Ignatian Principles for Decision Making

Written By: Rev. Warren Sazama, S.J.

Three Distinct “Times” or Situations for Decision Making (Spiritual Exercises, [175])

Ignatius observes that in making an important decision we tend to find ourselves in one of three basic situations. We tend to either (1) feel inner clarity or certainty about what to do, or (2) we feel inner conflict about what to do, feeling pulled in different directions (for example, feeling drawn to both religious life and having a family), or (3) there is not much of anything going on inside and we feel clueless. If we find ourselves in the first situation where we feel inner clarity, we’re lucky. Then we know what we should do and just have to go ahead and do it. If we’re not so lucky to have this inner clarity, and we’re often not, then Ignatius gives the following suggestions to help us make a good, prayerful decision when we’re feeling conflicted and uncertain.


Seven Practical Discernment Techniques (Spiritual Exercises, [178-187])

1. Ignatius suggests that we start the decision-making process by putting before our mind what it is we want to decide about. For example, we might be trying to decide whether to enter a specific religious community or take a certain job.


2. He then asks us to pray for the grace to “try to be like a balance at equilibrium, without leaning to either side” [179]. In other words, we should try to the extent possible not to prefer one option to the other but only desire to do God’s will. To help us maintain focus and perspective, he asks us to keep the ultimate end and goal of our existence clearly before us.


3. Then we pray for God to enlighten and move us to seek only what is most conducive to God’s service and praise.


4. One suggestion Ignatius makes is to imagine a person we never met who seeks our help in how to respond to God’s call in the same decision we are considering. We then observe what advice we give this person and follow it ourselves. This is helpful since most of us are better at giving others advice than at figuring out what we should do.


5. Another suggestion is that we imagine ourselves at the end of our lives either on our deathbed or the end of our lives either on our deathbed or after our death standing before Christ our Judge. How would we feel about our decision then? What would we say to Christ about the decision we have just made? We should choose now the course of action that would give us happiness and joy in looking back on it from our deathbed and in presenting it to Christ on the day of our judgment.

6. When we do not experience inner clarity about the correct decision to be made, Ignatius suggests that we use our reason to weigh the matter carefully to attempt to come to a decision in line with our living out God’s will in our lives. To do this we should, bearing in mind our ultimate goal, list and weigh the advantages and disadvantages for us of the decision at hand, the reasons for and against. We are then to consider which alternatives seem more reasonable and decide according to the more weighty motives – not from our selfish inclinations. Looking over our list of “pros” and “cons” for the decision, we should notice if any of the reasons listed stand out from the others and why and see which way this might point us. This technique can help us move from inner confusion to greater clarity of the issues that need to be attended to and help separate out which are more significant.

7. Having come to a decision, we turn again to God and beg for signs of God’s confirmation that the decision is leading us toward God’s service and praise. The usual sign of this confirmation from God is an experience of peacefulness about the decision. The confirmed decision has a feeling of “rightness” about it, and we feel a sense of God’s presence, blessing, and love. This is a very important step, since the feeling of rightness, peace, and joy about a decision is a positive indicator that we have made the right decision whereas feelings of anxiety, heaviness, sadness, and darkness often indicate the opposite.

Summary

In summary, in order to make a good, prayerful decision…

  • We need to look at the decision prayerfully from all angles.

  • We need to take time with the decision, be patient, trust the process, and ultimately trust that God will lead us to the right place if we do our part as best we can.

  • 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.


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