Six questions for conquering crazy-think and making good decisions

I don’t do suffering well. Some generous people said that they thought I handled the pulmonary embolism thing gracefully, but a) they would have retracted all of that and slowly backed away in fear if they could have heard my inner dialogue, and b) sitting in a quiet hospital room and listening to my iPod didn’t exactly make me St. Josephine Bakhita. Also, it’s usually the little trials that throw me for a loop more than the big ones: I can kind of go with the flow when major medical procedures go awry, but getting interrupted 50 times when I thought I might actually get ten freaking minutes to write a blog post (no idea where I came up with that example!!!!) sends me into an abyss of despair that makes me angrily question whether there is anything good in the human experience.

Needless to say, when I’m in these kinds of situations, I don’t tend to make great decisions. For example, I have this stupid sinus infection that I (and Augmentin) can’t seem to kick, and the presence of constant pain in my left cheek combined with a baby who wakes me up many times per night has left me in a not-great mental state. (Yeah, I have a neti pot. Hasn’t helped, but I use it anyway because I look so glamorous doing it.) It’s easy to let times like this trigger the beginning of a downward spiral in which I decline opportunities I should probably take, give up on activities that were good and fruitful, and open up my calendar and CANCEL ALL THE THINGS.

To inject some much-needed sanity into my decision making process during these times, I often go through a checklist of questions that my old spiritual director would ask. This post is kind of a rerun since I posted this list a couple of years ago (and I also have a new and wonderful spiritual director now who also asks great questions), but I thought I’d put it up again since these ideas are helping me keep the crazy-think at bay.

6 Questions My Spiritual Director Would Ask When
I Had a Tough Decision to Make and Was Being Crazy About It:

1. Have you prayed about it?

It’s hard to believe that this question is even necessary, but with me it usually is. With embarrassing frequency I’d come to my old spiritual director, Christie, and pour out my angst about some conundrum, ending with shaking my fist at the heavens and wondering why God wasn’t helping me. There were more than a few awkward moments the resulted from her gently asking, “Have you prayed about it?”, and I had to find a way to avoid seeming like a spiritual vegetable while offering the honest answer of “no.”

2. How does it impact your primary vocation?

I can’t overstate the importance of this question. It’s brought more peace to my life than any other thought exercise. The Catholic idea of vocation is that the meaning of life is to serve others, and your vocation (e.g. married life, religious life, priesthood, etc.) is the main way that God intends for you to serve. It’s his primary path for you to find peace and fulfillment — therefore, no legitimate call from God would negatively impact your vocation. God would never call a parish priest to do something that made him feel burdened and resentful of offering the Mass on Sunday, he would never call a father to something that made him feel tied down and frustrated by his wife and kids, etc. It doesn’t mean that the only things you ever do are directly related to the duties of your vocation, but that those duties are your top priority.

Whenever I’ve started going down a path that introduced tension, resentment, or other bad vibes into the family, it’s always turned out to be the wrong decision. This isn’t to be confused with short-term sacrifices that may be difficult, like when Joe was studying for the CPA exam and it was super stressful at times but we were both ultimately on the same page about it; it’s more about choices that fundamentally put you at odds with your spouse or your kids. Over and over again, I’ve found that if a call you hear is really from God (and not just your own selfish desires doing their best imitation of the Holy Spirit), one sure sign is that it will ultimately end up strengthening your work in your primary vocation.

3. What does your spouse think?

Like with #1, I often get so caught up in analyzing things that I forget to ask for Joe’s input, especially if it’s a small matter. My spiritual director would always hone in on this question too, since the Holy Spirit often speaks through our spouses, especially when we’re not doing a good job of listening to him ourselves. (For people who are not married, an alternative might be to ask your parents, siblings, or a trusted friend.)

4. Are you taking care of yourself?

At one point I’d been in a rut and was trying to figure out how to get my life back on track, but it felt like my discernment process was going nowhere. My prayer life was nonexistence, and, worse, I found that I didn’t even really care about praying. When I came to Christie to complain about it, and she immediately asked if I was taking care of myself. I explained that if tearing through entire bags of junk food at a time, drinking too much wine, never exercising, and staying up past midnight to surf the web could be considered “taking care of myself,” then yes, I was doing a fantastic job.

