Remember, discernment involves small and large decisions through intentional thought and prayer, an ongoing and dynamic process. Please take time to review the Four Step Discernment Process intro and the first mode, “Facts Matter”, explanations.
In the process of discerning big and small decisions, someone might say: “I feel it in my gut” or “I just know.” Decisions like job opportunities and changes, family patterns, choosing college, child care, a spouse, or even small decisions can move us interiorly. My family, for example, engages the gut constantly as we consider colleges and next steps for my daughters. I teach my daughters that their gut, or rather, their spirit is a valuable indicator that informs them where God might be calling them. We often give facts more weight and value, but our ability to know the movements in our spirit is, according to St. Ignatius of Loyola, an essential tool for discernment.
Saint Ignatius taught, through the Spiritual Exercises, how to understand the movements of our interior self. He begins by explaining desolation, or the movement away from the voice of God. We know, in music, for example, when we hear a note or even a couple of notes that sound “off,” like they don’t belong in the chord or in the song, that something should be adjusted to create melody or harmony in our lives. This is what desolation feels like–notes that are being played off-key.
During times of desolation, when there are notes creating discord in our lives, it becomes more difficult to hear God. Desolation feels heavy and dark. We might experience “a lack of faith or hope or love” or restless and half hearted in prayer and other service of the good. We might even feel “rebelliousness, despair, or selfishness” (Fleming Spiritual Exercises 313–327). We have all felt some sounds of this in our lives– the tunes of our life are not in sync.
In making decisions, we must pay close attention to the movements of our heart. Ignatius invites us to consider your decision and ask yourself:
Does this bring me farther from God (desolation)?
Consolation feels the opposite of desolation. When we are leaning into the voice of God and yearning to move toward the voice of God, we are able to freely and easily move in that direction. We “begin to see everything and everyone in the context of God, the Creator and Giver of all good gifts.” We hear the harmony of God all around you. Freedom rises inside of us and we see clear paths for our decisions. We feel “an increase of our faith, our hope, and our love” and the voice of God feels like home–like the voice that created us and loves us (Spiritual Exercises 313–327).
In making decisions, we must pay close attention to the movements of our heart. Ignatius invites us to consider the decision that you might make and ask yourself:
Does this bring me closer to God (consolation)?
I invite you to spend time with your journal when you enter this mode of discernment. After you have gathered the facts and noticed if you are in a Mode One discernment (God clearly makes it known), you may enter Mode Two, considering the movements of the spirit towards consolation and desolation, write your interior movements. In Mode Two discernment, we pay attention to the choice that continues to bring consolation. The permanence of writing something down takes the internal and brings it to the external. It helps make the important spiritual movements outside of yourself so that not only others can see it, but you can see your own spirit in words so that you can bring it all to God.
- Check out our resources on discernment here.
- The next time you are in a discernment process, consider using the Four Steps of Discernment handout.
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