Why I spent a year of my life doing the Ignatian Exercises

In January 2017, I decided to invest an entire year of my life on the journey in discernment (doing the Ignatian Exercises).  I found myself at a critical crossroad. My work, my marriage, my heart needed attention and care. The future felt looming and did not excite me.I decided to do an ancient, year long, proven way of deepening my own heart and experience with God that helped me; renewed my heart and is rekindling love in my marriage.  I think I've morphed into a new place; a new space and a new way of living my life and expressing my faith.I did this because:

  • as I aged—my answers and boxes were not working or fitting me or others anymore. Old paradigms were crumbling. I was de-constructing.

  • as I worked and poured my life into others—I needed to be poured into;

  • as my marriage also aged, we both saw thin spots-- with sounds of the ice cracking around us. We needed deep renewal and rekindling or we would not end well. We were not coupling well. We admitted that something was wrong.

  • as I contemplated my future being relatively healthy, yet acknowledging my inner weariness—I needed to find some answers about my next stage.

  • I needed to find some answers to questions that seemed to have plagued me nearly all of my life. I felt unsettled in thinking about repositioning my life but unsure how to do what I wanted to do.

 Motivated by these questions and certain disillusioning events that had happened in a key staff relationship at my work,  I felt like I was at my end. I well recall telling our Board, “I’m done. I cannot go on. I’ve hit a wall and I will not recover from this impact.”

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How do I know God's Will?

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 LikeThe 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 IndifferenceFirst, 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 LifeIgnatius 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.Inner Compass by Margerat SilfThe Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by James Martin 

Five Benefits of Vacation

There are at least five benefits of taking time off and being away. I'm talking about the wonderful deposits we place into our souls when we take a vacation.I’m returning from four weeks off of work. Four weeks might seem like an extravagance—that you cannot afford. I understand that. But for me—for us—we simply had to take this time off and had to be away. Here’s why

  1. I needed time off and away because I needed to detox my soul.

Stress can make you sick. Like a sponge, we absorb so many things around us and into us that we are not fully aware as to how much we have taken on and taken in UNTIL we are off and away. My time off allowed me the much needed time and space to realize a few things:There had been too much work.There had been too much time devoted to problem solving. My mind was too busy--too filled with people, stuff and things that drain and not give me life. I needed my vacation. I needed every bit of it and there is nothing wrong or nothing really selfish about taking time off. In doing so, we will be the better for it and the better for all, if we take the time we need to trickle charge our inner batteries.There had been to much care-giving that I almost reached my tipping point of what felt like going over the edge—the edge into a very dark space that I could feel, smell and a space that touched me in the dark hours of the night. We greatly underestimate the toil of our work on our souls. Take some time to think  about what you've lost by all your gaining at work.For me, everything and everyone began to feel “too much”. This was a sign of how desperately I needed the time off and the time away. When our thinking becomes jaded; when we live in a state of cynicism and sarcasm and the inner voice begins to chant to us that “No one cares and no one ever will care…” then this is a time to stop. This is a time to dis-engage. This is a time to pull away and be as off as you possibly can.I realized that in the past year I had tried to save many drowning victims. Some of them made it and survived. I’m glad for that. But in all my efforts and my accumulated sense of fatigue of over 40 years of ministry of saving others, I was thinking that I may not survive--that I could not save myself from the rip tide of a raging current I felt sucked into. I needed time to rest, time to breath and time to come back to my senses.Few of us have the ability to be aware and awakened to the slow, steady drain on us of our work—especially if we are in caring professions such as teaching, ministry, mission or helping people. My slow leak in my soul had to be looked at and stopped if I was to make it to the finish line. My time off allowed me this time to de-tox from the toxins that had accumulated in me, on me and around me.Time off and away helped me to regain a sense of who I am and what I want to be about.  Time off does that--it helps us come to our senses. Like the prodigal in the parable of Jesus, a pig stye of a mess can help us come to our senses.  Sometimes pig-styes helps us decide who we are and what we want in life.

  1. My time off meant I needed to be away and not just off.

Because I office in my home, home can sometimes be a symbol of work, not just a home. My cluttered desk symbolized my cluttered mind and muddied mind. I needed to be away.  To vacation is meant to "vacate" or leave the ordinariness of our lives and to walk into some kind of adventure that will help us--if not heal us.Jesus knew this well. He explicitly told his followers that “It is to your advantage that I go away”. His being away would call his followers up to lead, not to just follow. He was, of course speaking of the advantages of his Spirit coming soon, but nonetheless, he left them many times in doing his own inner work of  solitude and vacating his own work for the work of his soul.My time away meant unplugging and detaching from mind-draining meetings filled with conversations about plans and strategy. My time away meant I would bask in sunshine and the shelter of Douglass Furs. I would stare at humpback whales not my computer screen. My time away would be time to let myself “come down where I ought to be” as the Quakers say so beautifully in their anthem, “Tis’ a gift to be simple. Tis' a gift to be free. Tis' a gift to come down where we ought to be.”  Vacations help us to come down. We come down from the junkie highs of busyness and adrenaline rushes and addictions of doing way, way too much in our lives and with our lives. Vacations can be a taste of the simple life--a glimpse of what heaven may be like.My time off meant a time away to the pacific shores of California and into the wilderness of Colorado. Wilderness is the soul’s invitation to rest—to become small in the grandeur of mountains too great to comprehend and sunsets too glorious to do anything other than shut my mouth and open my heart. I needed the greetings of trees, the swells of the ocean tides and the song of the western Tangier—I saw my first one and the lushness of green meadows.3. My time off and away was a time to go into beauty and to breath it in. There is nothing that replentishes the soul like beauty. Beauty awakens us to another world we miss when we move and live in perpetual busyness and in our multi-tasking, overly complicated lives. We think too much of ourselves, our work and our accomplishments. Beauty makes us feel small and when we become small, we are allowed to fathom true greatness and Greatness. Beauty pierces us and I needed to be pierced to let the pus out of my infected life. I had become infected and the antidote to the soul’s infection is quiet beauty. I listened to music. I walked in solitude across the summer wildflowers of Crested Butte landscapes. I sat by roaring rivers that flowed….that’s all the river did. It flowed and flowed…and I thought to myself, I want my soul to flow again. Day by day I began to feel the flow again with me. It was life and it was good. It was very good. In time and through time I felt myself becoming unstuck--and isn't that anyone's real goal in life... not to be stuck but in the flow of real life?

