What does God want me to do?
This is a question that many of us wrestle with frequently. When I was trying to discern whether to go full time as a Catholic Evangelist, I was very happy to discover that St. Ignatius of Loyola had devised a set of guidelines for making decisions. Unfortunately, I found his recommendations to be a bit complicated. With some careful reading and the help of some other books, however, I was able to come up with a simplified version of St. Ignatius’ 3 Modes of Discernment. If you’re trying to make a decision and you truly want to do God’s Will, try these 3 steps in order. If the first one works for you, there’s no need to move on to the second. If the second one works, there’s no need to go on to the third. If you get to the third mode, keep trying…it WILL work!
Before beginning, you have to commit to three things:
1. You must be willing to choose the option that God wants, even if it’s not what you want.
2. You must desire above all to please God and your choice should reflect that desire.
3. You must immediately rule out any options which are immoral (go against Church teachings).
Now let’s look at the 3 Modes of Discernment as developed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola:
1. No Doubt – You positively know that one of the options is God’s Will and that you have no doubts at all. This one is hard to explain, but you understand it when it happens. It occurs when you feel completely drawn to an option and you KNOW that it’s God’s Will.
2. Heart’s Desire – Slightly more complex, this mode of discernment involves consolations (spiritual joy, love, hope in things of above) and desolations (sadness, lack of love, spiritual dryness). St Ignatius recommends that if we don’t receive clarity in the first mode (clarity beyond doubting), that we dwell on the second mode. According to St. Ignatius, the person should attentively observe “when he finds himself in consolation, to which part (which option in the choice) God moves him, and likewise when he finds himself in desolation.”
For example, if you are trying to decide between keeping your current job or accepting a new job offer, determine which job attracts you during periods of consolation. If you repeatedly feel called to keep your current job during periods of consolation, there’s a good chance that this is what God wants you to do. Additionally, during periods of desolation, you should expect to feel a call to accept the new job offer (the opposite choice). The key is to be patient (this mode of discernment could take months or even years) and look for a reoccurring pattern. Consolations and desolations are a normal part of the spiritual life and can be very useful in discerning God’s Will.
3. Pros and Cons – If the first two methods don’t reveal God’s Will, it’s time to move on to the 3rd Mode of Discernment. It’s recommended by St. Ignatius that this mode be used during periods of tranquility (when the soul is at peace and free from passions which may influence your decision).
This method involves making a list of the pros and cons of each option. These pros and cons should be spiritually based and not be based on personal preferences such as financial considerations or level of comfort. Once you create this list, the following two ways can be used to arrive at a decision:
1. Place before myself the options.
2. Without any attachments, say “whatever you want, Lord”.
3. Ask the Lord to move you toward the option that will bring Him greater glory.
4. Consider the spiritual pros and cons of each choice.
5. Make your choice.
6. Turn to the Lord and place your choice before Him, asking Him to confirm it by granting you peace.
Second Way (to be used if the first way doesn’t provide clarity)
1. Do I seek to choose solely out of love for God?
2. How would I advise a person I’ve never met before if they were faced with the same choice?
3. Which option would I choose at the moment of my death?
4. On the day of my judgment, which option do I wish I had chosen?
5. Make your choice.
6. Ask the Lord to confirm your choice.
Please remember that discernment can be a complicated process and can take a long time to unfold. Be patient and make it a point to frequently meditate on the Gospels. In addition, a spiritual director or a trusted friend can be very valuable in the discernment process.
I have tried to simplify the principles of Saint Ignatius so that they can be a little less intimidating. For more information, I suggest reading the following books:
Discerning the Will of God by Fr. Timothy Gallagher
How to Listen When God Is Speaking by Fr. Mitch Pacwa