She paused for a moment, then said, “I think we’ve found at least part of the problem.” Experiences of suffering can be amazing times of closeness to God…but if your suffering is self-inflicted due to obsessive attachments to the things of the world, it’s probably not going to lead you to any super spiritual experiences. Christie said that before I began looking into any deeper causes for my spiritual dryness, I needed to start taking care of myself first. Sure enough, once I started eating a better diet and getting some sleep I was able to take the first steps toward getting my prayer life back on track, which helped me in every area of life.

5. Are you making decisions based on fear?

If you hear an inner voice telling you that you need to do something because you’ll be a big huge loser failure and everyone will hate you if you don’t, it’s pretty safe to say that that is not the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Christie always had to remind me of this. For example, at one point I was discerning whether or not to homeschool, but all of my thinking was fear-based: I was tempted to homeschool because I was freaked out about something I’d heard about the local school and I had images of my kids getting bullied playing in my head over and over again. On the other hand, I thought I should send them to school because I was sure I would screw everything up and end up with teenagers who couldn’t read and had mostly imaginary friends.

Christie encouraged me to stop living in fear and start boldly asking what God wanted our family to do, to make a conscious effort to trust that he would give us what we needed when we needed it if we just followed his path. It took a while to silence all the trains of thought that were filled with fear and anxiousness, but once I did the discernment process went much more smoothly, and I quickly came to a decision that brought me a lot of peace.

6. Which path would bring you the most peace?

Similar to the above, Christie would sometimes ask me to imagine myself going through each of the various options that were before me in some dilemma, and to consider which one would bring me the most peace. Fairly often, I would find that when I actually took the time to do this, I was filled with anxiety when I thought of going the route that looked best on paper, and felt a perfect sense of peace when I considered taking the route that seemed a little crazy — and the peace-filled option always ended up being the right path.

More info

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38 Responses to “Six questions for conquering crazy-think and making good decisions”
  1. Rosita says:

    Definately good questions.

    About your pain, when I read it Friday and reading it again now, my first thought was you have a tooth infection not a sinus infection. I am not a dentist, but wanted to at least pass that on if you have a chance.

  2. Kraft says:

    Thanks for linking to my ACNM post!

  3. Blair says:

    Great post! So many good things to think about. I’m discerning our activities for next year (and this summer) and I’ll be referring to this list!
    Blair recently posted..What I Wore Sunday

  4. Fran says:

    Thanks for this post! I usually resort to question one, but all of these questions are so relevant and thought provoking. Hmmm…spirtual director…I would like to learn more about this.

  5. Adam says:

    Whenever I use a Neti Pot, I always wonder if it is a little bit like waterboarding.
    Adam recently posted..A Priest, a Cruise Ship and the Kentucky Derby

    • FWK says:

      Try NeilMed Sinus Rinse. It’s a lot easier to use and comes with saline packs. Costco carries enough for…ever.

      • MaryS says:

        Yes!!! The NeilMed sinus rinse is far better than a neti pot. A neti pot is like a little stream. The NielMed sinus rinse is like the mighty Mississippi. And it is no “worse” in the glamour department.

  6. I am so glad you reposted this. I’m printing it out now and sticking it in my prayer journal. Saying a prayer for you. Hang in there, mama!
    Bobbi @ revolution of love recently posted..Catholic Woman’s Almanac (5/20/13)

  7. It’s like you’re speaking to my soul :). Well, the Holy Spirit through you. Everytime you post this, I need to read it.
    Kristen @ St Monica’s Bridge recently posted..Giveaway!

  8. Erin says:

    I really like #2. That one question could actually motivate one to seek out that which enhances their vocation, rather than just passively wondering what to do about events that are unfolding. I would consider #3 to be really part B of #2, as well, if you are married, because in a marriage nothing you do is in a vacuum.
    Erin recently posted..A Good Day to Run Hard

  9. Olivia says:

    Jennifer, this post came at a perfect time! Thank you for sharing the insight of your former spiritual director with us, I know I need reminders like these all the time!
    Olivia recently posted..What I Wore Sunday

  10. Amelia says:

    I especially like number 6. I’ve definitely found that to be true, and our family has done some crazy things, but when we were discerning those things, we always went with what gave us peace, and that was where God wanted us to be.

