Discernment Issue: Arms Wide Open
by Tannis Fisher
Living From The Heart – Module Four – June, 2015
When I began to consider a discernment issue, I had inklings and stirrings about what it might be. During and following the last intensive, I realized they had to do with the thread of my attachment to teaching and a possible focus for me in this coming year. It seemed like such a minor thing, whether to continue on the teacher-on-call list or take myself off. Could this really be an important discernment issue?
The background for this is my retirement from teaching two years ago. The first year following retirement, I spent much of the time caring for my 89 year old mom. In 2010, she had plunged into anxiety and depression following a hip replacement and I had taken time off work to help her. In October 2013, she plunged again; I accompanied her to doctor and psychiatrist appointments, taking notes, asking questions and spending hours with her, guiding her through the waters of despair and hopelessness. For almost a year, I walked with her through this time. Thankfully, at almost 91, she is back to her former, vibrant self.
The second year following retirement, I embarked on this wonderful life-giving course, Living from the Heart. The course will come to a close with my last paper in July and the third year following retirement will begin. Hmm, what to do. Since retirement, I have continued to be on the on-call teacher list, but this past year I have made myself unavailable to be called. I really haven’t wanted to go, but I wonder about letting go of being on the list; it is the last thread holding me to the teaching profession. My life has been filled with other things: course work, my prayer life, looking after grandchildren and continuing to spend time with my mom. If I take myself off the list, I will sever that particular teaching cord.
From this course, I have learned that God cares about every part of my life and that when I am pondering something, it indicates He is already at work behind the scenes. One of the things that has surfaced for me concerns the issue of defining myself. Lately, I have referred to myself as a retired teacher. When I worked full time, I felt pride in saying I was a Montessori teacher. Do I feel the need to define myself in some way? If so, why? I realize that I may want to develop some parts of me that have been dormant – story writing, dance, art and also create space for new things to emerge, and I wonder what they might be. The decisive act of letting go of teaching completely could give me the space and permission to pursue other possibilities.
I have written some children’s stories and have had a dream of seeing them illustrated and in print; I think they could provide hope and spiritual nourishment for children, but have never taken the time to pursue sending them to a publisher. I’m wondering if this is the year to work on that. I also have a desire to do something that would bring me a bit more income, something meaningful and God-led. I didn’t teach for many years while raising my children, so my pension is minimal; I can whittle away at savings, but I’m not inclined to do that. Substitute teaching would provide more income for a while, but my heart is not in it. I struggle with some guilt about that; it is, after all, a way to make extra money. I don’t relish the thought of getting up early, packing a lunch, putting on my teacher clothes, signing in at a school office, reading a day plan and conjuring up the energy to deal with 25 energetic children.
As far as discerning my way through this, I love the thought that discernment is a way of life, which is what was presented to us in the last intensive. Many times in my journal over the past few years, I have written that I want to be a listener. I realize that I have been practising discernment but not putting that particular name to it. It is an interesting discernment process writing this paper; I don’t know how it is going to turn out. I am pondering, listening as I go – leaving it for a day, walking, talking with others, sitting, believing that the Holy Spirit is at work answering my prayer to guide me into more self-awareness around this issue.
Writing the paper has similarities to talking with a spiritual director in that I don’t know what insight I am going to gain from the process until I go through it. Bringing thoughts into the light can help me discover deeper, God-given desires. If I want to leave teaching completely, perhaps that is from God; I just truly realized that. It is not only me thinking it, my Father is with me in my pondering. Pondering is a word I am drawn to lately, as well as nourish, nurture, restore, redeem, contemplate and transform.
I know that my image of God has widened, my faith deepened; I trust more. I see God as always for me; I believe He has plans for me and that they are good. I always believed the words, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I said them to others as encouragement, but now there is a sense in which I live them, and living in the reality of belief is different for me than just belief. Live the reality – walk the reality – make it a part of every second – belief infused into every cell and deep into the core of my being. I am held in the arms of the Creator always – when I walk, eat, play, work and sleep. Listening is crucial to the process. And resting. Resting in the arms of my Creator who has a plan and always it is for my best and the best of the world. So now I am adding listening and resting to my collection of words.
One of the emotions that emerges in my discernment issue is fear. Fear of finally leaving what is familiar and comforting and opening to what is unknown. As I write, I see that the word, opening, is also a word I am drawn to. I want to experience opening into what is to come, to emerge. I suppose the other discernment aspect to this is whether I choose to work on the children’s stories and pursue publication, or whether I just leave it open with no plans for the Fall and see what comes.
I used the pros and cons sheet suggestions and am considering what that has to tell me as well. At the moment, nothing looms out at me. I have begun, though, to see that what I first thought of as a minor issue, is in reality, indicative of a much bigger issue. What is my purpose on earth now? How am I to serve? This is forcing me to think more about myself and what is truly important to me. I want to stay open to what God has to say to me in this, and also rest in the waiting, not be anxious about it.
I feel like I am in some ways becoming a new person. Call yourself retired once and for all, Tannis. Accept that you are getting older and that you don’t relish the idea of going into a classroom as a teacher anymore. It is a letting go; an end to something. I think in some ways I don’t like to face that I am getting older. I am not as young as I used to be. I have retired from the intense work of full time teaching with young children because I simply don’t have the energy and stamina to do it anymore. I am a senior; I get a pension. I feel young in my spirit, but my body gets tired more than it used to. I need to accept that. I see now that embrace is a word I want to apply to myself. Embrace the new you. Be a vibrant, creative, older woman. There, I just said it, older woman. I am an older woman. But that doesn’t mean washed up, useless, no good for anything anymore. I want to step into this new phase, no, leap into this new phase. What do you have for me, Lord? What wonderful thing is coming? My arms are open wide in expectancy.
And that is a progression for me from when I began this paper. I can finally finish it with wide – open – hopeful – trusting arms. The word ‘serve’ I would like to see as a beautiful word. In my mind, presently, it is not such a beautiful word. It means work, servitude. I don’t associate it with joy. I do want to serve the Lord; I want to be of service. So, I could perhaps look for a new word, imbue the word ‘serve’ with new meaning, or add more words to accompany it so that it encompasses what I want to convey.
I want to stride into the service of the King. Embrace what He offers, for it will be an exact fit. My motto in my teaching was, ‘I choose joy.’ I had the phrase on the wall in my classroom to remind me. Now I realize I can have it as a life motto. I may want to change it, just as I may want to create my own rule of life. But, I now believe that whatever I do in the future will have joy for me as I will be using my God-given gifts. He gives me the desires of my heart; that I can count on. So, I turn now to embrace the coming year of my life, the next new phase. Listening, resting, trusting and embracing. Arms wide open.