An approach to making decisions
St Ignatius developed his Spiritual Exercises to help us make good decisions. The process helps us to become more sensitive to the action of God in our lives.
God’s desire for each one of us is that we should be at peace and joyful. St Ignatius described this as being in a state of consolation - feeling that we are in the right place and doing the right thing.
We know from Christian teaching and everyday experience that what brings deep human joy is not shallow relationships or material wealth, but rather living a life of service, making a positive difference to others and a forgetfulness of self.
Forgetfulness of self does not imply despising or not liking yourself. It means acceptance, respect and appreciation of that great gift of God to you - which is your own self. It is only when you see yourself as good and loved by God that you can have anything good to offer to others and God.
As we are pre-programmed to gain consolation from doing what is right and desolation from doing wrong, Ignatian spirituality seeks to find what brings us consolation and through this, to know what is right.
Ignatius uses fifteenth century imagery, seeing the soul as the battle ground between the spirits of good and evil. We have the free-will to follow the promptings of either the good or bad spirit.
Some people like to translate this as a sort of inner movement rather than external powers. But whatever our preferred imagery, we can see it as a choice between what brings life - consolation, and what deadens our spirit - desolation.
Making a choice
In making a decision it is of central importance to seek God’s will – to serve God and my fellow human beings.
1. Sometimes what you have to do comes with great and unmistakable clarity – it is blindingly obvious.
2. At other times you feel enthusiasm for one choice and dullness with other options. The up and down movements of my spirit can lead me gradually to a realisation of where my heart lies – where God is prompting me.
3. There are times when you have to work out logically the best choice, looking at all the pro’s and cons.
But even when you have finished making a choice this way, you should feel comfortable and consoled with the final decision.
Some Rules for Discernment of Spirits
For anyone who is genuinely seeking to do what is right, the good spirit will bring enthusiasm, life, strength, tears, encouragement, views of a way ahead, peace and consolation. The good spirit also brings realism, an acknowledgement and sorrow for sin, but peace as a loved and forgiven sinner called to follow Christ
The bad spirit will bring endless problems, difficulties, doubts, desolation and confusion.
We feel mired in our sin; unchangeable and unforgivable.
We don’t see a future.
We are weighed down.
We have no taste for prayer or spiritual things, we are rebellious and selfish.
We are encouraged to give up!
God encourages, beckons, gently, inviting us on.
The bad spirit forces and drives, suggesting there is no choice.
If we know our own weakness, we will know where temptation is most likely to strike – our weaknesses are so often the shadow side of our greatest gifts.
In times of desolation don’t change plans made in consolation.
Desolation might be positive, it could turn us to God, or help us realise that consolation is God’s gift, not our own doing.
When suffering from desolation, try to return to consolation.
It might be useful to return to what brought consolation in the past.
In times of consolation, store the memory for the bad times.
Try to stay with consolation.
Often the person who is trying really hard to do what is right will find themselves attacked by unsettling temptations. Such a person may be so encouraged to doubt their naturally mixed motives in doing good that they turn away from doing good.
The focus has been brought round to self and one’s own motives, not on the needs of the other.
It is also normal to get ‘cold feet’ when faced with big decisions – remember not to change in desolation and that even ‘big’ decisions are rarely for life.
The things of God tend to be open to the light;
the things of evil tend to secrecy and duplicity.
Therefore being open and talking to someone about our choices can be helpful.