Adult life is hard, not going to lie. Long gone are the days of decisions being made for you. Now are the times where you must make choices for yourself. Where you are going to school, your degree field, your friendships, your relationships, your faith are all just a small portion of the things that are now resting on your shoulders as you bravely step out into this crazy world called ‘Adulthood.’
Maybe you, like me, are wondering how in the world this is going to work out. How am I supposed to be responsible for the course of my life here on this earth when I still draw in coloring books and have to sing the whole alphabet to find out what letter comes next?
With a lot of help, needless to say. So the latest partner in this walk down the path of adulthood has been Saint Ignatius, or specifically, Father Timothy Gallagher and his book The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living. This book is amazing – and it goes through how to make a decision and properly discern in matters both big and small.
Let’s tackle the big matters, shall we? In three semesters, my undergraduate degree is finished. Signed, sealed and diploma delivered. And while I am counting down the days until I walk across that stage, shake the hand of the president of the University and trip my way down the stairs, I am also dreading that day.
Because it means more decisions. And the decisions just keep getting bigger the older I get. Adulthood is funny that way.
So how does one go about making those decisions? Prayer? Yes – but it has to be more than that. I can’t sit in the chapel fourteen hours and leave angry because God didn’t tell me what to do. Instead, it must be followed up with understanding and action.
Be Aware: You can’t make a decision if you don’t know that the decisions needs to be made. Say that five times fast. Basically, know where you stand and what is going on in your life. Are you coming up on a decision that has quite a bit of gravity to it? Where do you stand? What are your options?
Saint Ignatius describes this awareness as having his eyes ‘opened a little’ towards what was moving within his soul. It’s a realization that God has a plan for your life, and that the role you are called to play in that plan is an active one.
Yet we live in a world where the noise of the business and distraction blind us to the plan God has. Saint Augustine says, “You were within, and I was without. You called, you shouted and broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone and dispelled my darkness.” What is crowding your life right now that is blocking the sound of God’s shouts and calling to your heart?
Understand: In my high school graduation card, a friend wrote one of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes: “You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” Key words that have always stuck out to me in that phrase: Steer and Choose. This means that the knowledge and ability that you have after you’ve gained an awareness of your decision is active. It requires understanding and reflection and choices.
Father Gallagher writes, “This is the interpretative step in discernment, and it too, like a spiritual awareness, is an invaluable spiritual aid. A clear perception of the origin and direction of the spiritual stirrings of our hearts provides us with the necessary light to follow accurately the guidance of the Spirit.” You know that there is a decision to be made, and now have an understanding of the ramifications and consequences of the decision. So now what?
Take Action: This is the most important step. Ignatius boils this step down to two words: Accept and Reject. Once you have looked at a decision and understood it in light of your spiritual life, it’s time to do something. Father Gallagher says, “Everything in the discernment of the spirits is directed towards action: towards firmly accepting what is of God and equally firmly rejecting what is not. Through spiritual awareness and interpretation, accurate and decisive spiritual action is possible.”
Accurate and Decisive Action. Is prayer important? Yes. Is asking people’s opinions and thinking about the different facets of a decision valid? Sure! But if there is no action to back it up, then why even discern?
When the morning’s freshness has been replaced by the weariness of midday, when the leg muscles quiver under the strain, the climb seems endless, and suddenly, nothing will be quite as you wish. It is then that you must not hesitate. (Dag Hammarsjold).