Your ‘Yes’ is Precious: Three Questions for a New Season

My husband, riffling through the junk drawer, held up a fistful of keys.

“Don’t you think it’s time you returned these to the parish?”

“I forgot about those,” I said thoughtfully as I put my coffee in the microwave for the third time that morning. 

There were many years when, as Labor Day passed and school began, I’d been unlocking the doors to the parish classroom for our women’s study. Now that seemed like a lifetime ago.  

These days, as the long Phoenix summer blurs into a still-blistering fall, I keep my head down, writing and working from home.  I miss the women in our group, I miss aspects of my job at the parish.  But I am no longer called to be there.

This time every year feels like an invitation to consider again – what am I called to do?  

When I buy pencils, folders, and stacks of fresh notebooks for the kids, despite all the digital options, I can’t resist grabbing an empty planner for myself.  Empty white squares, soon to be filled, but begging the question: what will I allow into my life this year?

The house is quiet now in the mornings, and I sip (reheated) coffee, stare at the smooth pages, and give myself time to pray with three questions:

What am I called to?

What am I released from?

What am doing that I shouldn’t have said yes to—and from which I need to (gently) remove myself?

What Am I Called To?

This is where we usually begin with discernment: what am I supposed to be doing? 

There are certain things that are non-negotiable.  Our prayer and sacramental life, of course, and the obligations of our state of life—those are permanent-marker appointments. There are appointments with ourselves, too, such as exercise and adequate sleep. There are blocks of time we dedicate to work and other pre-determined commitments to others. 

And then there are the thin empty slots inviting us to consider carefully all the other inspirations, invitations, and opportunities that come our way. And sometimes they are very, very slim little spaces.  Precious and to be guarded with our best yes. 

We look at the season we are in, discern God’s call on our life, and pray about how to answer that call with our ‘free’ time. If we are wise, we allow breathing room, too.  Margin. Room to exhale and allow the Holy Spirit to speak.

This fall feels full for me: a busy family schedule with lots of driving, a home office with piles of paperwork begging for attention, full-time work, running a membership community, preparing for upcoming talks out-of-state and taking two graduate courses. My “yes” has been spoken for,  and there’s not room for much else. 

Sometimes the Lord’s will is revealed in our limitations.  In fact, our limitations are His protection of our personal vocation in any given season.  Because we cannot do it all, we have to ask: 

If I say yes to this, what will I not be doing during that time, with that energy and focus? 

If I say yes to this, what I am necessarily saying no to?

One way to answer that question is with the next one.

What Am I Released From?

There are times when something that was God’s clear call passes its shelf life.

God often frees us for new opportunities by releasing us from old ones.  These jobs, roles, careers, activities, and positions may have served His purpose for our lives—and for the Kingdom—and He’s ready for us to turn the page. We may sense both completion and readiness at the same time. 

Sometimes what was once ours has now become someone else’s path to sanctity, and we would rob ourselves of our new calling and them of theirs if we remain where we are no longer meant to be. 

We can hesitate to let good things go—and there’s a reason for that. We know that often the fruit is in the staying through the lean times and the hard years.  Our family has experienced the great grace of sticking out some pretty tough years with our school community. We couldn’t quite see any light at the end of the tunnel for a while, but we never felt God asking us to make a move. In hindsight now, we see His plan and we’re glad we didn’t pull out when things got hard.

So it calls for serious discernment and testing when you consider leaving or letting go of a thing that has been undeniably fruitful for you and for others.  I think that it is important to note that difficult, dry, or desolate doesn’t necessarily mean move on.  Often it means lean in.

Instead, there’s a distinct sense of release and interior freedom (and naturally, too, sometimes a certain sadness) when the Lord leads you away from something He brought you to in the beginning.  One call may be ending to make room for another.

What Do I Need to Remove Myself From?

Sometimes discernment happens—or continues—in hindsight. 

We may have made a decision impulsively, or maybe even carefully, and then began to wonder if we were wrong in doing so.  We said yes to that unbelievable opportunity or accepted an invitation out of vanity or guilt—or even genuine goodwill.  We probably even saw initial fruits from our efforts and were gratified by people’s thanks and appreciation. 

But then, something else may become evident. 

Maybe we began to feel strained and anxious.  Our prayer life was shrinking. We were up late googling “how to alleviate stress.” Or maybe life at home began unravelling. We couldn’t meet our primary obligations.  The people closest to us began paying too high a price for our ‘yes.’  We noticed our sense of joy diminishing.

It began to dawn on us: did I discern this correctly? And with a pit in our stomach, we sensed the answer was no. What appeared good really wasn’t, or at least it was less good, or not good for us right now. 

Recently, I had to renegotiate a book contract.  I realized afterward that I had agreed too hastily to begin a project that I wasn’t ready for.  I felt undue anxiety and a sense of urgency that seemed unnecessary and certainly wasn’t of God. 

While making a retreat, I realized what had happened: it had felt good to have the publisher approach me and so I entered into a contract without praying about whether or not it was the right time.  Turns out, it wasn’t. 

What do we do in these situations?

First of all, we should thank God for the grace to see and have our spiritual cataracts removed.  This is a good thing!  And really, it can be incredibly beneficial to our growth in the spiritual life to have the opportunity to review our whole decision-making process—where and how exactly were we deceived? 

Once known, our insights can be noted and then protect us in future decision-making, for “simply to know that the enemy may attempt to deceive under the appearance of good is already an enormous gift.” (Fr. Timothy Gallagher, Spiritual Consolation, 128).

Secondly, we’ve got to begin to take steps to untangle ourselves gracefully.  We may have made a wrong left turn, but we can seldom make a hard veer to the right without giving ourselves and those closest to us a case of spiritual and emotional whiplash.  But before any more damage is done, we’ve got to take steps to rectify the situation.  I’d suggest, too, offering up the pain and possibly the embarrassment we feel for those most affected by our bad choices. 

Thirdly, we can simply resolve to get better at saying no with grace, humility, and charity in order to, in the words of Fr. Gallagher, “safeguard the undiminished fulfillment of God’s true desire.” (Spiritual Consolation, 102).  “No” can be an act of love.

And finally, we’ve got to simply continue the journey – the more we walk with the Lord, the more detached we are and of a disposition to better be able to discern.  The more time we spend with Him in prayer and staying present to Him in our hearts, the more we’ll recognize His voice and be able to detect how our own wishes may be mingling with His Will. 

Here’s what it comes down to: our free will is a gift from God.  Our yes is precious, and it deserves to be protected so that it is given away with perfect freedom, joy, and generosity of spirit. 

So when you turn the page of your planner this fall and feel the smooth empty pages in your hands, remember the role of prayer and discernment in your decision—and schedule—making. 


Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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