  11. Allison H. says:

    Christie’s e-mail, please?!

    I’ve never had a spiritual director and have no idea how to search, but I do know that I’m saving this to read again quietly and to think long and hard.

    This rerun is perfect; thank you for posting!
    Allison H. recently posted..Five Things Homeschooling Has Not Been

  12. I’ve needed this SO MUCH lately, thankyou! Christie is a great name, btw. c;
    Christie @ Everything to Someone recently posted..Glory

  13. julie says:

    I really needed this post. I went to a spiritual director last year but she moved. I really have needing one lately. Homeschooling with a three older ones and now a little one (20 mo) has been so frustrating…i’m always rethinking if I should homeschool or not…I’m just tired of cleaning up after everyone and repeating myself constantly. I’m overwhelmed with my house, the kids and lately the world. I know God wants me to homeschool, but man it’s hard at times….thanks for these tips, they help me refocus.

  14. Kim says:

    Thanks for this! I am so saving this for my moments of crazy! Actually, I have a handy little paper I keep in my Kindle cover that tells me which Mysteries of the Rosary go on which days because after two years of being Catholic I still can’t seem to remember…. Anyhow, I’m copying these questions onto the back of that paper. Never know when the crazy might strike; it’s those little things that get me, too. Better keep ‘me handy.

  15. After just having a baby along with your recent medical problemsI think you deed to concentrate on ‘look after yourself’! Think of me as your mother.

  16. That should read ‘need’ not ‘deed’.
    Lorraine Shelstad recently posted..The Catholic Church and Science

  17. Claudia says:

    Hi Jen! I had a sinus infection last March and this past March – what really worked for me is an antibiotic called Levofloxacin. And… regarding all you are going through/have been through: you are one tough, amazing saint in the making!

  18. Mary Kay says:

    RE: Sinus infection, as Rosita said it could be a tooth issue. I had something similar and needed a root canal, but the pain did subside after two rounds of antibiotics combined with using a neti pot and also taking Mucinex and Sudafed (I hate to take anything but I was desperate). I hope you feel better soon.

  19. Jennifer says:

    I recently discovered your blog and have been really enjoying it. This particular post though I am saving for future reference. It’s so easy to lose focus when you’re going through a tough time, and these questions are a perfect reminder of what’s really important. Thanks for sharing it with us. I am passing it on. P.S. Nice name :)

  20. Katherine says:

    Get. Outta. My. Head. :D hahaha…needed to hear all of this.
    Thank you.

  21. Lorra says:

    Divine Providence strikes yet again! I have been debating leaving the Church for an independent chapel for years and was getting closer to doing so (i.e. like this Sunday!). However, what has stopped me is the fear and anxiety the thought of the move caused. Your #6 settles it.
    Thanks, Jennifer, and God bless you for writing this!

  22. fats says:

    concerning suffering, I read Peter Kreeft’s book on it and better understand how it relates to our relationship with Christ, and have seen a vast difference in viewpoints about it in the Protestant world vs Catholicism. That said, I still avoid it like the Plague ( no pun intended) but if it does happen, and it has, after all my whining and grovelling, i still end up saying ” Thy Will be Done ” ( not that He will do any different anyway :>)

  23. Laura says:

    Thanks for the great outline. We recently made a big decision (to send our kids back to school after 3 years of homeschooling) and reading through your questions helps confirm our belief that it is the right thing for our family. Now if only the money fairy would fly by to pay our expensive Catholic school tuition. :)
    Laura recently posted..Italy revisited

  24. ” . . . they would have retracted all of that and slowly backed away in fear if they could have heard my inner dialogue . . .”

    I love that kind of honesty so very much lol.

