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Exercise in Personal Discernment

The Christian practice of discernment is a long-standing spiritual practice that has tragically lost prominence over the ages. St. Ignatius of Loyola has contributed more to the tradition than any other in Christian history. The following is an exercise in personal discernment, based on principles implicit in Ignatian spirituality.

 

Keep in mind, discernment is needed when we have two or more good directions to take and are uncertain which one represents God’s way forward for us at this particular time in our lives. This exercise can be processed over several days or weeks and should be entered into with a calm, contemplative mind and heart. So start with a period of silence and stillness. Then begin the exercise, taking however much time you need to answer each question until you’ve worked through all of the questions. Once you’ve completed the exercise, we recommend sharing the process and discernment with a spiritual friend or spiritual director. You will need pen and paper for this exercise.

  1. Put before your mind the choice you need to make. Clarify it with the most specific and straightforward language possible.

  2. Pay attention to any initial leanings you have, one way or the other, that might influence your ability to know and choose God’s path and that which serves the greater good. Write those down.

  3. Be still. Pray and ask for Divine guidance. Record any impressions, images or ideas that come to you.

  4. Now consider all the significant aspects that inform your decision. If helpful, create a mind map of those things (values, opportunities, current conditions, constraints, needs, desires).

  5. Make a list of the possible options and include the advantages and disadvantages; the benefits and costs related to each option.

  6. Review the information you have gathered. Now decide which alternative appears to be more reasonable. Write it down and describe why this option seems best.

  7. Finally, weigh with your heart the alternative you’ve chosen. How does it feel to you? Do you experience consolation, a sense of “rightness” about this decision? Sit with it over an extended time, even days or weeks, to see if it continues to seem good to you and the Holy Spirit. Ask God to confirm the rightness of it. Record your response.


(This exercise is adapted from Discernment: The Art of Choosing Well by Pierre Wolff)