How Do You Know When You Are Being Nudged By God?

SSJ - How Do You Know McQuade
Nudges, by their nature, are subtle, understated awarenesses that reach the heart through the senses. Sometimes a nudge is a prayer, a song, a photo, a kitchen aroma, a piece of art, a film, or a poem shared that captures and moves one’s heart or memory.

Nudges are touchstones of the spirit which can either move us or caution us to wait for a better time. Nudges can be seen as a facet of discernment which help one recognize Presence, like Elijah and The Whisper.

Before 1981, all of us awaited the arrival of “The Change List” to see who’d be moving or staying on a mission. That year, I received a call from Sister Liz O’Hara, asking me if I’d consider going to Our Lady of Mercy in Winston Salem, NC. I told Liz I’d like to pray about it and call her back in a few days. I’d just finished my Masters degree in theology and pastoral ministry at LaSalle. Moving to NC meant leaving my beloved Holy Name School and parish ministry, a wonderful community and friends after six years.

The phone call became the nudge. There’s no waiting for a hard copy list of names, missions, and ministries. This nudge required an answer in a whole new form of obedience and missioning. Saying “yes” to this nudge led me to a different style of being Church, living community, and serving in ministry—all in a relatively young diocese where parishioners seemed very intentional about being Church.

At that time there were about 80 sisters who moved from school to parish ministry. This change created a kind of hybrid community life. Adjusting to two different schedules required local communities to adapt to a whole new timetable and creative ways of being together. You can’t have a community meeting after school or in the early evening when one or more of the sisters works till 5:00 PM and has night meetings and groups. This emerging, hybrid-styled community life nudged everyone to be more flexible and understanding, and to be ready to pivot at any given moment. In the last 40 years, we’ve all been nudged in similar ways.

Another significant nudge came into my heart when I felt called to extend an invitation to the St. Stephen (Elkin, NC) parishioners to become SSJ Associates in Mission. Since many travel a distance to come to church on Sunday for Mass, and Faith Formation, it seemed unlikely folks would want to come an additional time during the week for an Associates gathering. I invited Sisters Rita Woehlcke and Mary Ann Mulzet to come give a presentation on our SSJ History and the Associates in Mission. To my amazement over 50 attended the initial gathering. This was a wonderful response since St. Stephen is a small mission church of 125 members in rural NC.

Debbie and Phillip Parrish, and Diane and Skip Whitman became the first SSJ Associates in Mission, followed by Kathy Jenkins, Ronnie Krakovsky, and Patty Topper, who were part of the second group that formed two years ago. Both groups now meet together and call themselves a CGC (Christian Growth Community). The nudge I felt six years ago to begin an Associates group here is bearing fruit in Elkin and in Charlotte, NC, as well.

Nudges take on all kinds of disguises. Some shatter our souls like an earthquake, while others are gentle whispers that continue to shape and reshape us in grace.