Discernment: or sometimes it is ok to say “No”

Last week I was asked to do something — it gave me pause. That request is still sitting out there, and it is for something good. To say “Yes” would mean doing something good. But, it is also a bit terrifying to me. And so, I asked for a week to pray about it.

Thoughts came and went. Prayer came and went. First reaction was “I can’t do this.” Next reaction: Maybe I can, but I’m not sure I want to. Third reaction: Let’s pretend I say “Yes” and see how it sits.

It sat. It sat and sat and sat. It sat in my lap and smiled up at me and said “See – you can do this! You can live up to the expectations of others. You can do it now and get it over with and feel so good that you did it.” I think it might have purred a little while it sat there and tried to seduce me. But, still, there was a nagging sense that I wasn’t looking closely enough. Maybe I should inspect those neatly gloved claws.

This morning I awoke with a very strong sense of what I needed to do to help decide how to proceed. I needed to ask someone specific for help, were I to say “Yes.” And so I decided to call her and ask. And see what her answer told me. But, it was too early (I might wake her up) and she might be out of town (did it matter that then I would just get the answering machine?). I fidgeted. I stalled. I realized that a very big part of me was afraid she would say “Sure! I can do that!” and then I would indeed have to say “Yes” myself.

Finally, I called her number. Answering machine. But, I left a message and sure enough she called back about an hour later. Much to my surprise, she said that she really couldn’t do what I was asking. She gave solid reasons. The most telling was “It’s just where I am right now. And I’m not backing down.” Whoa! I wasn’t trying to make her back down. We talked. Her answer was “No.” I felt all of the tension leave my body. I understood. It wasn’t that she said “No.” It was the reasoning and the way she said it. It was hearing someone stand their ground and say “This is not for me do to at this time.”

My answer will be very much the same. I feel sorrow that I can’t say “Yes.” But, after I made my decision, and stood up for it with someone who really wants me to do it, I also got an email with a quote from St. Vincent de Paul: (I’ve substituted Those for the name of a particular group that was being addressed):

[Those] who carry out their ministries in the way mentioned, but without the right intention, aren’t pleasing to God, who asks first for the heart and, after than, for the work.

I have a friend who resigned from heading up a ministry because she came to the conclusion that she was there for all the wrong reasons. That upset some folks. But, I’ve seen her continue in ministry in other ways. She knew what she saw in the mirror. She came to my mind frequently as I wrestled with the decision.

And so — at least for now, I rest easy with “No.”

Flash back

November 22 – St. Cecilia’s feast day. I’m a church musician and I have visited the catacombs outside of Rome where Cecilia died. I pray not to die a martyr’s death, but I also know that music and singing stand a good chance of being a comfort to me whenever God calls me home.

November 22, 1963… I was in the 5th grade. I was being raised a good protestant Christian in a part of the country where a Roman Catholic president was regarded with suspicion at best, and disgust more likely. I had a friend whose parents took us to hear Kennedy speak when he came to the area. The local airport didn’t have a runway that could accomodate Air Force One, so they had to land in Huntsville about 70 miles away. He didn’t seem so strange.

Coming in from the playground (PE class?) I remember the day being gray and the flag at half mast. I’d never seen a flag at half mast — none of us had. And then the teachers had to explain that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. I remember watching the funeral mass on TV and talk about the color of the vestments (not black? did priests ever wear black? I don’t know). I remember little John Kennedy trying to comprehend what was going on.

I’ve been a practicing Catholic for more years now than I was a protestant. I’m a totally Vatican II type. I’m not sure I could have made the leap into the pre-Vatican II church. Today I was trying to read some documents on liturgy because of a comment made by one of our musicians today. And I sat and thought — these rules and guidelines are all well and good. But, I’m sure they matter much more to human beings than they do to the Creator. I can only maintain my sanity when I read through them and dig deeply into the underlying message. The message that reminds me that prayer is not just words, but action and attitude and listening. The message that reminds me to do my part to make a space for prayer not only for myself but for those I serve.

November 22 is a day to remember.

Lest I get a big head

Susan told me I sounded mighty calm for having lost my cell phone on Saturday. Truth be told, I was very calm because I noticed it almost immediately and managed to talk to another of the shuttle bus drivers, who called another driver, who caught up with the driver who had my phone, who gave it to the next driver due to come to my location, who brought it to me. Whew! I must say, I felt like my guardian angel was working really hard on that one.

Guardian Angels – I love the image of a Guardian Angel, although I’m not sure I really believe in such a thing. And then again… Many years ago, I ran into a woman who had recently retired from the place we both worked. As we chatted, she talked about the pressures and difficulties of caring for her mother. Suddenly, I found I had reached out and given her a grand hug (this would not be a normal occurrence in this work place relationship). As I walked away, I had a real since of having been honored by being allowed to be an angel.

That sort of thing has occurred more than once in my life. Each time I feel honored.

Maybe an Angel, or even a Guardian Angel is in reality another person who is open to the movement of the Spirit and willing to be moved to action. Just as those bus drivers went out of their way to get my phone back, I pray that I am willing to go out of the way to be there when someone needs me. Sometimes it seems a bit scary and sometimes it seems a bother, but it always seems right to be the hands and feet of Christ when called.

Called and sent

I’m just back from working a Cursillo weekend — held in a retreat house on what is truly holy ground. As I participated in the closing mass yesterday, my thoughts wandered once again to Susan’s Ascension posting. At the conclusion of a weekend, the participants are sent forth to carry what they have learned during the weekend. A weekend is often like getting to the mountain top and wanting to stay there looking up. What a wonderful coincidence that our diocese, like almost all in the United States, celebrated the Ascension on Sunday.

My weekend was fruitful despite being a bit tiring. When I made the weekend as a pilgrim about 10 years ago, I was in a not so good place in my life. I could barely hear what I was being told. I was pretty much miserable. So, once again, on Thursday night I listened to the call to know myself (for about the 6th time), and I started a new cycle in this spiral that I am walking. 10 years ago, I didn’t have a clue where to start – I was essentially scared by my own shadow. Now, I look at myself, and my life and realize that there are still things that don’t make any sense, situations and issues that seem to resolve to conflicting solutions. Where I have grown is that somehow, it’s just uncomfortable now instead of terrifying. It seems the spiral will continue to cycle, but at least it’s a spiral instead of just a circle that never grows closer.

And so – yes, I look up to try to see where Jesus has gone before I turn to walk and look for him in the people I meet, work with, live with and sometimes love, day after day.