Lent 2017 - Discernment

As we read the life of Jesus, we might find ourselves asking “How did he know what to do? How does he always and only know and do the will of the Father?” His secret insight almost seems unfair. Rarely are our lives so straightforward and simple that we make life decisions without any hesitations, reservations, and doubts. How do we figure out what God wants and follow with pure heart, clear mind, and resolute faith? Life does not unfold in a straight line, and we can never see as far ahead as we would like. We pray for clarity (because we want control) when God wants us to live in trust. We ask God what his will for my life is while forgetting what he has already told us is his will for every life. In other words, if you want to know what God’s will is, start by obeying what you already know, without concern for anything more. Love your neighbor. Pray for your enemies. Forgive. Practice generosity.

We grow in insight into God’s will by doing precisely what we are setting out to do this season: immersing ourselves in the life of Jesus, who “can do nothing on his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). We imitate his example of prayer, discipline, attentiveness, and love. The secret is we already have what we need to know and follow God’s will. We have been given the very ”mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). We have been given “everything needed for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). We have been given "the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ” (Ephesians 1:7–9). We need only to stay in touch with the source of those riches in order to bring them out in our lives.

Ignatius was very concerned with how we discern, deliberate, and decide. He taught how to make choices in alignment with God’s will. We make everyday choices more or less automatically, but we face some that snag our minds and hearts, making us worry and stress. Lent is long enough that there is a good chance we will all face a life decision of some significance. When this happens, return to this reflection and do these exercises:

  1. Place before your imagination the thing that you are trying to making a decision about.
  2. Ignatius says that “our intention must be simple.” Reflect on the first and final aim of your life—“to seek and serve God.” Lay all other concerns aside and ask yourself: “How can this decision help or hinder me in my pursuit of this goal?”
  3. Pray for God’s Spirit to move your will and desires according to his will and desires.
  4. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of your options, not by what will be most safe or self-serving but by what will most bring God glory and praise.
  5. Be attentive to how the choices make you feel (worried, excited, relieved, etc.) Take note of those feelings, and then set them aside to decide what choice seems most reasonable. God may be speaking to you through either or both.