Random Nun Clips

Can you “reverse discern” a choice you already made?

Podcast Recorded: December 11, 2019
Reverse Discern
Description

In this Random Nun Clip, a listener desires a discernment do-over because he worries that he made the easy choice but maybe not the right choice. Hear the full Ask Sister episode AS225 at aNunsLife.org. Hosts: Sister Maxine and Sister Shannon.

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Show Notes

This Random Nun Clip is brought to you by our awesome sponsor, VISION Vocation Network, Chicago, Illinois

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Sister Maxine 

I'm Sister Maxine here with Sister Shannon Schrein of the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio. For folks who may be new to our show, Sister Shannon is a theologian and is in leadership for her congregation.

Shannon, we have one more question today. It comes in from Michael in Pennsylvania, and Michael writes: “Just this week, I was discerning accepting a job offer as a teacher at a non-Catholic grade school that desperately needs good teachers. I agonized over what to do. I prayed about it and finally decided to not accept the offer. And now I feel a lot of anguish over my choice. Is there a way to discern if I made the wrong choice?”

Michael, I can hear the anguish in your question and it sounds like you haven't quite finished processing the decision that you've made.

Sister Shannon

Indeed. What we don't know from Michael is, what were the factors that influenced his decision to say no? What were the concerns? Was this school in a dangerous neighborhood? Was that the reason he was content in the current position that he has? I'm assuming he's a Catholic, perhaps teaching in a parochial school where he feels a commitment and wants to stay. What were the questions that he wrestled with in his heart that we don't know about that would help in his discernment?

Sister Maxine

I think that is key because he doesn't say what prompted him to consider a new job. So there's a lot we don't know about the process of Michael's discernment. But we know generally that he must felt some kind of a call—maybe to look at what he's already doing more deeply or to change some aspect of his life. And he must have had an interview at some point along the line, so there's some discernment with other people. And then there was an offer. After that, it seems like the wheels fell off the wagon and now he's having some anguish and regret, and I think I hear a little bit of guilt, too.

Sister Shannon

I think there is a little bit of that there. That's the piece for this moment, to learn more about what's going on inside his heart and mind. The fact that he uses words like agony and anguish--those are very strong emotive words that depict a kind of wrestling and struggling inside his heart. And his question was, can you go back and discern in reverse, but I think discernment is a whole process of our lives. It isn't something we complete and then it ends and we move on to discern about something else We're always, if we're developing in our relationship with God, developing what I would consider to be a habit of discernment in our lives that comes out of consistently deepening our prayer life, deepening our relationship with God, and then making that an important part of a decision that we make in our day-to- day lives, whether it's a giant decision like changing jobs or who to marry or where to live, or the smaller moments of life.

“Is this really what I'm being called to,” becomes a habit of discernment. And then over time, as we cultivate that, we also cultivate the ability to recognize the flags, if you will, or those little moments and voices in our ear that tell us, “Hmm, maybe I didn't really think this one through in the way I could have, so I'm not going to beat myself up over it, but what can I learn from this. What's causing the agony? What did I ignore or what did I consider? Was there a selfish part in here, because I was content where I was?” I wish we knew what prevented Michael from saying yes to the position.

Sister Maxine

Maybe for Michael, it’s about the whole call of discernment. It's not like a checklist. We call it a discernment process, but it's not like a workflow where it's like, “That part's done, now on to the next and then the next.” To develop a spirit of discernment is about the way you live versus what you do. Maybe that's where Michael is being called--to look more deeply at the reason why he made the choices and to understand himself better.

Sister Shannon

I wonder what stands behind his regret. What is it that is making him think that maybe he should have helped those children who he mentioned desperately need good teachers. He recognizes his talent and what God has given him and what he has learned over his life and what he's capable of doing and offering to other people, so is that where the agony is coming from, because he held that back from children that he perceived might really have benefited from his skill?

Sister Maxine

Or maybe it was fear. The prospect of change can be exciting. In my experience, while there's a bit of a thrill, there’s also a bit of fear that goes with it, because you're stepping from the known into the unknown.

Sister Shannon

If he's agonizing about it, feeling guilty, maybe he knew in his heart of hearts that this was a job he should have taken but didn't have the courage to. Again, we're speculating about this because we don’t know all the details from Michael. But these are the kinds of questions you ask yourself when you're in a spirit of discernment. Also, who do you need to talk to, who are the wisdom figures in your life? People who are your mentors, people who know you so well they can call you out and say, You know, this is typical of you. This is how you're thinking or this is what I know you to be afraid of. You could do this--what's holding you back. Those truth tellers in our lives are a really important part of our process.

Sister Maxine

Maybe one thing to remember and take forward from this is to say, the next time I'm facing a choice, I'm going to go find somebody who knows me well and who is going to really be honest with me. The other point, in terms of the anguish--you know, Michael, God doesn't give you just one choice, and if you missed the boat on that choice, it’s over and you have to swim back to shore on your own. It doesn't work like that.

Sister Shannon

(Agreeing) No, it doesn’t. So I think it's important for you, Michael, to take a serious look at what the feelings are and why you're feeling them. Write about it in a journal if that's what helps you, talk about it with people who understand you. This can help you learn from all this experience and can help your ability to discern evolve in your life based on this experience. 

Sister Maxine

Also, it’s natural to have regrets. It can be a very normal feeling after you make a choice, whether you choose to do or to not do something. There can be regret. But like Lot’s Wife, you don't want to get stuck, turning around and constantly wondering.  

Sister Shannon  

Both choices were good choices. I'm making a presumption about him currently having a good position versus taking a different position that he chose not to take, so having a choice between a good and a good. So again there's a realization that God is active in his life, opening doors, opening windows. We have opportunities. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. We can look back and say, Well, if I hadn't done that, this never would have happened. I never would have met you. I never would have gone here. Sure, we can always look from the rearview mirror, but we need to continue to step forward in our discernment and forward in our relationship with God.

Sister Maxine

It's interesting that you bring that up. Not only can we always look in the rearview mirror, but it would presume also that we knew everything we were choosing at the time we discerned something and made an actual decision, a choice. But when we make the choice, it doesn't mean we know every single thing that we have just chosen.

Sister Shannon  

I can use myself as an example for that. As Max mentioned, I'm a theologian by training. I taught theology classes at the university level for over 30 years and loved every minute of it. And I felt this voice in my heart, about service to my own congregation. I discerned whether I should put forward my name to serve as one of the leaders of my community. It was a scary thing because I knew this would be  such a change in my life. And did I give some things up, of course. Did I gain some wonderful things? Yes. Both were good. For the most part, that's the nature of discernment for us. If it's a straight-out moral choice, such as “Should I shoot this person or not?” the answer is clear. It's the moments of discernment among the good and opportunities and the skills God has given us, and we have to listen and do the best that we can, and see where we can serve as God calls us.

Sister Maxine

The other advice that I would offer to Michael is, you know, the decision has been made. Unless that job is still open and they would still consider you, it sounds like the choice is off the table. And it might be better to continue to look at the direction where God has called you and to accept that, for whatever reason, the other thing just didn't work out. God is still present and is still calling you, and better to listen and spend your energy there.

Sister Shannon  

And maybe a little piece of this is to include the children of the other school in your prayers.

Sister Maxine

Keep moving forward, Michael, keep discerning and let discernment become your way of life. We’ll keep you in our prayers.

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