Wednesday, November 5, 2008

July 2008 - The Discerning Retiree

July turned out to be quite a significant month for me. The first event was a family reunion to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. My sister-in-law in Colorado had first suggested the party a year ago, and everyone was excited that all of the siblings and cousins would be together for the first time in 17 years. As a local with a lot of time on my hands, I did most of the planning for the week’s festivities.

I would love to say that the reunion was a rousing success, but it was really more of a mixed bag. The main issue was that my mother-in-law’s health was still poor, and she just didn’t have the energy for all the commotion. There were a few times when she snapped, which were sad for everyone. It was a bit of a tightrope walk, because we didn’t want to exclude her from activities, while at the same time we didn’t want to exhaust her. Still, a couple of outings were real winners, especially our relaxing days at the lake. The best part was that family members got to reconnect; some younger cousins even got to know each for the first time. I think Mom really did appreciate the effort everyone made to honor her, but there was a bit of relief when her life got back to normal.

The day we dropped the last of the out-of-towners at the airport, Terry and I headed ‘Up North’, as we Michiganders say. We met three other couples at Petoskey State Park, right on Lake Michigan. The weather was perfect, the scenery gorgeous, and the company delightful. It was quite a contrast to the frantic pace of the reunion.

Driving home from Petoskey, we were listening to a Catholic radio station when I heard a program that hit me like a thunderbolt. Sherry Weddell of the Catherine of Sienna Institute was talking about spiritual gifts, also known as charisms. She spoke of the joy and fulfillment that Christians experience when they use these gifts to carry out God’s will. I don’t remember her exact words, but I’m sure they echoed the essentials I found at the organization’s website,, which I quote here: "Every lay man and woman has been called by Christ (in his or her baptism) to a unique mission, and every lay man and woman has been gifted by the Holy Spirit in order to be able to answer that call. These gifts of the Holy Spirit are both clues as to the nature of the mission for which God is preparing us and tools with which to successfully carry out our mission."

There was that word ‘mission’ again! I hadn't stopped pondering whether there was still something more the Lord wanted me to do throughout my busy spring and summer. Perhaps hearing this radio program was not just a coincidence! I was excited to learn that the Sienna Institute sponsors a ‘Called and Gifted’ workshop, which helps participants to discern their charisms. I couldn’t wait to get home to see if there was a Called and Gifted program in our area.

I devoured every word on the Siena website, feeling even more certain that the Lord did have a mission for me, and that once I discerned my charisms, I would be able use them in support of that mission. Unfortunately, I saw that that there were no Called and Gifted workshops being offered nearby. I decided that I would follow the program on my own by using the discernment materials suggested on the website. I put in my order, and was thrilled when my package arrived a few days later.

My first step in the discernment process was to complete the Spiritual Gifts Inventory. This involved ranking 120 statements on a scale from 0 – 3, where 0 indicates that the statement never applies to me, and 3 means that it often applies. The instructions stated that one should not rank the statements based on what we want to be true or think should be true, but by what has actually happened in our lives thus far. High scores on a particular charism don’t necessarily mean that the gift is present, but that it is a possibility for further exploration.

After completing the inventory, I identified the charisms that had the highest ratings for me. They were: Writing, Service, Music, Encouragement, Faith, and Administration. I was not at all surprised that Writing scored so high, since it has long been one of my favorite pastimes. I have kept a journal for years, and even consider it a form of prayer. It also fit perfectly with my latest idea for volunteer work, helping the unemployed create resumes and cover letters at a local non-profit organization. I had already contacted the agency about doing this, and I was set to attend training in September. Things were definitely falling into place!

The next step was to conduct some experiments to test whether my love of writing was simply a talent and interest of mine, or if it was a spiritual gift. The Discerning Charisms workbook makes a big distinction between the two. Natural talents can be inherited and are independent of God’s grace; they can be used for our own personal good, or even for evil. On the other hand, charisms are supernaturally endowed; they are directly connected to our relationship with God, are dependent upon His grace, and can only be used to serve God’s purpose; they are meant to be ‘given away’ for the benefit of others, not to meet our own needs.

Now I set about listing the steps I would take to discern whether or not I had the Writing charism. I needed to look for the following signs to confirm that this was the case: 1) I would experience an unmistakable sense of joy, peace and energy when using my gift of writing; 2) The results of my writing would be unusually effective and successful in what I was trying to accomplish; 3) I would receive direct or indirect recognition of the gift’s presence from others.

But what experiment would I use to test this out? I wasn’t going to start helping others with their resumes for another month, and I was eager to confirm that the Lord was calling me to use my writing skills to touch the lives of others. I needed something immediate to assess whether the charism of Writing had been bestowed upon me. After much thought, I came up with an idea. And that is how this blog began.


Sherry W said...

Hi Michelle:

This is Sherry Weddell of the Called & Gifted process. Just happy to see that the process is useful for you and just wanted to say "blessings on your discernment of writing."


KathleenLundquist said...


I found your blog through a link from Intentional Disciples, the blog of the St. Catherine of Siena Institute. I think it's wonderful that you're exploring the charism of writing. I've been a supporter of the Institute for years and and a participant in many workshops, and I'm working on discerning my gifts as well. I feel I've had some hits and misses as far as writing goes, but like you, for me it seems like a form of prayer, strangely important to my spiritual life, and every so often others give me encouraging feedback. I'm also a musician; feel free to stop by my website,, and check out what's there.

God bless you as you seek Him! I'll stop by again.

Cheers, Kathleen

Michele S. said...

Thank you so much for your comments, Kathleen. I was really entranced with your website, with everything from your lovely music to your writing. I haven't read all of your pieces yet, but I was quite taken with your account of view the relics of St. Theresa. I think it's very interesting that you're still working on discerning your gifts, when it's very apparent to me that you are an inspirational musician and writer. This confirms my thoughts that discernment is an ongoing process. I'm very encouraged by your words, and more motivated than ever to continue my discernment process, even if it's taking longer than I had hoped.

Blessings to you!