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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Living the Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” -Rainer Maria RilkeLearning to live the questions is a part of our spiritual formation. Letting go of our need for having the right answer defines an important passage in our maturity. Maturity is more than amassing the right facts and having all the answers tied up in our doctrinal statements and political alignments. There are deeper stirrings within each soul that we awaken and pay attention to. Most of our education endeavors, when we look back on it, was a way to find the answers. Our inquisitive minds launched us on a noble search to know—to know how things work—to know how the body functions—to know how to make money—to know how to accomplish certain tasks and responsibilities. But there is a deeper sense of knowing. Finding our way forward in life and knowing God’s will for our lives is about holding questions in our hearts without and inner urge to answer too quickly or with all assurance that we’ve settled a matter, once and for all. Living the questions of life, love, purpose and faith is about wrestling through issues, perspectives and views until some type of clarity comes—or does not come at all. Here are five questions that are worthy to live wrestle with in a person’s life: 

  1. What happened?

This is the question that is based on your story—the story of your life. What happened is the pivotal question that invites a person to begin to reflect—and not just tell their story. By reflecting we look at what happened to us from various perspectives. It is not a question that is answered in a linear, chronological way. It is a question that invites us to linger with the questions that asks: Who shaped me to be who I am today? What issues stunted my growth? What wounds do I carry? Who inspired me along the way? Why am I interested in this or that?  By knowing every part of our story: sexual, vocational, physical, relational, emotional. Our stories make us unique and there are no two stories alike—even if you are a twin. Each of us is unique and owns a particular point of view that needs to be understood.  When we explore "what happened?" we are invited into the deepest part of ourselves and often unknown quadrants of our heart that are often ignored, underdeveloped and sitting in only darkness. 

  1. What do I need?

When we ask ‘What do I need?’ we acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient or self-made. Many hands shaped us from the cradle to the grave and our needs change throughout the varied seasons of our lives. When we give ourselves permission to ask this question, we acknowledge that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that our needs make take time, exploration and courage to navigate. In marriage, we learn to ask this question in a different way: ‘What do you need?’  I’ve found that this question has a way of neutralizing conflict and putting both me and my wife on level ground. It seems to stable a growing tension or rift. The key, however is to REMEMBER to ask this question—and to remember to ask this of ourselves. I’m convinced that Jesus allowed himself to ponder this question in his action filled life and ministry. When he got into the boat to cross the inland sea, he needed to sleep—and he did. He needed to rest. He needed to eat. He needed to be with people. He needed to be away from people. The insight we gain is that he did not push down his own needs be they physical, relational, or emotional. 

  1. What do I want?

Understanding our own desires is to know that our desires are our portals into our own souls. By knowing our own longings, desires, yearnings and aspirations, we recognize that desires are of God and that these desires are embedded into our souls when we were created. “What do I want to do with my life?” “Where do I want to live?” “Who do I want to share my life with?”—these questions and more distinguish us from a dog, a cat, a horse and an insect. To be human is to recognize the image of God is stamped with desires. When we read the Gospels, we are reminded that Jesus, himself asked this crucial question often to those he encountered and each time he posed the question of "what do you want?"--transformation happened in the one he asked the question. 

  1. How can I walk with God?

Ever since Eden, this one question has dominated all people from all continents of the earth. This is a question of relationship more than it is a question of religion? Religion is how people answer this question but underneath our religion is our need to be connected to the Divine. This connection comes down to a daily experience—a relationship that is personal, intimate and life-altering. If you’re considering using these questions as a Sabbath time of reflection, you may want to ask, “How did I walk with God this past week?” and “How can I walk with God in the coming week?”  If you're busy this week, how can you walk with God through and in the busyness?  If you are traveling, this question may help focus you from veering off onto a path you know you don't really want to walk. 

  1. How can I help?

This question puts us in the midst of community where we own the fact that we are not alone on this earth and we can and should help. Our help can be broken down into a daily way to help; a weekly way to help and even an annual theme of who I want to help.  Asking this question helps us to remind ourselves that we are stewards and not owners.  The earth is the Lords--so how can I help? My relationships are gifts--so how can I tend to them?  My body belongs to the Lord--so how can I help steward my physical well-being? When we live the questions, it goes without saying that we need to realize that this is more than just answering the questions.  We look under the rocks to find what's growing on the underneath side?  We look in dark places--in unvisited regions of our hearts to simply consider the question.By living the questions, we learn that we need someone to ask the questions of us--and hopefully in a loving and caring way?  The soul recoils from being interrogated.  For the soul to emerge, we need a safe person, a safe place and a safe time frame that all facilities our living the questions.This is why I have a spiritual director. I make a monthly appointment with a wise, old soul to sit with every month who simply knows and senses the right questions to ask me and in the asking and the responding, I am living the questions--I am awakening my soul to what is going on in me and around me that I need to pay attention to.Of course, we can live the questions with trusted friends who know how to ask and how to listen rather than interrupting us or always offering us their insight.  Listening is key when we want to live the questions. Listening is key to know how to ask the right question that will free the heart from a lodged iceberg locked up inside our hearts.  Consider using these questions with a friend over coffee or lunch. Consider these questions or others at meal times with your family. Consider good questions in your small groups.To live the questions is to confess our humanity and our need for each other to both listen and to respond.