A friend shared with me her story of choosing which religious order to join when she was studying to become a Catholic nun. She was watching a slideshow presentation of the different orders when she heard a voice say to her, "This one." It was so clear and distinct that she remembers turning around to see who had spoken to her but no one was there. Recognizing that it was probably from the Lord she entered into the particular order that she was prompted to join.
At the time we knew each other she had been married several years with three children. Even though I did not know everything about her religion, I did know that nuns do not marry so I asked her something that hinged around an issue I had been struggling with myself.
"If God knew that you were just going to leave the convent, stop being a nun and get married why do you think He was so concerned about which order you joined? In the long run you were just going to leave the convent anyway."
"Because it was a contemplative order," she replied.
"A what order?" I asked.
"A contemplative order. It means we spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation. It was there that I learned how to recognize the voice of the Lord."
It did matter to God which order she joined. She was led to an environment that encouraged and fostered a deeper and more divine relationship with her Heavenly Father.
Find time each day for meditation
We don't need to enter a monastery or convent in order to engage in a deeper spiritual practice. We don't need to take a vow of poverty or shut ourselves away for 40 days and nights. We should be seeking, however, to enhance our own divine intimacy and in order to achieve that we need to spend quality time every day in quiet reflection and pondering. With a growing family this may require some creativity. Set the alarm clock 30 minutes earlier. Take advantage of children's naptime or find a solitary nook at lunch.
Contemplation involves patience. Even small children can be taught this concept with a set quiet time each day. It's a time to practice telling the body and mind to quiet down and invite the divine show up.
Turn off the phone and other electronics
Why is pondering so essential? Why can't inspiration be quick and easy? God will not compete with the noise and distractions of our modern world. When we are constantly on social media, listening to the radio or watching TV, it becomes more and more difficult for his voice to penetrate through all of the noise.
We cannot serve two masters. At least once a day our spirits need our bodies to take a break from the worldly master and feed our soul with intimate encounters with God, the master of our soul. Through praying, studying scripture and then pondering the meaning of what we have just read we create an environment for God to more easily talk to us - for him to deliver the message he has specifically for us. Silence is oxygen for the soul. We become better fathers, better mothers and better family members through hearing God's voice.
Do your homework
When we are seeking divine guidance, as with my friend who sincerely wanted to enter into the religious order God had planned for her, we must do more than simply mumble our needs and wants at the edge of our beds each night. When making a decision or seeking knowledge God expects us to do our homework first. Direction, guidance and spiritual messages come to us after prayerful preparation. Part of this preparation is deliberate pondering and contemplation through quieting our surroundings so that we can focus our mind on spiritual things.
What does God's message mean for me?
Perhaps the greatest example of this deep, prayerful thinking was shown by Mary, the mother of Jesus. In Luke 2:19 (KJV) it is recorded that after all she had witnessed - the visit from the angel Gabriel, bringing forth her firstborn son and Savior of the world and watching and listening as humble shepherds and wise Magi from foreign lands came to worship her newborn baby - Mary "kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." A self-proclaimed handmaid of the Lord, this obedient woman took these sacred events and meditated on what this central historical event meant for her as a mother, for her son and for the entire human race.
As we ponder we change; we have a greater strength to be obedient to our Heavenly Father and this obedience strengthens our families.
When pondering on a lesson, a scripture, a sermon or decision ask, "What does this mean to me? How can I apply this in my family life?" Then, write down any thoughts, feelings, or impressions that come to you.
Pondering allows our souls to communicate with God, to receive his will for us, and to be able to open our spiritual eyes of understanding, allowing (and sometimes forcing) us to dig deeper into the very essence of who we are and who God wants us to become.