the other hand, if the Blessed Mother (for example) appeared to give us a message such as at Fatima and other places to help us, shouldn't we pay attention? The message of Fatima has played a significant role in my life. I believe it is true, based not only on Church approval but the content, the prophecies that have come true, and the miracle of the Sun "so that all may believe". So I'm not downplaying these types of things. I'm just bringing up some problems that come with putting too much focus on these things.
I also think we need to be cautious about any private revelations that have not been approved (yet) by the Church as the devil is smarter than us and can fool us. The devil can appear as an "angel of light", like the Bible says, to deceive us. Especially if anything said in a private revelation to us or others is against the deposit of the Faith, we need to dismiss it. The reason is that the Holy Spirit (of Truth) cannot contradict Himself. To read an article from the Catholic United for the Faith website explaining more about private revelations www.cuf.org/FileDownloads/privrevel.pdf.
Even if an angel should tell us something different from the Gospel, we choose to believe the Gospel. Some people consult spirits and are into the occult. This is against our faith and very dangerous. There are such things as evil spirits and the devil is out to fool people and take them away from the truth. St. Paul said in 2 Cor 11:14, "And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light." And also in Galatians 1:6, "I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by (the) grace (of Christ) for a different gospel (not that there is another). But there are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach (to you) a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed! Am I now currying favor with human beings or God? Or am I seeking to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ."
We need to remember that our Faith is based firmly on the public revelations of God as recorded in His Word in Sacred Scripture and as handed down from the Apostles Bible in Sacred Tradition. As Catholics we are obliged to believe and should believe these truths. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church for more information on this.)
Discerning When to Obey or not to Obey
We always owe obedience to God's laws. We also should obey those who have legitimate authority when they are rightly exercising their authority. Yet, there are times when we shouldn't obey those in authority. One example would be that we don't obey a civil law if it is against God's law. The Virtue of Obedience: Our Duty, Our Crown by Monsignor Charles M. Mangan at Catholic Online deals with these issues. (Click on the link to read the article.)
Discerning One's Vocation in Life
Here is a link with an article that "offers practical solutions to finding God's will concerning a vocation in one's life": Vocational Discernment from the Lafayette Carmelites website
The Seven Capital Virtues
to Counteract the Seven Capital (Deadly) Sins
(The seven capital sins are the chief sources of sin, which we have an inclination to, and which we need to fight against. We can do this by practicing the corresponding virtues with the help of God's grace.)
|7 Capital Sins:
||7 Capital Virtues:
|1. Pride: inordinate esteem of self, vanity, not recognizing our dependence on God
|Humility: recognizes total dependence on God and submits to God. Modest behavior, selflessness, and the giving of respect. Giving credit where credit is due; not unfairly glorifying one's own self.
|2. Greed: inordinate love of earthly things especially money
|Charity: love of others, generosity, willingness to give, desire for other's good and happiness
|3. Lust: inordinate or excessive sexual appetite
||Chastity: purity in thought and action, avoiding occasions of sin
|4. Anger: excessive emotion of the mind excited against any person or thing, an excessive desire for revenge
||Patience: forbearance and endurance through moderation. resolving conflicts peacefully, as opposed to resorting to violence... the ability to forgive; to show mercy to sinners
|5. Gluttony: excessive preoccupation with food and drinik, overindulgence and overconsumption
|Temperance: moderates the desire for pleasure including mindfulness of others and one's surroundings; practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation
|6. Envy: jealousy, sadness at another's success
|Kindness: happiness for others and at another's success
|7. Sloth: idleness or laziness in fulfillment of ones duties or responsibilities
||Diligence: fulfillment of one's responsibilities with a careful nature in one's actions and work, proper work ethic, budgeting one's time, monitoring one's own activities to guard against laziness.
God's Will = God's Love: Mother Angelica told a story on EWTN that I wanted to share with you (even though I'll probably mix up some of the details.) She was feeling that God's will for her life seemed too difficult for her to embrace, and she was having a hard time desiring it. In prayer she asked God to show her how to accept His will better. She heard God say to her that instead of asking, "What is God's will for me?" that she could ask, "What is God's love for me?" God showed her that these were interchangeable and meant the same thing. That seems like a fruitful meditation to ask... "What IS God's love for me in the present circumstance of my life?", meaning what does God desire in His love for me at this present time?
It seems easier to accept God's love than His will when we don't yet see they are the same thing or when things seem difficult. God does not will evil nor did He originally intend for us to suffer. Evil is the result of sin. Suffering came into the world as the result of the original sin of our first parents and also comes from our own and others personal sins. We can't change the consequences of original sin or how others might sin against us. But we might be bringing some of our suffering onto ourselves by our choices, mistakes and sins. Some of this suffering can be eliminated when we stop sinning (through the help of God's grace) and also learn how to stop stepping in the same mud puddles over and over (our mistakes and incorrect psychological programming). (Ever see the movie "Ground Hog Day" where Bill Murray finally learns how to avoid stepping in that same mud puddle and to walk around it?)
Plus suffering does not need to be wasted. We can offer our sufferings to God in reparation for our own sins and for the conversion of sinners and salvation of souls. Jesus is our model for how to accept our cross and suffering including his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Lord, let this cup pass from me, but not my will but Thine be done."
We know that no matter how many sins or mistakes we have made, that God desires to forgive us and can bring good out of any evil. All of us have sinned and made mistakes to some degree. We can put it all in God's hands, even our own sins, weaknesses and blindnesses, and ask for His forgiveness, mercy and help. If we are experiencing difficulty, we can know that God has a purpose to allow it, and seek to do His will in it, even if we were the cause of the difficulty.
I'm finding in my own life that at times it seems that "life is a lesson". It seems there is always something for me to learn, and that God seems to use the difficulties I face in my life to help me become the person He wants me to be. For myself, I find myself asking for God's mercy and help more and more, and I notice more peace in my life as a result. I'm learning it isn't up to me to accomplish anything all by myself. In fact, the Bible teaches us that without God we can do "nothing". As I put it all in God's hands and look to Him for guidance, I trust He will let me know what He wants me to know and help me to do what He wants me to do. That is what I'm learning. What are you learning as you follow Jesus in your life?
In seeking union with God, we are seeking not just to love God above all things but to do God's will at all times. This is a union of love and of wills. The highest stage of the spiritual life is called "transforming union" or "spiritual marriage", where we come to a point where we love God above all things and our wills are completely united to the will of God in all things. To reach this spiritual stage takes a combination of our own effort and God's grace and action to accomplish a transformation of ourselves. The journey to this transforming union with God often goes through various spiritual stages as we talked about in a previous lesson including dark nights and purifications of our faults. Basically the spiritual journey is one of surrendering our lives to God, prayer, following God's commandments and teachings in all things with the help of God's grace. One help to want to do this is realizing that God is all good and the source of all good. Like a loving Father, God really does know everything including what is best for us, loves us even more than we love ourselves, and wishes only our good not just now but for all eternity. We have a decision to make and that is to choose to accept and follow God or not, to choose life or death. The Bible teaches us to "choose life". Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." Let's decide today and everyday to follow Jesus and to put our lives entirely in His hands. Let's allow Him to be in the driver's seat of our lives to take us where He wants us to go.
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