A Guide to Ignatian Discernment: Saving the Good Stuff for Later

July 17, 2022

As far back as I can remember I have saved important stuff for a future need. Saving handwritten letters from my European grandparents on lightweight blue airmail sheets – very important. Saving my Halloween candy as a child – until my sisters absconded with my reserves – yes, important! Yet, perhaps most revealing of all was my desire to save my allowance instead of spend it. I weighed purchases very carefully. 

This childhood tendency of saving things for later has followed me well into adulthood. There is a sense of security in knowing that I have something in my back pocket, which far surpasses the immediate pleasure and comfort of accessing everything at once. Somewhat like ‘banking’ my assets for leaner days. This is a revealing parallel to my spiritual journey. Saving the good stuff for later has formed patterns that still affect my interior life. Choices for small things – carefully saving the good stuff –  often influence realities more weighty – an intentionality about how I can prepare myself for when my spiritual life wanes.

Ignatius offers a similar strategy in his Rules regarding discernment in our spiritual lives. Rule 9, considered last week, wrestles with why we might find ourselves in spiritual desolation; desolation being a time without the spiritual confidence and comfort we long for. Exploring Rules 10 & 11, we return to consolation; the experience when we can breathe in deeply for a moment without struggle, the comfort of a deeper sense of interior alignment and harmony, experiencing what our head and our heart know to be true about our relationship with God. Here we reconsider the relationship between these two contrasting realities. 

In Rule 10 Ignatius expounds, “Let the one who is in consolation think how he will conduct himself in the desolation which will come after, taking new strength for that time.” 

We have all experienced the joy of good times, of surmounting a ridiculously difficult challenge and feeling as though, finally – finally – we have learned our lesson or made that critical, interior connection that we have struggled with for years. For one exquisite interval, the pattern of the roller coaster of our lives slips from our minds! Ignatius doesn’t throw a wet towel over our joy. With this Rule, he encourages the spiritually aware individual to use the time of consolation to prepare for what will inevitably come. Rule 10 is all about planning. Take the time when you are not distracted by desolation to plan how you will better manage the darker times. What are your vulnerabilities? Where do you tend to go, mentally, when the light of contact with the Divine dims? Become wise in the patterns of your desolation – don’t be caught off guard. Store up a supply ‘of remembering’ as a defense against that day. As first steps in my preparation, perhaps I: 

  1. Name the weak areas within me. In prayer, I bring these emotional territories to God. I ask the Lord for insight and healing
  2. If appropriate, I bring these weak areas to my support network 
  3. Commit myself to the practice of prayer especially when I feel fragile
  4. Set aside fear and anxiety, choosing to be proactive rather than reactive
  5. Find practical ways to remind myself of the nearness of God’s Spirit 

These points help lay the groundwork for Ignatius’ Rule 11.

Rule 11: “Let one who is consoled seek to humble himself and lower himself as much as he can, thinking of how little he is capable in the time of desolation without such grace or consolation. On the contrary, let one who is in desolation think that he can do much with God’s sufficient grace to resist all his enemies, taking strength in his Creator and Lord.”

Rule 11 isn’t just recommending that we go to our knees and utter mea culpas, beating our breasts with the humility we think is necessary. Rule 11 is actually reminding us that, like Ignatius, we can do all things through Christ! Our consolation is not our own doing. We didn’t bring on the spiritual oasis, or frankly, we would simply live there. In the same way, we do not bring on our desolation – it is not because of something we have intentionally failed to do. We open ourselves to be as responsive to the mysterious work of God as possible. Humbled by the consideration that these patterns of perceived light and darkness will be our human reality. We are humbled by this thought but not defeated! ‘Your grace is enough,’ was Saint Ignatius’ constant mantra. In this way, we grow in the ability to see God in all things whether in desolation or consolation. We are not alone. With grace, we bank our reserves for leaner times. We give thanks with an overflowing heart and take our strength from the God who loves us.

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Photo by Parvanah Saladino

 

Monique Jacobs is a first generation American and, as such, experiences culture, faith, and identity from a broad and rich perspective. Monique has been engaged in professional active ministry in the church for 40+ years, both as a religious sister for almost 20 years and, now, as an active laywoman. She also accompanies people as a Spiritual Director using Ignatian methods and spirituality. Her joy is to serve as an advocate for and companion to others, highlighting their gifts and helping to build up the body of Christ. In her spare time, she loves to read, sketch, bike, and hike in the Sierra Nevada. Monique is the Director of Mission and Identity for Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada.

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