A Second Gift of the Holy Spirit: Understanding
Events happen, both good and bad, feelings arise, people say amazing or unusual things; but, we may not understand these or perceive why they happened. We might also be filled with a great peace and have no idea why it arose. The gift of Understanding is given so that we may perceive the meaning of things. Understanding builds on but goes beyond a basic intellectual process in which we analyze the causes and meanings of all the facets of life.
God wants us to understand him/herself first. This is a lifelong process. As it says in Isaiah 55: “My ways are not your ways.” As we call upon God and study God in the Bible, the liturgy, and the words of others, we increase in our understanding of how God works in the world and in us. We might want God to change us or heal us. We might want this right now. But God may want to leave some aspects of us unchanged or may lead us through a long process. God’s ways may seem like a long road trip on which we make many stops, sojourn in all kinds of places, get diverted, break down, climb hills, meet the strangest people, etc. In this process of coming to understand God, we will become more like God.
Understanding moves us closer to the reality we ponder if that reality encompasses goodness, truth, beauty and/or love. As we understand more and more, we will be capable of understanding even more. Understanding allows us to be increasingly open and able to incorporate even more awareness because it gives us a mature knowledge of how things work. After we realize that God works in steps and gradually accustoms us to hard work, we begin to appreciate the progress we have made and not argue so much with the difficult things that come our way. Frustrations and disappointments start looking like opportunities. The computer acting up or having someone snap at me can be an opportunity to be an Observer Self and to experiment with putting the computer in God’s hands or taking a deep breath before replying — a response I may never have tried before now. We may want a hurt or fear to go away and not realize that the way it is going to go away is to have a similar bad experience happen or to relive the original bad experience and be given the grace to go through it with God or with another loving person. The more we surrender our lives to God, the more we will understand how God is involved and why things are happening in the way they are.
Understanding includes perceiving who we are and why we do the things we do. It is the gift to be able to penetrate deeper and deeper into the unconscious and to gain insight into all those good or impaired aspects of ourselves from which we hide. In this gift we travel back into our family and personal histories and see how everyone and all the various ups and downs make sense. We understand how our era, birth order, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic class, personality characteristics, physicality, geography, and religion have contributed to who we are. Along the way, God gifts us with insight, even into horrendous things that may have happened. It is not that what happened was perfectly fine; but, with understanding we see how God took the terrible and brought something unexpected and beneficial out of it for us. There can be an understandable and difficult struggle with understanding. Things that have caused pain are normally repressed. We do not want to think about them. These memories may even be unavailable to our conscious minds. Spiritual growth, though, involves integrating the painful into our consciousness so that it can be used in new and positive ways. Repressed feelings and memories also take energy away from us because it takes quite a bit of psychic energy to monitor and filter repressed material. Little by little, God draws us to understand ourselves. We begin to see what is motivating us or blocking us. We also begin to see what our deepest desires are.
Understanding also refers to perceiving the truth about others. It implies an empathy for others. Understanding involves getting at the meaning of what is happening in our relationships. We may think that a particular relationship is about fun or adventure, but it may really be about being competitive with that person in order to feel good about myself. I may think that someone dominates conversations all the time just to be mean or to get attention, but in fact, that person may be terrified of being seen as him or herself and is trying to distract the group from the supposed truth. We may be gifted with understanding what is really going on with people. We may see past the appearances.
Finally, understanding extends to the course of history. Societal events can be frightening or depressing. The gift of understanding can allow us to see what God is doing with humanity. The Paraclete can enter our minds and feelings and make us realize the growth process that lays before us on this Earth. We can calm down because we see meaning in the challenges that happen everyday. We can see the freedom that people exercise and the choices they make as part of the struggle to grow up. God cannot force humans to be good. We have to learn it on our own. The gift of understanding gives us a perception of what is happening on this bigger scale. It allows us to surrender to a God who is smarter than we. To trust more, to hope more.