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Making like Saint Ignatius


St. Ignatius of Loyola. Photo/Franciscan Media

A few months ago, while spring cleaning, I came across a notebook with notes, doodles and scribbles from a whole lifetime ago.

Turning over to a random page, I found a list of pros and cons, and that moment came hanged in a frame in the hallway of decisions past came back to me crystal clear as I read through the list…

Pros were listing all the reasons for staying in the job I was in at the time; cons were all about why I would consider leaving. They year was 2005.

After being in what was my first real full-time job for two years, I found myself in a rut – stagnant, stalling, with very little opportunity to get the skills I desperately needed and progress.

On the other hand though, there was pastures perhaps greener, but unknown. Not only would my commute be 45 minutes each way, I would also need to take on some training and new challenges.

I mulled over the decision, slept on it for several nights, to and froed for as long as possible before I had to make my final decision. The list of pros and cons must have been penned on one of those days of limbo.

Looking back now, I think it was the right decision, or even if it weren’t, on account of having survived it, I am none the wiser what the alternative may have offered.

This was of course not the first time I made what I felt at the time was a life-shaping decision – there have been others too. The way I have handled them over the years? Let’s just say there is a reason I have a slogan mug that reads: “Hold on, I’ve got to overthink about it.”

Overthinking a decision in my book means writing pros and cons lists, asking family and friends and sometimes colleagues their opinions, to and froing, making more pros and cons lists, asking some more family and friends and then to and froing some more. Until the very last second of the decision deadline.

Recently, finding myself under the incredible weight of yet another decision, I turned to a colleague whose expertise and big picture view I have come to trust. After sharing her views and suggesting making a list of pros and cons, she asked if I had heard of the Ignatian principle.

The definition of Ignatian spirituality is as follows:

“Ignatian spirituality is a spirituality for everyday life. It insists that God is present in our world and active in our lives. It is a pathway to deeper prayer, good decisions guided by keen discernment, and an active life of service to others.”

While Spanish Basque Catholic priest and theologian Saint Ignatius of Loyola did not invent the discernment of spirits, building on this great tradition as a master observer of the interior movements of the spiritual life both in himself and others, he articulated very helpful guidelines for the discernment of spirits that many have found extremely helpful over the past four and a half centuries.

Ignatius assumes in his discernment of spirits that God communicates directly with each of us in our hearts, minds, and souls through various interior movements – our feelings, thoughts, and desires. To help us with this, Ignatius overtime developed his guidelines for the discernment of spirits.

As I investigated Ignatius and his spirituality further, one advice that made sense – as morbid as it might sound – was to imagine being on your death bed. How would we feel about our decision then? We should choose now the course of action that would give us happiness and joy in looking back on it from our deathbed.

What resonated the most was the sum of his teachings presented as follows:

“In the end, we must follow what our heart and gut tell us to do and what seems right to us. In life decisions and matters of the heart we rarely feel complete certainty and clarity. This is more than a rational process. However, once we’ve considered the decision prayerfully, consulted others we trust, and have attained all the data we reasonably can, we need to take a leap of faith and make a decision.”

Or in my colleague’s words, imagine both courses of action and what follows after, but the instead of the pros and cons, which is a rational process, use an emotional one, and try to imagine how you would feel waking up on a Monday morning, or during Thursday afternoon slump? The way you feel imagining these scenarios will be your emotional self. In weighing and shifting your feelings in each scenario, an answer will begin to emerge.

So here I am… 13 years on, at what I feel is the cusp of yet another life shaping decision. This time though, I have ripped up the pros and cons lists, and am letting my heart guide the way…

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