One of the gifts of the coronavirus has been to see clearly how my work and the circumstances of the day or week seem to complement each other. For the last eight years as I have written three books and kept up my blog along with a few clients in spiritual direction, I worked in the mornings pretty free of interruption and lunched with friends often, ran errands and did other business in the afternoons. Last August I moved into an apartment attached to my daughter and son-in-law’s house; they have a daughter aged five and three sons still at home. That was a big change for me and as I settled into living and working here I continued my old work and leisure habits and had at least four or five daily visits from my granddaughter.
Things changed more drastically when the coronavirus showed up. At my age—in my 70s—I was quarantined from the world, but not my family. And as we were settling into a new routine, I took on a new project—researching slavery in the world. A blog reader of mine had responded to my post of early March, “God calls us out of slavery to the world,” with this comment: “What are you talking about? God never condemned slavery.” Immediately, he had my attention. So I took my concordance and looked up all the references to slavery and slaves in the Bible. He was right, but two things impressed me immediately. First, slavery seems to be the nature of the world, be it enslavement to our own poor self-image, or to the culture’s ways, to actual chattel slavery, or perhaps to a cruel boss or, say, to debt slavery. Second, many of the stories in the Bible are about God freeing people from slavery. And I could feel a desire to know more about slavery.
After two and a half months reading about slavery in the world, it was becoming clear to me that the book was not to be about slavery per se. It took a week or more for the book to begin to take shape around the Sermon on the Mount. And so I began looking at the Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon and discovered some new avenues of approach.
This is how discernment works: step by step the suggestions of the Holy Spirit begin to coalesce into a clear picture. And when that happens, there is a sense of joy in seeing what is being asked and a peace that things have finally become clear. Sometimes that happens in a flash; sometimes it can take several months or years. “In the manner of guidance[discernment] there are three important points:
- The Word of the Lord in the Bible.
- The Word of the Spirit in our heart.
- The circumstances of our lives which have been arranged by God.
All three must point one way. It is never enough for any two of them to be taken as showing God’s will. If the voice is God’s all three will agree.”
Since the isolation in our homes caused by the coronavirus, things have obviously coalesced in my life. Staying at home all day meant that I had plenty of time to read three volumes of the Cambridge History of Slavery in the World. And other books as well. Absorbing all this information about slavery has been difficult and fascinating at the same time. The long days were perfect for all that ruminating about slavery. As I got past the slavery idea, my daughter had emergency surgery which has disrupted our lives here. I am driving kids more, and my granddaughter is interrupting me more, but that seemed to help me get through all my dis-ease in trying to name the project I am working on.
A week later my daughter was back in the hospital, so I needed to be even more available, but interestingly, I have started writing the book about the Sermon on the Mount, not bothered at all by the choppiness of the days. In fact, I am sure that the disruptions have actually helped, giving me time to process between writing sessions. The things this family is going through and the way my work is going all seem ordained. I have no objections to what is going on, although I am praying for my daughter and her family a whole lot more than usual and doing what I can to help. As always, I am being led by the “gentle whisper”[1 Kings 19:12] of the Indwelling Spirit of God.
Discernment also calls us to healing our core issues. Quite a few years ago I heard this thought clearly in my mind, ”How can I say I love God, if I can’t love my mother?” That one stopped me cold. And I knew that it was true. I had to change how I related to my mom. So for two years I tried to treat her differently, but it was exhausting. We lived on the west coast, she on the east coast, so our contacts were mostly weekly phone calls and short visits. After two years of trying to love her, my husband and I were visiting her for a weekend. And I was still trying, but rarely succeeding. She took us to the railway station and came up to the platform to see us off.
While we were there for just a few minutes, we were surrounded by a cloud of love. That was my experience of it. Then we said goodbye and climbed aboard our train. All the way from Delaware to Connecticut, all I could say was this, “God took my hostility and made it into love!” I was totally floored. From that moment on our relationship changed. I was able to love her as she was and she was grateful for every single thing I did for her. A few years later she moved to California to be close to us and became a real part of our family. So the last four years of her life I was able to take care of her. I may not have been able to change my heart about my mom, but God was surely able to do it!
Know the Bible. Follow where God leads you. Adapt to the circumstances of your life. These three lessons in discernment that will lead you closer and closer to God in your life. And God will make sense out of your life, too, as He fulfills His purpose in you.
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I aware of God’s “gentle whisper” or “still, small voice” in my mind and thoughts? Am I aware of how differently God thinks in me than how I think? Do I follow His suggestions faithfully? Or am I totally unaware of them? What would it take for me to listen to the Indwelling Spirit of God?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who know His voice and thoughts within us and who follow His suggestions. May we notice every nuance and change in His thinking. May we be faithfully attuned to what He asks of us.
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Check out my other website, deepeningyourfaith.com, for information about spiritual practices and more writings about the spiritual life. New posts 2x a month. 7.13.20s is entitled, “Weathering the Storm.”
Postscript: I am writing a book about following Jesus, and I would love to have stories from you readers about the things/thoughts/people/whatever has enslaved you and how you were freed from that slavery. Send them to my email, email@example.com, or message me on FB. I will only use your initials in the book, not your name. Thanking all who desire to contribute, Pat
 Elizabeth Elliot, A Chance to Die, Fleming H. Revell Company, Tarrytown NY, 1987, p. 351