I came across a book the other day called Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. It’s a book about organising and tidying up your possessions, your closet, your life. Its basic principle is asking a simple question about a potential piece of clutter: Does it spark joy? If the answer is no, get rid of it. If that old flannel top no longer sparks joy, donate it. If a book on your shelf doesn’t give you a sense of joy, give it away. This simple question immediately reminded me of a basic principle of Ignatian discernment – asking the question “Does it give me joy?”
In my past experiences of discerning big decisions I have found how powerful that question can be. And the verb spark captures even better the power of this question as a discernment tool. Does my interest in job X spark joy within me? Do the prospects of getting married to person Y fill me with great joy? Does the possibility of moving to location Z give me an experience of joy? Spiritual directors will often ask if a decision gives one peace. This is another way Ignatian spirituality embraces the power of interior emotions and feelings in making decisions.
Saint Ignatius believed that our desires were indicators of God’s own desires for us. If we swept away the surface wants and looked deeper within ourselves we would discover the desires that lead us closer to God. Those things could be deep desires for healthy love, to foster a particular talent, or to live a more virtuous life—all good things that lead us to God. And if we follow those desires we’ll find great joy and peace in them.
Joy versus happiness
It’s important to note something many of us have heard before. Joy and happiness are not the same thing. Happiness rises and falls. It comes and goes depending on our mood, our daily situations, and even the weather. Joy, on the other hand, is what lingers, even on an unhappy day. This is what St Ignatius noticed when he was discerning between a life of indulgence and fame, and a life of living for Christ. When the happy feelings from both thoughts died down, he noticed a lingering joy and deep desire with the thought of living a life for Christ. As a high school teacher I have my happy days and my unhappy days, but even on those unhappy days I can still tell you that teaching gives me great joy. Those in a healthy marriage will recognise this. Despite the occasional challenges of married life, there is an underlying joy that keeps you married. The same could be asked of a Catholic. What keeps them Catholic? They might respond that despite the church’s imperfections and challenges, they experience a joy in their faith tradition and its community.
Asking if an item sparks joy as a way of cleaning out your house is an intriguing idea. It’s a method that, in a simpler way, still exercises this tool of discernment. But when it comes to more important decisions in your life regarding things like relationships and career, asking “Does this spark joy (within me)?” can truly aid in life-changing discernment.
God desires us to live lives of joy! And even asking ourselves this question throughout our day taps us into an awareness of this desire. Is the way I’m occupying my time spark joy for me and for God? I believe having a Christian disposition is about cultivating joy in our lives. And we can only do that when we ask ourselves that question: Does it spark joy?
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Music by Kevin MacLeod