It didn’t take me long to decide what topic I would choose to write about as I join my Loyola colleagues in posting blogs to celebrate the dedicated Ignatian year (May 2021-July 2022 marking the 500th Anniversary of St. Ignatius’ conversion). Of all the great gifts of spiritual wisdom from Ignatius we could explore, I chose Discernment. I remembered I had written about this before in our then twice-yearly printed publication, The Loyola Letter in the Spring of 2006.
Two things struck me as I re-read what I wrote 15 years ago:
- Ignatius’s advice to those looking to grow in their spiritual life is extremely practical.
- Many centuries later, Ignatius’s advice is still relevant: I like to think of it as ENDURING WISDOM.
During this 500 Year Anniversary, articles, commentaries, podcasts, and books are available, and many discuss Discernment. Discernment is fluid; Ignatius’s mission was to provide exercises to develop the habit of living a discerning life. With this in mind, I am including an example of an article I wrote fifteen years ago using Ignatian Discernment Principles. I have not edited it, even though I am tempted to; however, re-visiting this article, I am aware how my understanding of discernment’s role in the spiritual life has deepened with time.
From: Loyola Newsletter, Spring 2006, “Loyola Letter”
WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Should I go back to work and leave our preschool child with the daycare provider? Should I look for a job in a different field which will probably mean less money but more job satisfaction? Should I go back to school which will mean I will be less available to my family? Should I retire? Should I run for political office? Should we sell our family home and move to an apartment, condominium, or townhouse? Am I possibly being called to religious life? How to decide? Does God care which decision I make?
These are a sampling of questions that are often the subject of spiritual direction sessions. The decisions can have far-reaching ramifications both for the one making the decision but also for his/her family, work colleagues, and friends. In spiritual direction we treat these issues as an opportunity to listen carefully to what life is asking of us at a particular time. As I have worked with people on discernment, I have come to appreciate the wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola whose Spiritual Exercises have been called a “school for discernment.” There is simple, practical wisdom that can be distilled from Ignatius to help us all. I offer the following process:
- Take time. Important decisions need careful reflection. A Cenacle sister once gave me a wisdom phrase that is most often true: “nothing important is urgent.”
- Immerse yourself in the realization of how much God loves you. The Spiritual Exercises begin by inviting us to meditate with scriptures on the theme of God’s love for us. *
- Write your personal mission statement. Or, less formally, reflect on the question: “what are my deepest values?”. Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, invites us to write our own obituary and eulogy to discover how we hope to have lived our life. He calls this “beginning with the end in mind.”
- Gather data. What will it cost to go back to school? What will be some possible effects of moving my family to take a different job? What do I need to know to decide if I should have this surgery? Consult other people. Get specifics.
- Clearly and succinctly write a statement of the issue as if you have decided NOT to do it:” I am not going to sell my house and move to a condominium.” Make a list of the pros and cons of that statement.
- Clearly and succinctly write a statement of the issue as if you have decided TO do it. I am going to sell my house and move to a condominium. Make a list of the pros and cons of that statement.
- Live for a week as if you have decided in favor of the statement. Notice how you feel.
- Live for a week as if you have decided not to do the action. Notice how you feel.
- How would you advise your best friend if this were their decision?
- Take your decision to God in prayer. Of course, not all decisions need this amount of careful attention. Sometimes our heart/gut tells us what to do but when we are truly stuck it can be a grace to have a process such as this to help us discern.
* such as Jeremiah 29: 11- 14: Isaiah 43: 2- 7. Psalm 139: 1-18.