“Spiritual discernment is to choose between available options on the grounds that both are good but that one is more likely at this time… Detachment from the idea that there is only one way for me to go through life joyfully is its key.”

How humans adapt to change is on the forefront of my mind as I watch my youngest daughter struggle with a new school. She moves quickly from the angst of the moment to “I will never make any friends,” “I will never have a boyfriend,” and “I will never get married!” It seems like a big leap to me, but my love for her makes my heart hurt.

Joan Chittister, a Catholic sister who wrote Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, focuses on the rapid pace of change in this book. She writes:

“In the traditional view, struggle required one of two things: That what could not be endured be changed or that what could not be changed be endured. Missing from the options….we could be transformed by the possibility of new beginnings. The essence of struggle is neither endurance nor denial. The essence of struggle is the decision to become new rather than simply to become older. The gift of beginning again: conversion.”

For Sr. Joan “conversion” is the “opening” of our hearts to the “grace of new possibilities.” She likens conversion to an opportunity to do something or experience something differently. The death of a child, the loss of a partner, or a weather catastrophe are all incidences that occur to us and to which we can choose how to respond. The parent must continue to feed the other children who are left; s/he picks up the pieces of the life left by the hurricane and begins again. Perhaps we begin in a new place, with a new set of eyes. These dark nights of the soul can become opportunities to find new muscle, another part of our heart we didn’t know we had or new parts of our imagination to explore.

Yet, change of any kind rocks us. We cling to the familiar and if we have lived any time at all we know that nothing stays the same. Even the seasons remind us of nature’s insatiable need to grow and transform. The challenge, I am discovering with my daughter, is not to offer thinking solutions, but to touch her discomfort with my own heart, by acknowledging her pain. We can all get caught in the pendulum between wanting to stop something from changing or enduring it with a scowl.

From Sr. Joan’s perspective there is another way – to experience the conversion of self, to understand that change is not a personal attack, and to embrace change with detachment or, as Sr. Joan says, “holy indifference.”

I wonder what you are trying to either endure or wish away in your life right now. What if you were to practice “holy indifference” and let go of anything to which you are clinging as the earth celebrates another year and we move closer to the rebirth of the light?

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