The assignment for this month is to blog about “discernment of [my] movements toward and away from God.” This is interesting and a bit challenging for me because lately, I’ve been trying to sort out if things I’ve been repenting of are in fact personality traits, things that are hard-wired into me, and not chosen actions (or inactions). Or in other words, if I behave a certain way or respond to a situation because of the way my personality is, do I need to repent of those traits or simply work to train and discipline them? Or celebrate them?
In Baptism, I was given the Holy Spirit’s power to become more fully who God created me to be. Therefore, God won’t forgive me for being who I am and so repenting of things that are really personality traits is wrong. I have a big personality. (A friend once said that the reason I play the pipe organ is it is the only musical instrument bigger than I am.) As with everyone else, there is a light side and a dark side. Still, my hard-wiring is something I should thank God for and seek to use wisely for the furtherance of the Kingdom. Repenting of it is saying to God that he goofed in knitting me together in my mother’s womb, and yet, I can’t hide behind my personality traits, using them as an excuse to be insensitive or intimidating. I must train those traits into paths of godliness, not pushiness. Using the spiritual disciplines, I must work to take the personality I was given by God and let God mold me fully into the person he needs me to be in the world, here and now.
I need close spiritual companionship and accountability to help me discern what is the “me” part that needs training and what is willful rebellion that needs repentance and ultimately, crucifixion. I need to constantly look to God for my cues on how to act (or not act) in a given situation and not depend solely on that feedback from others. For example, sometimes, when people have reacted badly to something I’ve said, it has later been shown to be the word desperately needed at that moment and I was the only one who had the courage to lob the proverbial bomb into the conversation. I need the discipline of solitude to hear that still small voice of God speaking to the deepest parts of my heart and soul. I need the discipline of submission to make sure I am not jumping ahead of God’s working in a situation.
So, what does this have to do with discerning movements toward and away from God? A lot, actually. When I am most true to myself, the self God created me to be, I move towards him. When I get hung up in approval from others or guilt/low self-esteem after another blunder, I move away from God. It is that simple. And that hard.
When are the times that you are most true to yourself? What has that been like?
What are the things or people that help you discern that?
Valerie Hess is an author, instructor in the Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership (MSFL) program, retreat speaker, musician, mother and pastor’s wife. She does a weekly blog for the MSFL program and has written numerous articles, mostly on the themes of spiritual formation through the spiritual disciplines and church music. She has written three books: Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines (co-authored with Dr. Marti Watson Garlett), Spiritual Disciplines Devotional: A Year of Readings and The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation" (co-authored with Lane M. Arnold). Her husband is an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, CO. She has two daughters.