driving sun mirrorOur daily spiritual life is complicated. Each day we have to encounter challenges and sift through the mess of feelings, desires, hopes, plans, and motivations within us. The God In All Things audio Morning Examen gives you a chance to reflect on three important signals in the spiritual life as you begin your day: desires, feelings, and challenges. Desires are founded in hope, challenges are things that can derail those desires, and feelings are often caught in the tension between them. Let’s look at why these three spiritual signals are important to consider each day.

The Ignatian spiritual tradition shows a certain reverence for desires, those deep longings within the human heart for justice, for a happy life, and for closeness to the Creator. These desires can be for using our personal gifts and talents, for following our calling, or for peace in our hearts. All desires are founded in hope, a hope that, as Christians, we live a life for and with God and that we can truly love neighbour.

Our daily desires should propel us forward on our Christian journey: growing in kindness, fulfilling our vocation, or committing more to the service of others. What’s the purpose of getting out of bed in the morning if a certain hope doesn’t motivate us to do so? Having desires is the first signal to us that God is close at hand. And taking an account of our daily desires and longings—and letting God know what they are—is the first part of our daily spiritual picture.

The plot of any story has some sort of conflict or challenge. Our daily lives are no exception. Being aware of what challenges we might face today can often signal the desires we find in our heart. I may be anticipating a challenging encounter with a co-worker and I notice a desire to have a disposition of kindness when I meet with them. If I foresee a struggle with a temptation I may notice a desire to exercise my will differently. I may be anticipating a heavy workload at school and from that arises a desire for patience.

Notice how challenges juxtapose desires? Depending on our choices, challenges can derail our desires. My desire to be kind could be derailed by giving into unkind feelings when encountering the challenging co-worker. On the other hand, after examining the negative feeling I have I can allow it to drive me to hold true to my hopeful desire of kindness.

Feelings can be frightening. They’re caught up between the hopeful desires we have and the fear of the challenges that can derail us. But, referring to them as the passions, Thomas Aquinas said that feelings are neither good nor bad—they’re simply natural things that arise from within. And while I think Ignatius would agree, he would also say that they are an important signal in telling us how we might want to act or what decision we might want to make.

Indeed, the feelings that linger from a previous day might inform our desires for the following day. The feelings that arise during today may affect how we engage with the challenges before us. If, as Ignatius says, our feelings (along with our desires) are a way God communicates with us, then we musn’t ignore them. How we act on those feelings or how they inform our daily choices is a matter for discernment.

desires vs challenges

Desires are like an arrow pointing forward in hope. Challenges can be like an arrow trying to push back against us. That tension, which could be compared to the tensions between the good and evil spirits, is the reality of the spiritual life. This is not to say that challenges are evil, but the bad spirit can use them to detract us from fulfilling our good desires. In the middle is a mess of feelings that must be sifted through. These three signals must be examined as an entire picture, not solely on their own. All three affect and arise from one another. How our desires are fulfilled depends on how we make sense of our feelings and how we engage with the challenge. A challenge may push back, justifying an unhelpful feeling and ignoring others, derailing a genuine desire made in hope.

Let’s face it, the signals in the spiritual life are not always so clear, which is why regular attunement to daily desires, feelings, and challenges can cultivate the skills of discernment.

>> Make these three spiritual signals part of your daily life and load our Morning Examen on your device so you can listen each morning.

Listen to an audio version of this post…

Music by Audio Blocks and Kevin MacLeod