Our ewes lined up for their monthly weigh-in this morning. It doesn’t take much to get them to step up onto the livestock scale, just some coaxing and a little treat. They're off grain until the last six weeks of pregnancy so they’re gluttons for a taste of the good life. As you can see, at ten months, Josie (pregnant with twins) weighs in at a healthy 139 lbs. The Valais is a large and hardy breed, with ewes topping out at 150-200 pounds of snuggles and fun. Nevertheless, we want to make sure her weight remains under control and her body condition within range to ensure her lambing experience goes smoothly.
Naturally, I considered writing about the spiritual vice of gluttony. That would be an easy leap and a sin I’ve confessed more than once. Yes, I’m a bit of a foodie with an Italian heritage. It’s in the sauce. That said, what I feel called to write about instead is discernment. How does that even relate to Josie on the scale, you ask? Well, it has to do with “weighing in” from a spiritual point of view, especially when there's an important decision to make!
I’ve recently faced some forks in the road. Even the decision to enter the Valais breed-up program was something both Shepherd Ed and I took our time to discuss and discern. How about you? Is there something on your mind, a fork in the road, a decision you need or want to make (or you've been avoiding)? A vital part of discernment is “weighing in” with God, with persons you trust and respect, with the signs and signals in your midst (there are no coincidences!), and with your own deep feelings and desires.
Discernment isn't as much about choosing between good and evil as it is about choosing between two “goods;” one is "almost right" and the other is “right” in the sense that it truly corresponds to God’s divine will and helps us grow in holiness. But then to complicate matters, there are choices that seem to be good, or at least “relatively” good. This is often the path of least resistance. Factor in a noisy world, the din of distractions, and the chatter in our heads and it’s no wonder we can’t hear the still, small voice of God communicating with us and directing our steps. In order to hear it we have to hit the mute button on everything else and become intensely aware of what’s happening in our hearts as we pray and ponder the decision we need to make.
A teacher of the Spiritual Exercises as founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola asked a room full decision-challenged students (I was among them): "What is the desire beneath your desire?" Wait. Is that a riddle inside an enigma? She then explained that a big part of discerning God's will for our lives is examining choices by the light of what our heart, the seat of Wisdom, truly desires. The first answer out of our mouth might actually come from a knee-jerk response that's merely reflexive and skin-deep. But the discerned answer to "what is the desire beneath your desire" is reflective and soul-stirring precisely because it mirrors God's amazing plan for our life. When we peel back our layers: What do I really (really!) want? What is my purpose in life? and then put in the work of prayer, we see the "right" decision always praises, serves, and glorifies God and yet expresses our truest selves. While the action needed and the path to get there may be hard and uncomfortable, we're consoled by the way our decision makes us feel energized, closer to God, and leads with faith, hope, and love. We can feel the Holy Spirit confirming and guiding us because as it turns out, when we operate at that level of humility and authenticity, there's a very good chance that what we desire, God desires too! Imagine that. God wants what we want. It turns conventional wisdom on its head! St. Ignatius himself said: “Whatever you are doing, that which makes you feel the most alive…that is where God is.”
It's not, however, about feeling alive with self-gratification, the wind in our hair, or the cheap bliss that comes with choosing that path of least resistance. It's about feeling alive in Christ! How narrow is the gate that leads to salvation and broad the road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13). How easy then, it is to make the "harmless" feel-good choice instead of the harder real-good choice! After all, isn’t that what Satan, the ultimate bad actor/spirit wants? To lead us merrily down a wide, petal-strewn path that will separate us from God forever? As we’ve all experienced at one time or another, even if only during our misspent youth, rosy paths come with hellish thorns. And yet, according to God’s mercy, even thorns serve a holy purpose; that is, to prick our moral conscience. Thanks be to God for that saving grace!
Even now, we may feel discomfort or “pricked” by our conscience into making a difficult choice — but if it serves to draw us closer to God, brings Him glory, and honors our deepest desires, then we’re moving toward making a life-giving, life-saving decision weighed and measured in light of eternity. This is the path of spiritual progress. This is discernment.
The good news is, it’s never too late to make a “good” decision. The scales of heaven are tipped in our favor, for we have been given a powerful Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to lead us and to speak words of truth and wisdom to our hearts. St. Ignatius also said, “He who carries God in his heart bears Heaven with him wherever he goes.”
This is the weight of glory that both grounds us and lifts us as we discern our direction and purpose in life. Got a decision to make? What is the desire beneath your desire?
Step up and weigh-in!
“We must speak to God as a friend speaks to his friend,
servant to his master – now asking some favour,
now acknowledging our faults
and communicating to Him all that concerns us,
our thoughts, our fears, our projects,
our desires, and in all things seeking His counsel.”
~St. Ignatius of Loyola 1491-1556
(Note: St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Spiritual Exercises upon which the process of discernment is based. You can read more here: https://www.loyolapress.com/catholic-resources/ignatian-spirituality/discernment/discernment-making-inspired-choices/ or read Gods Voice Within: The Ignatian Way to Discovering God's Will by Mark Theibodeux, SJ, https://www.amazon.com/Gods-Voice-Within-Ignatian-Discover/dp/0829428615 )