For some, discernment may seem complicated or mystifying. While the process of decision-making can be difficult, Ignatian spirituality offers a toolbox that can help us on our journey. We might call these “keys” that unlock the heart and help us discern the voice of God in our experience. They’re not foreign to the Christian tradition, but Ignatius brought them together for us.
The 5 Keys of Discernment
- Prayer: The foundation of discernment in Ignatian spirituality is prayer. This involves taking the time to connect with God and see through God’s eyes. When we pray the Examen we can see the movement of God in our everyday lived experience. When we find space for quiet, ask God for the grace we seek, and even pray with scripture, we begin to open our hearts to where God is leading us.
- Self-awareness: Ignatius believed that we need to understand our own desires, motivations, and tendencies in order to discern God’s will. This involves examining our own thoughts, feelings, and reactions (often discovered through the Examen), as well as seeking feedback from trusted friends or a spiritual director.
- Discernment of spirits: Ignatius developed a set of insights for discerning the movements of the good and the evil spirits. This requires paying close attention to our interior movements, examining whether they are leading us closer to or further from God.
- Consolation and desolation: When we examine our interior, we also pay attention to the movements of consolation and desolation. Consolation is a sense of peace, joy, and inner freedom that comes from being close to God, while desolation is a sense of darkness, confusion, and inner turmoil that comes from being further from God. By discerning these movements well, we can better understand where God is leading us.
- Action: Finally, discernment in Ignatian spirituality is not just about reflection and prayer, but also about taking action. At the end of the day we have to make a decision! This involves testing our decisions, seeking feedback from others, and being open to change if necessary.
5 Fruits of a Good Discernment
But how do we know our decision was the correct one? The answer to that may not be known for a while, but we can tell whether our discernment was good. When we use the above keys well, the following “fruits” emerge:
- Freedom: By entering into the discernment process with openness, we become free from our limited perspectives and desires. This freedom allows us to embrace God’s desires for us and to live a life that is authentic and purposeful — and life giving!
- Peace: One of the fruits of discernment is a deep sense of inner peace. Even in the midst of challenges and difficulties, we can experience a sense of calm and trust in God.
- Joy: A good discernment also leads to a deep sense of joy that comes from knowing we are living in alignment with God’s dream for our lives. This joy is not the same as happiness, which is fleeting. This kind of joy grounds us in our relationship with God who is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives.
- Authenticity: When we have given ourselves fully to the discernment process we’ll have a sense of greater authenticity and integrity. We lean into our true selves and live in a way that is consistent with our values and beliefs.
- Gratitude: Finally, gratitude, a fruit that reminds us of the Giver, enriching our awareness of God’s love and generosity.
Discernment is a process of recognising and responding to God’s movement in our lives. By using the five keys of discernment we step into the flow of the divine and move toward the person we‘ve been made to be. And we also begin to experience these the fruits. As we move through the journey of discernment, there are some key points to keep in mind. These can help us on our journey as we seek to hear God’s voice and make wise decisions.
Here are a few important considerations for discernment:
- Ask a lot of questions.
- Be in silence with God.
- Be humble and open to ideas that you might not have ever imagined before.
- Always be aware of your inner world before making a decision.
- Focus on your relationship with God as the priority over everything else.
You can learn more about Ignatian discernment on our discernment resource page. Or try our online discernment course.
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