For the past nine months, I’ve been doing a very intensive and personal retreat called, the Ignatian Exercises. I can tell you now that this has been the most raw; most real and most rewarding investment of my life. I’d like to share a small piece of this with you and ponder the question that I’ve been wrestling with for the past nine months–How do I know God’s Will?
To put this blog in context, you’ll remember for the past month, I’ve been openly sharing about trying to figure out my own life–my own future–and knowing what I should do. At the core of these blogs is this entry which is really at the focus of what I”ve been doing and it’s time to tell you about it. Scroll up on the blog site now to read the past three entries to catch up in case you missed them.
Now, before you think you already know how to know God’s will from all our books and sermons, let this just be a witness of a deeper way–a personal way that I was invited to participate in that has changed my life–again.
The Ignatian Exercises is an intense personal retreat that I’ve chosen to do in my every day life. Some go away for a month but since that was not possible for me, I opted to do this retreat in a way where I could continue in my ordinary life yet give substantial time to the actual prescribed exercises. This “retreat” was developed by an old Spanish war solider. When Ignatius was badly wounded, he learned about the inner movements of the spiritual life while recuperating. As he read books in his day about the lives of the saints, he noticed how much better he began to feel. When he read novellas about sex and romance, he noticed he spiraled inside. He put 2 and 2 together and things began to add up for him to learn about his interior life and the work of God’s Spirit which is alive and active in every believer today. He took this simple yet brilliant observation and developed a series of personal exercises that he began to use and modified throughout his life. The entire movement of the Jesuits was birthed out of Ignatius’s discernment. I am, but the latest of thousands, who have turned to his method to discover God’s will and use the Ignatian Exercises to discern our next steps in life and faith.
What My Journey Looked Like
The past months have been about discovering my deepest desire; a growing awareness of God’s work deep in my life; responding to the love of God and discerning my future. I have met every week with a trusted, seasoned and wise spiritual director who has coached; mentored and prayed me to come forward in my own spiritual journey. I have daily exercises based on the actual spiritual exercises that Ignatius of Loyola wrote in the 16th century. I’m astounded at how far I’ve come and how much more awake I am learning to see God in all things.
Much of the focus has been about this one compelling question: How can I know God’s will? This compelling question of discernment comes at a timely place for me as we all, at differing times of our lives try to determine what God wants for us. It’s played out in our every day questions like these: Should I marry this person? Should I take this job offer? Should I move to start over? Am I on the right track?
How can we ever know God’s will today?
Questions like these drive us to our knees don’t they? We don’t want to linger in the feeling of all of life being left up to ourselves? We want the assurance that God cares and God knows. So with my mind so bent on wanting to discern my own next steps, this nine month journey has indeed been pregnant with anticipation, wondering, pondering and learning the deep movements of discernment.
I began with a fresh realization that I matter. I’ve been so busy helping so many others realize that they matter that this solid, foundation and core of my own journey had to be looked at again. I matter to God. We all matter to God. This realization gives me fresh eyes to look out at my future and believe that my future matters and that God cares about my future.
Discernment is the term for learning to make a good, wise and solid decision. Learning these old practices have been so helpful and so life-giving helping me to relax and live with a deep assurance that I am on track—that I am, indeed not alone in this process and that God is, in time and through time, bringing greater degrees of clarity than I ever felt possible.
I was lost in a dark forest. Have you felt lost? Have you lost your footing in all your busy life? I did and you may have also. Keep reading.
Like some of you, there came a time for me that I felt lost in a dense forest—I was thinking I’ve lost my way. How do I get out of the dark woods? These kind of feelings compelled me to lock in and “do” this long, arduous retreat. Now, I can clearly say that I am out of the woods. I see the Light and I know my path. There’s such great comfort in this. It’s been a wrestling match my friends. Like Jacob of old, I was not going to let go until I was free.
Learning about Holy Indifference
First, I worked on becoming, “Holy Indifferent.” This wonderful phrase means having the sheer freedom interiorly to be able to decide—by learning to hold and learning to trust all the options in front of us. Don’t we all want inner freedom—free from duty, obligations and sheer obedience? I did and learning this old way of letting go has really helped me in tremendous ways in marriage, faith and my work.
Holy Indifference is about being open to the work of God interiorly to guide me. This does not mean being unconcerned or feeling unimportant in the process of making a decision. Quite the opposite actually! It means learning to let go and hold our options in suspense without preference and letting go of controlling the process.
Holy Indifference is like the old fashion balance that we use to use in markets when weighing flour or sugar. It’s the “pointer of balance” at the top of the old metal scale. You learn to watch this “pointer” and seek for this to be neutral—not weighted on one side or the other. It’s not an easy process and for me, this has taken some weeks, if not months to allow my mind to let go and to rest in the trust I need to make a decision. You learn to trust your own interior movements of God’s spirit pointing you one way or the other.
Inward peace and consolation are the goals that have been what I have sought for in my own decision making process. Who of us ever wants to make a decision that is made in a time of agony or despair? Ignatius taught me to NEVER make a major decision in a dark, hard or season of desolation. Let that season pass. Once you’re in a better place, then do the work. That’s what I had to do. I had to take some time off of my own Ignatian journey to just rest and let rest do what rest does. I wrote about this break in a blog about the benefits of taking a vacation. You can read that one here!
This has involved learning how to detach from things, ideals, illusions and people that I have held on to in my life. It’s been about detaching from my own junk, past and ways to be able to let go in my soul to be able to reach out for the next place God wants me to go. I felt stripped down—having to face some patterns and core junk that I’ve held on to for decades. It’s affected my marriage, my team and my relationships. I feel freer and lighter for doing this work. My spiritual director kept saying in the hard weeks, “Keep coming forward. You’re on the right track. This is normal. God is going to bring you into the ‘land of the living.” The day I stepped into the ‘land of the living” is etched so concretely in my soul. I’ll never forget it and this—is precisely what Ignatius taught me—to trust the process—to stay awake and learn how the Spirit works inside my own soul and to walk towards the light.
Another Paradigm and Principle for Understanding Life
Ignatius wrote, “In everyday life, then, it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, in regard to everything which is left to our free will and is not forbidden. Consequently, on our own part we ought not to seek health rather than sickness, wealth rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long life rather than a short one….” I’ve sat with this principle all these months allowing this paradigm to frame my own. It’s profound and this alone can help us understand so much of the spiritual life. This has helped me to understand the journey of a dying friend who I wanted to have a longer life than she will be given; It’s helped me understand more of outer hurricanes and inner Cat 5 storms we all face. I’ve been so grateful. It’s helped me know what to seek and what not to seek. It’s helped me re-focus and have a deeper sense of renewal inside that I’m hoping will inform my future steps in work and life.
I”ve been able to do many wonderful spiritual adventures in my life. I’ve lived in a monastery with Dallas Willard; I’ve sat with the wise and learned from the ancients. Yet to date, this is the richest and most blessed time of my spiritual journey. I thought it good to share a piece of it with you.
Here are a few resources I’d recommend if you ‘re interested in learning more: When you buy on these links, you support the ministry of Potter’s Inn.
Here are two I recommend and are easy and benefitical to read regardless of our background or theological persuasion.