“We should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. . . . Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.”
—St. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises
We talk a lot about freedom in the United States. Our nation was founded on the principles of freedom and liberty.
Ignatius of Loyola recognized that our spiritual life is also founded on freedom. Our attachments to our desires—our desire for health over sickness, for honor and fame, for wealth—can prevent us from that which we were made for: to love, serve, and praise God. This may seem like a hard lesson—who wouldn’t desire to be healthy? Who wouldn’t want a long life? Ignatius is asking us to examine our desires more deeply and ask the important follow-up question, Why? Desiring health so that I can brag about how fit I am is very different from desiring health so that I can serve God and others better.
When I look at my desires, I need to follow the instruction of Ignatius and ask myself this question: Do my desires help me love God and love my neighbor, or are they a hindrance? If the latter, I need to let them go. I have to learn how to give them up. Otherwise, they will prevent me from saying yes to God.
Freedom from our attachments—those things that prevent us from praising, revering, and serving God—is necessary if we want to do God’s will. Discernment requires freedom. If we are going to find God in all things, then we need to be free. And to be free, we need to surrender our will, everything that we have, and everything we call our own.
Loving God is nothing less than surrendering to God.
In this meditation, you will identify the things you cling to that prevent you from loving God and loving your neighbors. What do you need to let go of?
- Ponder the following Scripture verse until your mind is calm and still and your breathing becomes gentle and free: “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
- Think about something that you think is necessary for you to be happy. It may be a material object, another person, or an idea. Bring to mind as many details about this thing as you can.
- How does this thing help you love, serve, and praise God? How does it help you be a “person for others”? That is, how does it help you be loving, kind, generous, and patient with other people? Pay attention to your feelings. How would you describe them? Where would you locate them in your body?
- Imagine that you never had this thing—not that it was taken away, but that you were unaware that it even existed. How do you imagine you would love, serve, and praise God? What feelings arise in you?
- Does this thing still seem as necessary for your happiness? Is it necessary for you to love, serve, and praise God and be a person for others?
- Share your thoughts and feelings with Jesus. What does he have to say about them? Does he tell you what you need to love God and love your neighbors?
- Close with the following prayer or one of your own choosing: St. Ignatius, may my one true desire be to love, serve, and praise God. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
—Excerpted from Little Lessons from the Saints by Bob Burnham