    T
    Patrick Pierce recently posted..A Visit To St. Leo Abbey

  25. Lisa says:

    Hi,
    This post puts me in the uncomfortable spot of knowing the answer to a number of the questions about a situation I have been pondering for a couple of years (yes. years.), but realizing I have continued to disregard them….Thanks for the reminder that God’s plans don’t always make earthly, or should I say worldly, sense.

    Take good care.
    Lisa

  26. Josette says:

    Thank you for this very helpful and inspiring post. I have used the steps many times and can’t tell you what an incredible help it has been to me. God Bless You!

  27. Bonnie says:

    Thanks so much for such practical suggestions for finding a spiritual director. It helps so much to know it may not be the first person you contact, but finding one is worth the effort. But I really wanted to comment on the first line of your post, “I don’t do suffering well.” I got to thinking about that, because I have my meltdowns and indignations too, and often wonder why I’m not making much progress being better at enduring suffering with peace. Then it hit me; these virtues (like patience, and forbearance, and long-suffering) are gifts of the Holy Spirit. We get the grace to overcome our faults and replace them with virtues in the moment they are happening. Maybe it’s in that split second before we lose our temper that God’s grace works, giving us the chance to turn our frustration aside and react in a positive way instead. It seems to me maybe if I grab the grace in the moment, I might actually begin to get some practice at these virtues, instead of being my old sour self. Thanks for your blog. Your reflections and comments spur fruitful reflections in others. God bless.

  28. Thanks so much for your honesty and humor on life.
    Found your blog & Life an inspiration during our conversion from Protestant to Catholicism.
    Pray that you touch many more lives.
    Love the reality show too!
    Nicky
    Nicky Rothmann recently posted..Conversion | How it all Began

  29. On the website, Catholic Stand [ http://catholicstand.com/ ], I am writing a series of posts entitled, believe it or not, “HOW TO FIND FAITH AT THE MOVIES” and I am describing a way of looking at the process of making decisions that distinguish it from merely making choices or making judgments. Your comments in this post encourage me to continue my efforts. Thanks.
    John Darrouzet recently posted..Saving the World One Baby at a Time

  30. Elyse says:

    You might already know this, but you can get your sinus infection cultured to get the right antibiotic that will knock it out. My sister’s ENT does it for her automatically because she has chronic evil sinus infections & it helps! Good luck!

  31. Wow – when you pray and God answers – you have GOT to pay attention. That’s what I’m saying to myself right now. I am in a terrible state right now – hate my work (but love my employer), buried with family drama that is hurting my very soul and – yeah – I’m best friends with the bags of junk food and am not on speaking terms with my elliptical. I’ve been praying for weeks for God to help me, to take the burden from me and show me the way. Slowly but surely, He is showing me a path and this blog post is part of the light shining on the path. Thank you Jennifer. My hurting heart and battered soul say thank you to the Holy Spirit for all that it brings – even the pain from which I am trying to recover.
    Kris, in New England recently posted..Prayer and Comfort

  32. syd says:

    But how can one tell that something is crazy/peaceful v. crazy/non-peaceful?

    I find myself constantly second-guessing things and wanting to give up when I do go for the crazy thing.

    Honestly, I have a sense of dread about every decision I make. UGH.

    Thanks for this post. Would love to see more on discernment

    • If I may, Syd, choice-making, judgment-making, and decision-making are three separable processes. Judgment-making is oriented to the past, things already done. Choice-making to the present, things being done right now. Decision-making to the future. Discernment is involved in decision-making, but not as much in the other two processes. We make choices from among options presented to us by others who have limited them. We make judgments based on hypothetical reasoning with evidence of facts. In decision-making we rely most profoundly on movements of the spirit. Learning to discern good spirits from bad requires us to pay attention to whether we are consoled by the grace given via the insight discerned or are desolated by the grace of the oversight we missed.

  33. Becky C. says:

    I have to say, sometimes I feel like I am the only one who struggles with suffering. I am just ending 9 days of my husband being gone and I am at home alone with 5 kids. My 3 yr old has been driving me up a wall and not sleeping and I feel like I am a horrible Christian right now. But then I see that I stop exercising when he left and starting drinking major amounts of pop and eating junk food. I never connected these areas, but this definately is making me convicted in this area.

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