Cultivating Discretion in an Age of Distraction

Written by Ann Burns

January 20, 2024

When the Villains are Beautiful

“Whatever happens to you, never think that it comes from men, think that it comes from God and is for your own good. And then see how you may profit from it.”

~St. Catherine of Siena to her sister 

One word that seems to imbue our culture is vulnerability.  We’ve become increasingly more and more comfortable opening up and sharing the intimate details of our daily life.  Videos of individuals crying over daily challenges to frank discussions about the wounds inflicted on us by others crop up all over the internet. 

But is this genuine vulnerability? Or is this oversharing, breaking down healthy boundaries, and indiscretion?

What Do We Mean By Vulnerability

Vulnerability requires humility.

As Christ reminds us, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

Vulnerability has nothing to do with venting, mindless chatter, or being overly transparent.  It’s rooted in acknowledging our own weakness; admitting first to God and ourselves that we are little and capable of even less, from there it allows us to enter into relationships without bravado, but with true love and self-knowledge. 

Genuine vulnerability allows God’s grace to act within us. 

In being vulnerable, we are truly able to give the gift of self to others because it frees us from the shackles of ego by allowing us to show up and be truly seen. 

But it’s important to note, vulnerability isn’t about shouting our imperfections for all to hear— that would be foolish and even vain— rather it’s about building those intimate relationships — those true friendships — where you are both seeking sanctity. That is when you can open up and share the struggles you are encountering on this pilgrimage called life. 

Oversharing and Indiscretion

Oversharing on the other hand is a form of indiscretion. According to St. Catherine of Siena, indiscretion comes into play when we fail to understand who we are in relationship to God. 

In The Dialogue, we see that Our Lord explained to St. Catherine:

An indiscreet soul robs Me of the honor due to Me, and attributes it to herself, through vainglory, and that which is really her own she imputes to Me, grieving and murmuring concerning My mysteries, with which I work in her soul and in those of My other creatures; wherefore everything in Me and in her neighbor is cause of scandal to her. Contrariwise those who possess the virtue of discretion. For, when they have rendered what is due to Me and to themselves, they proceed to render to their neighbor their principal debt of love, and of humble and continuous prayer, which all should pay to each other, and further, the debt of doctrine, and example of a holy and honorable life, counseling and helping others according to their needs for salvation, as I said to you above. Whatever rank a man be in, whether that of a noble, a prelate, or a servant, if he have this virtue, everything that he does to his neighbor is done discreetly and lovingly, because these virtues are bound and mingled together, and both planted in the ground of humility which proceeds from self-knowledge.”

If we are indiscreet, we generally credit ourselves (and others) with far too much.  We nurture our ego and it is only too tempting to get caught up and frustrated with our neighbor.  

In other words, when we forget that “God is God and I am not” we begin to focus too much on ourselves and on others.  An unhealthy focus on others leads to all kinds of problems: comparing, jealousy, frustration, and the list goes on. From here, it’s only a matter of moments that we start allowing those thoughts and frustrations to become words.   

Yet, when we recognize God is everything and we depend so entirely on Him, all goodness coming from Him, we stumble upon one of the most beautiful realizations: God doesn’t need us; He loves us.  

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.” CCC 1

In accepting this beautiful (and humbling) reality, we can open up our hearts and receive the love of God.  We can finally recognize that God isn’t asking us to prove anything to Him, and in our boasting, we only look ridiculous.  

Instead, He is asking that we let Him love us. Our holiness, our salvation, our everything good is God’s project.  We just need to follow.

In accepting this first step, we not only grow in self-knowledge, we also gain a healthy understanding of who our neighbor is: a child of God, created in love and worthy of our respect and love.

Understanding God as God, shifts our perspective and allows us to see the vanity in so much of our “oversharing” and how being “raw” is not necessarily all it’s chalked up to be. 

Discretion in the Age of Distraction 

It is difficult to cultivate discretion in a society that is brimming with distraction — phones, TVs, noise, and more noise seem to consume us. 

For this reason, it is essential that we intentionally make time for silence.  Naturally, there are innumerable reasons as to why this may be challenging, but I want to challenge you to shift your perspective and see that it’s not so much a challenge as finding a new rhythm for life.  

For instance, if you are a mother, it might mean getting up thirty minutes earlier before everyone else.  Or, if your husband works evenings, you might utilize that time to break away after the children’s bedtime, brew some tea, and seek silence.  

In silence, it is so much easier to seek God.  And when we have that time set aside, we begin to strengthen our interior life — a life that is discreet, recollected upon God, and detached from worldly drama. 

A next step to helping us grow in discretion is what St. Edith Stein calls “objective work.” 

“[Objective work] demands in itself the repression of an excessively personal attitude. It calls for an end to superficiality not only in her own work but in general. Because it requires submission to objective laws, it is a schooling in obedience.”

Whether that means cleaning out the sink, folding the mountain of laundry, or what other duty we may have at hand, objective work  helps to keep us rooted and provides us with an opportunity to order our emotions.  

Plus, we can come to know God through our work as well by offering up each task in love for Him.  

When we consciously seek out God, desiring to know Him, we begin to find that the need to overshare, to vent, to allow others to rob us of our peace begins to melt away.  

That’s not to say we won’t still struggle, of course we will, but we will find the confidence of knowing that God cares about hearts, and He is waiting to pick us up when we stumble. 

And we don’t need to overshare and post it all over social media. 

We just need to be vulnerable and ask for His help. 

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