After postponing last week’s session due to the snow, the series resumed on Monday 28 January when Deborah Walton of ChaplaincyPlus spoke and led a disucssion on a Christian perspective and approach to making difficult decisions.
We considered what it means for Jesus to be Lord, to trust in God, and resurrection hope in the context of decision making before Deborah shared an approach she has used and found helpful. The following is an extract of the talk:
For many years I have found an Ignatian pattern and approach to prayer to be particularly helpful in terms of finding myself, finding God and then making decisions. I planning this series I was very exciting when I spoke with Eamon and learned that he wanted to talk about his work in the context of his spiritual practice of following the Rule of St Benedict. It is interesting that in looking at issues which are essentially modern problems we are both recommending going back to ancient Christian practices.
St. Ignatius Loyola was born in 1491, one of 13 children of a family of minor nobility in northern Spain. As a young man Ignatius Loyola was inflamed by the ideals of courtly love and knighthood and dreamed of doing great deeds. But in 1521 Ignatius was gravely wounded in a battle with the French. While recuperating, Ignatius Loyola experienced a conversion. Reading the lives of Jesus and the saints made Ignatius happy and aroused desires to do great things. Ignatius realised that these feelings were clues to God’s direction for him.
Over the years, Ignatius became expert in the art of spiritual direction. He collected his insights, prayers, and suggestions in his book the Spiritual Exercises, one of the most influential books on the spiritual life ever written. With a small group of friends, Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. Ignatius conceived the Jesuits as “contemplatives in action.” This also describes the many Christians who have been touched by Ignatian spirituality. The Retreat in Daily Working Life that will take place during Lent is an ignatian retreat.
So the starting point in an Ignatian approach to decision making is that Christian decisions are made after having experienced God’s love for you. They are based on this heart-felt knowledge. There are two kinds of peace: peace that the world can sometimes give; and a peace that the world cannot give. This latter peace is the peace of Christ, the everlasting peace that comes from knowing that God loves me and His love is always there even if sometimes I do not feel it.
It is important to be in a good state of balance in terms of having a deep awareness of God’s love and peace, when making a decision – being worried or depressed is not a good time to make a decision. Guilt feelings are not a good guide – when we live in Christ’s love and peace we know that we are forgiven and loved. In addition to this self-knowledge be sure you have all the necessary facts you need to make the decision. Information is vital in making good decisions!
An Ignatian approach to decision making could involve the following steps and it will take time:
- I know that God loves me. How can I respond even more generously to His love particularly in the context of the decisions and options before me?
- My choices now are not between good and evil, to sin or not to sin, but rather I must choose between two (or more) actions which are both good and decide which is better.
- Care is needed. The subtle temptation facing me now may well be to do something which appears good but, on deeper reflection, I realise will lead me away from God – the better choice is the thing that will lead me closer to God.
- Am I being influenced by the Holy Spirit or the Evil Spirit? The Holy Spirit tends to give support, encouragement, joy and peace (even though the choice may involve hardships and difficulties) because the clarity of the truth of what I have decided becomes clear. The evil spirit’s influence results in me beginning by wanting to serve but becoming self-focussed, wanting to get my own way and being blind to the truth. I start relying on myself rather than God.
- I commit the issues to God in prayer asking for his wisdom and light.
- I list the alternatives and write down the respective advantages and disadvantages.
- I look at the list and think to myself, suppose I do option 1, I imagine it, I pray about it. I notice what my feelings are – does it bring me darkness and confusion, lostness and unhappiness or does it bring light and simplicity, a feeling of feet on the ground and a deep peace. I do this for each of the options in turn.
- On reflection I ask which alternative brings me peace, deep down and leads more to God’s service. I then make a tentative decision and ask God to confirm that he really does want this decision.
This process takes time and you need to allow space to reflect and enjoy silence.