Consolation Beyond a Smile – Boldness

Should I stay or should I go? In a job? Where I’m living? In a relationship? Sometimes we come to life-defining crossroads, choices that require a leap of faith. When introducing his series on discernment, Pope Francis emphasized how discernment in these moments involves our emotions. With practice in daily life we develop skills for listening to these interior movements of our hearts, what St. Ignatius calls consolations and desolations, to guide us. Pope Francis notes that consolation spurs us forward in service to others…”consolation makes us daring.”

Most often I experience moments of gentle consolations. Subtle nudges come alongside intuition as I judge whether moving forward feels right, or if something is off.  I notice if I’m peaceful or agitated after a decision. If the latter, I wait for peace to return before moving ahead. Sometimes consolation makes me daring, leading me to act with surprising boldness. 

The thought of boldness makes my heartbeat quicken as I hear Star Trek’s introduction and stirring theme music in my head. Through the years, the Enterprise has taken us on missions with her crews “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”  I recall examples when I experienced heart-opening consolations that emboldened me to accept new missions…

Exploring strange new worlds.  Twenty years ago, having been inspired while volunteering for a new Jesuit retreat ministry, I made the bold choice to leave product development for Procter & Gamble (and to leave a great network of friends) to embark on a second career in ministry. I sometimes struggled to adapt to a markedly different culture. However, fueled by the joy of witnessing transformation in others’ lives, and with the ongoing support of family and friends in Cincinnati, Chicago, and beyond, I knew I had made a good decision.

Seeking out new life and new civilizations. A fast five years serving Charis Ministries took a surprising turn when I received an invitation from a friend and her husband to support them and their infant child as we approached her untimely death. Once again, through noticing how I felt as I considered whether to stay or go, a desire to accompany my friends superseded the contributions I was making through leadership. Shortly after the announcement went public I recognized this new mission was to be only a few months instead of a few years. The US economy was collapsing and I wasn’t sure where my next paycheck would come from. While I was welcome to remain at Charis, I was ready to make the bold choice for a sabbatical. 

I am ever grateful for Charis’ parting gift of a 40-day experience of the Spiritual Exercises at Ignatius Jesuit Centre. This holy interlude took me on a profound encounter with Divine Mystery. A skilled spiritual director accompanied me on a journey of radically honest prayer leading to insights and graces that guide me even now. I departed the Centre “the same, only different”, not knowing what my next mission might be, but with interior freedom and gratitude for all those who worried on my behalf! Listening with my heart as I discerned with new confidence, I eventually accepted a position with the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus.

Boldly going where I had not gone before. I came to know it was time to join the Great Resignation after many months of extended prayer, reflection, and thoughtful conversations. I realized that much like previous major transitions, I wasn’t departing the Province with reckless bravado, but rather intentionally moving forward holding grief intertwined with anticipation. Many good projects supporting the Jesuits’s retreat and parish ministries felt unfinished, but I was at peace. I knew that which was mine to do was complete.

Perhaps this mix of emotions mirrors Mary Magdalene and the other Mary in Matthew’s gospel who “went quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed… and behold, Jesus met them on their way” confirming what the angel had sent them to do (Matthew 28:1-10). Each time I laid to rest a mission that I loved, I experienced both grief and anxiety. Yet each time I said ‘yes’ to a new mission, often without being completely sure where it would lead, I received encouragement to take the first steps. I have come to trust that each time I say ‘yes’, I become bolder, more confident that the Holy Spirit is leading me closer to Jesus, deepening God’s life in me, so that in all things I can better love and serve those I encounter along the way.

Going Deeper:

  • Reflect on Pope Francis’ catechesis on consolation, recalling with gratitude times when you dared new adventure, boldly moving forward in a surprising direction.
  • Whether at the end of each day or at moments of important transitions, reflect with Becky Eldredge as you pray with the Suscipe (from Busy Lives, Restless Souls).

Photo by Sammie Chaffin on Unsplash

Jenéne Francis is an aspiring contemplative in action who finds writing creative non-fiction and short fiction a fruitful spiritual practice. She also enjoys adapting and offering the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius for days of reflection and retreats. Jenéne recently retired from the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus after many years supporting Jesuits and colleagues who serve retreat houses, spirituality programs, parishes, and as hospital chaplains and other pastoral ministers. Having spent her first career at the Procter and Gamble Company in product development and manufacturing, followed by more than 20 years in Jesuit ministry, Jenéne gets great satisfaction offering her engineer’s head and poet’s heart for “the greater glory of God.”

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