Let’s look this week at the four-step discernment process I invite people to go through when discerning an invitation or choice.
Four-Step Discernment Process:
1. Pray: Discernment starts in our inner chapel, where there is quiet and stillness. The silence of prayer helps us listen better. We can talk to God about the choice we seek to make, about what we desire, about what our hopes are and what our fears are. After we speak to God, we can pause and listen.
Notice what arises in prayer. God is with us in our decisions. It may be helpful as we pray to seek out another person, such as a spiritual director, to pray and discern with us.
2. Gather Data: The second step of discernment is to gather data. The data includes both the hard-core facts that affect your decision as well as your emotions and feelings. Our dear friend, St. Ignatius, offers many suggestions when we are at this phase of discernment that can help us gather the data:
- Start with what we know. What invitation(s) or choice(s) is God putting forth to us to discern? Name the facts, such as the specific choice(s) in front of us. What information do we have about each choice?
- Pay attention to the movement of the spirits. We can notice where we feel consolation and desolation. What choice brings a feeling of consolation—an increase of faith, hope, and love? What choice brings us a feeling of desolation—a decrease of faith, hope, and love?
- Make a pro-and-con list. We can weigh the pros and cons of the choices. Include in this list the costs of each option as well as the possible benefits of each option.
- Act as if we made the decision. Ponder what life would be like if we acted on one of the choices. Then ponder what life would be like if we made the other choice. Notice which way brings more of an increase of faith, hope, and love or more consolation.
- Act as if we were giving advice to someone else. Pretend a friend came to us with our same discernment dilemma. What advice would we give that friend? What would it feel like if we took that advice to heart and acted on it for our lives?
- Imagine ourselves at our death. St. Ignatius also suggests that we imagine that we’re at the end of our life. As we look back on this decision we are making, which choice will matter more in the end?
We may choose to use one of these methods to gather data or several. As we gather data, we then take the information back to prayer and talk to God about what we are noticing and the information we are gathering. As we pray, we can continue to ask God for clarity of choice.
3. Come to a Decision: At some point in this process, God will make the choice clear to us. It may be through overwhelming consolation—that deep inner peace—or it may be just a gut knowing. It may be that the facts of the decision cleared the way for us to make a choice. When we are ready, fully commit to our decision and let God affirm our decision in prayer. Continue to ask God, “Is this my next right step? Is this what you desire?”
It also helps to share our decision at this point with a few trusted external voices. Are they in agreement with our decision? Are they affirming our discernment?
4. Act: Once our decision is affirmed in prayer, then act on it. Continue to ask God to give us clarity and confirmation as we live into our decision. Check the fruits of our decision as we live into it. Are we still feeling consolation? Are we noticing increases of faith, hope, and love within us and within those who were affected by our choice? Are things opening up and aligning themselves for us to take this course of action? Ignatius suggests that if things keep closing, as opposed to easily opening, we need to pay attention to whether this is the right choice or not.
- Re-visit what you noticed last week about God’s invitations.
- Apply the four step discernment process to a decision you are trying to make.
- In Chapter nine of Busy Lives & Restless Souls, I explore discernment on a deeper level. Loyola Press, my amazing publisher, is offering a special promotion in honor of St. Ignatius’ upcoming feast day. You can buy Busy Lives & Restless Souls for $10 until July 31st. Grab the coupon code here.
- Read more articles about Consolation and Desolation here.
- Check out two other of my favorite resources on discernment by Timothy Gallagher, OMV:
Cultivating Space for God Together:
- July 25th: Our Lady of Mercy’s Small Group discussion on Busy Lives & Restless Souls
- July 29th: SJA Alumnae Retreat. If you are an SJA alum, you can register here!
- August 24th-27th: Rosaryville’s Ignatian Preached Retreat: “Everything is Holy Now”. You can register on Rosaryville’s website!