"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Healthy Self-Awareness and Living the Christ-Centered Life



By Micky Wolf



Many of us are aware of the importance of paying attention to self. At the same time, it is not unusual for me to hear something like the following in mentoring and spiritual direction sessions: 

“I know it’s important to pray with or ponder my thoughts, feelings and attitudes, but how do I do that without become overly attentive to every little thing? It seems like I could end up spending a lot of time on me when it would be better to focus on other people and activities.” Good point. 

One important clue that we are becoming self-focused or self-centered is when we find ourselves concentrating more on “thinking thoughts and feeling feelings” rather than being alert to noticing the information our thoughts and feelings are conveying to us about our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual state.

Understanding and incorporating the precepts and practice of discernment into daily life, hour by hour if necessary, is an excellent way to stay on the path with Christ, rather than venture off on one of our own design. Meaningful discernment can be so helpful as to provide:

  • clarity regarding which ideas and tasks, if any, are a priority;
  • clarity with what needs to be addressed at another time;
  • clarity of next steps where specific action may be important or necessary

Healthy self-awareness and discernment intersect through balanced attention to what we are thinking, what we are feeling, and where God might be present in these aspects of our being. As we become more comfortable with the process, it will take less time to awaken to Spirit-led clarity, which does not ever mean practice makes perfect, or the goal is to see how effectively we can reduce discernment to a series of intellectual or emotional sound bites.

Being a compassionate, Christ-centered, other-centered person is to be one who is willing to discern personal thoughts, feelings and emotions, before taking action, while at the same time resisting obsessing over every little word, phrase, or stirring within, as if everything and everyone depended upon my effectiveness at dissecting the minutiae of life. One of the best ways to distinguish the difference between the presence of God and the presence of our fleshly, carnal nature is to examine—discern—what might be our personal desires and motivations and those that emanate from the Divine.  It might be more convenient if the issue of attending to what motivates our actions could be overlooked. Not so for the person who hopes to behave as a loving Christian. 

Motivation…

The person with healthy self-awareness will cooperate with God to discover the whys and whats surrounding and underlying each potential choice. Why? Because apart from being willing to recognize the real truth about why and what we think we are to do, we will fall into believing that because something makes intellectual sense or feels right, it must therefore be of God. Not necessarily so. 

Consider the following example of a typical opportunity to make a decision. Note how Rachel [not real name], upon taking time to discern what she is thinking and feeling, arrives at a much clearer sense of how God might be involved, and of how her thoughts, feelings and emotions may potentially impact her decision. 

Rachel has been invited to spend a couple of hours over lunch with Josephine, a dear friend.They thrive on stimulating conversation and good food and
usually feel mutually refreshed and encouraged after their time together.

Scenario #1

When Josephine calls Rachel to ask her to lunch, Rachel notices what seems to be sadness and hurt in Josephine’s voice. Rather than ask a lot questions at that moment, she senses her friend is greatly in need of a kind and sensitive listener. It doesn’t take Rachel much time to discover her thoughts of concern and her feelings of compassion are stirring and she quickly agrees to the first possible date and time they can meet. Yes, it is.

Scenario #2

Josephine leaves a voice mail that it would be great to get together for lunch on Wednesday of the following week [even though they had spent the better part of a day together shopping the previous week]. Rachel’s first thoughts and accompanying feelings are to respond with an enthusiastic yes—just what I need right now. Work is boring. Life is boring. As a matter of fact, my spouse is boring. What better reason does one need to jump at the invitation? What a minute. Maybe this is really more about wanting to escape what I don’t like about my life right now. It’s clear; I need to say no this time.

Scenario #3

Rachel scans her calendar as she listens to Josephine describe the newest, upscale dining venue in town. Josephine has already been there twice and would love to introduce her to the fabulous atmosphere and cuisine, although she needs to be prepared to drop some big change. Rachel knows it would be fun to hang out with her friend, however, there’s barely a blank spot in her date book. And several unexpected bills the past few months have devastated the bank account. Accepting that she is physically exhausted and financially depleted, wisdom says, pass on this one. Reluctantly, but with inner peace, she says no.

Healthy self-awareness through meaningful discernment go hand-in-hand with living an obedient, Christ-centered, joy filled life. Be assured—setting aside time with God to discern is an excellent first step in providing you with the good fruit of discovering the “why and what” of your choices. What better outcome could we hope for than savoring and experiencing the peace that accompanies our journey in staying on the path with Him?

The art and practice of discernment in daily life is an important topic and one I will continue to address in the unfolding of 2013. Please feel free to share any comments or questions you may have.

How do I feel about going below the surface with my thoughts and feelings?

Am I reluctant to look at my motivations? Why?

Do I use a fear of being self-centered as an excuse to avoid taking time for discernment?

Am I open to receiving the good fruit produced by healthy self-awareness?




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