When we think of discernment and decision-making, it is easy to approach the process with the assumption that one possibility, one opportunity, will stand out above the others or that. If only we spend enough time in prayer, reflection, and weighing the pros and cons of each, the choice will become obvious. Sometimes, this does happen. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of finding calm moments to sit, pray, and reflect, allowing our muddled thoughts and emotions to distill and the clear choice to rise up. But what happens when we find ourselves faced with two, three, or more good things from which to choose? How do we begin to pick the best one?
I still remember the words of my spiritual director over fifteen years ago, when, as a college senior, I attended my first Ignatian retreat amidst my own discernment about which post-graduate service opportunity was the best next step in my growing desire to be “a woman for and with others.” I agonized for weeks over where I was being called to serve, accompany, and grow. When I shared this with the Campus Minister who guided me through those four silent days, her words to me were simple and reassuring: “God, from a place of deep love, has given you these many goods to consider, and God will be there on whatever path you choose.”
Having gone back to these words so many times over the years, her insight feels so obvious. Yet, I will be the first to admit how hard it is for me to move that insight from my head to my heart and to find the peace to which God invites me when I am grappling between several good things. In his First Principle and Foundation, Ignatius says, “The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit. . . . Everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God. Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to the deepening of God’s life in me” .
Discerning between two goods isn’t some sort of game where God holds the answer and I’m trying to be the detective searching for the correct solution–where I run the risk of losing favor with God if I get it wrong. Instead, it’s an invitation: first, to an expression of gratitude for the gifts before me, and second, to a recognition of the many ways God invites me deeper into God’s love and into my own calling to let that love flow into the world. The nuts and bolts of that calling vary across life’s seasons, but the foundational guidepost is the same: God is rich in abundant love for us, and no matter which good we choose, God promises to accompany us along the way, always revealing new opportunities for us to be conduits of love to our world.
Viewing life as a journey, especially life rooted in spiritual becoming, has been helpful. In my mind, I see a winding road that meanders along streams, dips behind rolling hills, climbs mountains, crosses other paths, and ultimately fades into the horizon, the destination not entirely visible. It isn’t a fixed path like a paved city road, intended to carry us efficiently and quickly from Point A to Point B or leading us away from our goal if we take a wrong turn. When I’m discerning between multiple goods, reflecting on the journey that has brought me to where I am now and praying for an openness to whatever is around the next bend helps me to rest in the peace God promises. I am reminded that, amidst the uncertainties, God’s love–and God’s help in my sharing that love–remains constant, no matter which good of goods I choose.
- See the previous “Into the Deep” series on Ignatian discernment.
- Read and reflect on Ignatius’s “First Principle and Foundation” .
- Consider using the words of one of these people in your own prayer.
- Take to heart Jesus’s words to his disciples in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
Photo by Vlad Bagacian on unsplash.com