  1. My time off and away fostered an intimacy within with God and with my wife.

When we are “on” we feel torn between priorities and choices. Time off and away relaxed that tension. We did what we WANTED to do and we did not do what we did not want to do. We made healthy choices about meals. We hiked a lot and that led to conversations we enjoyed that we simply did not have back in our routine of life.On one day, Gwen and I were praying together and reading a Psalm—the poetry for the soul. We were struck with one verse in which the Psalmist says so simply God wants to bless us with peace.(Psalm 22:11). I thought, “God really wants me to experience peace—to live a peaceful life. This is what he longs for when he thinks of me. He’s not so much concerned with the questions I am about my work and life. He simply wants me to live a life of peace.” I loved that verse and I love it to this day. I want that peace more than I want anything else in my life, don’t you?Gwen and I chose not to talk about some things; some people and some future things. We needed our minds and our adrenalin glands to relax. So shelving some conversations simply helped us. We live in the complex world of relationships and people’s problems including our own. So choosing to NOT go “there” actually helped us.  Hard talks and difficult conversations are always going to need to be processed. But perhaps we can even choose to "vacate" difficult subjects and to allow the soul and our tired, worn bodies to recuperate. There will always be re-engagement but for this time--for this time off and away we need to work on what we engage in and what we vacate from.In the few days back now, we’ve chosen to transition (and we are taking three days to be back home and transition to a very full schedule) we are now beginning to talk about this next week, next month and next season that is here. But the choice to Sabbath from so much work-talk, God-talk and people talked helped us to simply BE together and not feel torn apart by our opinions and ideas.  One big mistake I see people doing is not allowing transition time to come back early, unpack, get ready to re-engage. There's a rhythm to everything---even to a healthy vacation. I've learned the hard way by years and years of stop and jerking back in--feeling the jerk of a quick re-entry without time, grace and being good to myself and perhaps my team mates.

  1. Our time off and away helped us experience rich times of contemplation and life-giving reflection.

Time off and away allowed us time to chew on what we were reading rather than speed reading to get through the book or text. We read, re-read and continue to read again some chapters from amazing books such as Eugene Peterson’s brand new and yet his last book to publish, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.” One chapter in particular about “training up children” or parenting has us talking everyday about what it means to raise up a child, a staff member and people in general. We read poems and poems read us. We took the time to slowly digest words so that they did, in fact become our necessary bread each day. I read a wonderful book by an African about silence. Robert Cardinal Sarah’s book, “The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise” offered me words from a perspective other than an American to understand the sheer power of silence and what silence can do in us. I have loved this book and his thoughts—so different from my own.We chose to not watch the news. We chose to not know what was going on out there so we might better know what was going on in our own hearts and within us. It was a healthy choice for us. I chose to have no communication with our team at work. I needed a hard line to be drawn so that I would not try to spin the plates of work, team and planning with my own soul's work and need to find life with me.  Again, it was a healthy choice. I had a few emails that I chose to respond to but hearing nothing helped me hear more deeply from Someone who really wanted all of me for this time.The lost art of contemplation and reflection is a great concern of mine. We are so bent on getting information. Our churches have perhaps fallen into this also. So much teaching. So much preaching. So much information giving. We forget that the spiritual life is first, of all, a life to be lived…not the amassing of more and more stuff. We have no time to process what is happening in us and around us. We are reactionary to everyone and everything popping off at the mouth on social media leaving carnage in our social media paths. I'm tired of this. I'm very tired of this.We cannot live the spiritual life or a life marked by abundance by feasting on the stale bread of social media. We can not make sense of life, God, relationships or anything else in 140 characters. That's the simple truth. There I said it.  So, I chose to fast from Facebook. I chose to fast so that I could feast on something far, far, far more nourishing to my soul than seeing pictures of you and those imagines stirring up feelings in me that I often would not like. Your times in Mexico and the beach only made me jealous actually. While I was sometimes glad for you, I was more wondering why I couldn’t be sipping that drink I saw you drinking? There was room under that umbrella on the beach. So why didn’t you invite me to join you?” Things like that and more and worse made me glad to choose to leave the false and pretend world we project so often on social media platforms. That world does not foster the real world of intimacy, connection and peace. At least it does not for me.If Jesus, himself took regular time off and to be away then why shouldn’t we do the same? This is a question that seems to run counter-cultural to our ethos of work and life and our not taking the time off and by being away may be doing far, far, far more damage than we can realize by being on; being present and being consumed with our everyday life. There are many more benefits from time spent being off and away. Think of your own and make the choice to come back to life as I am doing.(If you buy the books I mentioned here on the links provided,  your purchases will benefit the ministry of Potter's Inn.)