As the holidays approach and the end of the year looms, personal and professional responsibilities tend to converge in ways that bring stress and anxiety. Good food and festive music summon smiles and fun gatherings, but during these next few weeks, it seems we're always in the process of trying to get things done. As we shop, cook, plan, prepare for parties and send out cards to loved ones, we can start to feel pulled into many directions.
The approach of Christmas also tends to bring a time of contemplation as people ponder the past and future. Maybe it's been a tough year. Perhaps you're considering a change in jobs or relationships, or maybe a big move.
In the midst of this reflecting and anticipating, it's helpful to remember once more the value a core element of Ignatian spirituality, and this is the practice of discernment. As David Lonsdale wrote, discernment
is the art of appreciating the gifts that God has given us and discovering how we might best respond to that love in daily life. It is a process of finding one's own way of discipleship in a particular set of circumstances; a means of responding to the call of Christian love and truth in a situation where there are often conflicting interests and values and choices have to be made. It is the gift by which we are able to observe and assess the different factors in a particular situation, and to choose that course of action which most authentically answers our desire to live by the gospel.
The fruits of discernment usually don't arrive immediately, and it's rare that we experience a voice from a burning bush. Discernment involves prayerfully stepping back from daily obligations and asking God for a sense of the whole, a sense of where the spirit is moving, a sense of peace and consolation amidst turmoil.
When we discern, we try to look at our lives with the long view in mind rather than fleeting needs, hoping to find an authentic, life-giving path of freedom.