Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Growing up: It's Not About What I Want

Sometimes, I feel blocked in my prayer life. I spend a lot of time analyzing why I might be blocked, examining my conscience over and over, looking at my motives and trying to sort out what might be a sin. I've learned now just to take notes. I have a journal with a section for daily musings and a separate section for examination of conscience. I keep them separate so that I have a more focused, clear intention when I do my evening "examination."

Sometimes, I've used columns, weighing ethics of right and wrong, but I'm still focused on sorting it out. It's not like journaling about what a nice lunch I had with a friend. Even everyday notes like that can give me a great sense of patterns and progress in my life, but I write in the "journal" section for expression and the "examination" section for discernment. 

This process is really tough for me. Part of the reason it's tough is my autism. Ambiguity and shades of grey are not very easy for me to wade through. Part of the problem is that like every sinner, the voice of what I want to do is louder than the whisper of what is the right thing to do. There are people who have actually made a religion out of listening to the loud voice of what they want and drowning out their annoying conscience. Thankfully, that didn't work for me too well, but the vestiges of that sort of thinking can trip me up if I'm not careful.

While I used to panic about doing the wrong thing, I've learned to go about this process calmly. One of our Carmelite priests, Father Jan (now in Uganda), told me that God has an interesting way of working in our lives. He only shows us one thing at a time, and it's what's right in front of us. So, when we're wondering what to do, look to the present moment and to what God is saying here and now. That type of thinking has calmed me down when I've felt the frantic need to figure things out. Father Jan is also the one who helped me figure out a system of note taking and analysis, so I could look at it like a scientist and see patterns over time.

Why bother with all this? The old me did examinations of my life to see where I was holding myself  back from getting what I wanted in life, whether that be material wealth, fame, love or luxury. I would try to eliminate traces of guilt, fear and shame in order to pursue my goals with greater success.

The new me says, "Who cares?" God is SO much greater than my petty little desires and concerns. Although God ultimately wants us to experience His peace and joy, for us to come to Him solely to seek consolation is nothing more than using Him and treating Him like an object. My goal is to have a real relationship, really give and take with God. Sorry if it sounds crude, but it's not "do me, do me," anymore. Every time I meditate on the life of Jesus, I'm getting to know Him. I'm not just droning a monologue on and on about myself in prayer. Jesus is God and he is also fully human forever. I know he loves me and all, but even perfect humans get bored!

When I was in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults,) on my way to becoming Catholic, we learned in class that the purpose of Catholicism is to have a mature relationship with Jesus Christ. At first, I was surprised. I had grown up being told that Catholics didn't think for themselves and were childlike in spirituality. I learned that nothing is further from the truth. Father Bryce, one of our parish priests, taught us that it's not that Catholics don't think FOR ourselves; We just don't think BY ourselves. We think WITH theological giants through 2000 years of combined experience and councils.

More importantly, whose spirituality is more mature than that of the saints? In RCIA, I asked, "What does a mature relationship with Christ look like?" Well, we have thousands of examples throughout history of what that looks like. Various, diverse, creative manifestations of God through amazing people show us the way to ultimate meaning and truth.

I wish I could tell you why I do what I do and what I hope to gain by it, but I can't. If I could do that, I might as well find a spiritual charlatan who will know how to sell it to me. God gives us unconditional love, but WE can choose to make it conditional by refusing to cooperate with that love. Part of that love is the expectation that I do not just spend my life "manifesting my desires." Instead, I spend my life learning to discern and manifest HIS.

This link goes to a really neat method. A Carmelite nun gives an outline of how to examine conscience through using the Interior Castle of St. Teresa. Truly cool!

The Awesome Sister Carmen Explains All

The Ignatian Examen is a popular method of exploration of conscience. It's good too. 

Ignatian Examination of Conscience


  1. Great post, Laura! I love that comment about Catholics not thinking by ourselves!