“If you want to know what comes from God, pay attention to what gives you peace.” Probably the single-most valuable piece of spiritual counsel I’ve ever received, my spiritual director reiterated this to me when I was struggling to make a major decision. The devil can imitate joy, but he cannot imitate true peace, I later learned.
Moms are constantly bombarded with interruptions and noise. As I type this, one of my daughters is asking me questions, my toddler son is banging his toy car in the kitchen, and my preschooler is singing to her blanket. Sigh. These distractions make it sometimes nearly impossible to spend the time necessary for silent meditation and prayer on a daily basis. When your brain is hijacked by your kids’ incessant talking, how do you return to a sense of authentic and confident discernment of good and evil?
Begin by Listening
“’To listen’ – in faith – to find one’s way and have the feeling that, under God, one is really finding it again.”
I find myself regularly battling anxiety. When this happens, I know I need to pause and ask myself the Ignatian question about consolation versus desolation: “Where is the movement coming from and where is it leading me?” St. John of the Cross teaches us that we cannot rely upon consolations to lead us, because evil spirits can give us “signs” or a sense of contentment in order to lead us into a spiritual snare. Similarly, desolation is not an indication that we are spiritually bereft; desolation can often lead us closer to God through the Purgative Way.
Moms especially must access that still, small voice within in order to discipline her heart toward recognizing whether a spirit is leading her toward or away from God. Here is a good indicator for a mom who regularly attends Mass and Confession:
For people who are trying to live a life pleasing to God, the good spirit strengthens, encourages, consoles, removes obstacles, and gives peace. The evil spirit tries to derail them by stirring up anxiety, false sadness, needless confusion, frustration, and other obstacles.Introduction to Discernment of Spirits, Ignatian Spirituality
Attend to Your Feelings, Biases, and Beliefs.
“We bring what we believe about ourselves and what we believe about God into every situation, gathering, and decision.”Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing, 217.
Father Chad Ripperger, in his talk, “How to Identify Generational Spirits,” advises the laity to watch their interior emotions. Begin by asking Our Lady, “What am I suffering right now?” Look at patterns in your behavior that also exist in your family of origin; these are often sources of our biases and beliefs – some of which do not originate in truth. For example, on my maternal side, fear is probably the largest driving force behind how I learned to operate when I was growing up. Obviously, the spirit of fear is not of God.
Father Ripperger further explains that, by meditating daily (which happens in silence), we learn to discern the subtleties of grace. Thus, we distinguish when something comes from emotion or grace; God does not move according to emotion. Grace will enlighten your might and strengthen your will. That is your greatest clue when discerning among many spirits. Pray to your guardian angel to reveal what evil spirits are attached to you based on your emotions and your generational patterns.
Understanding the Two Kinds of Darkness: Holy and Unholy
“Night is maternal, delightful, and cleansing. Darkness is like a fountain from which [we can] emerge washed and enlightened, no longer separated but united in the Risen Christ…The night manifests the mystery.”Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, 196.
If you are anxious, depressed, ruminating, or feel suffocated or afraid, ask yourself this question: “Is this a holy or unholy darkness?” When I was doing my research for From Grief to Grace, I learned that unholy darkness happens to us when we are not in a state of grace (e.g., in a state of sin), while holy darkness occurs to a soul that is faithful to the Church, her teachings, and the sacraments.
But both types of darkness often appear the same. This can be confusing. The past four years, I’ve given birth to three babies. Imagine my emotional state; it is in a constant flux of depression, anxiety, exhaustion, and confusion. Evil spirits prey upon these vulnerabilities. But I know that, because despite how bleak things look, I can remind myself that I am living a holy life according to my vocation. Then I can better rebuke the spirits afflicting my mind and heart.
Find the Right Order of Prayer
“When we are committed to do God’s will and not our own, we soon discover that much of what we do doesn’t need to be done by us. What we are called to do are actions that bring us true joy and peace.”Henri Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup?, 110.
Most of you reading this are probably already doing your best to do God’s will ever day, no matter how arduous and difficult. The temptation for us in thinking that potty training and wiping noses and cleaning up hand prints and repairing broken toys and defusing tantrums all amounts to menial and thankless work. While that’s true for a season, when we do these things with love (and it’s okay if it feels more like duty right now), God will honor our efforts.
Your prayer doesn’t have to be formal and painfully long. But it does need to evolve into an intuitive recognition of recognizing God’s voice among the others and then listening to His alone.
My husband tells me often, “Just give God your meager loaves and fishes. He will multiply them for you.”