Four Strategies for Discernment

footprints and directional arrows - photo by imelenchon via Morguefile

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, there are various “rules for the discernment of spirits”—what we would simply call principles of wise discernment. Included in these rules are four helpful strategies to use when trying to make a good decision.

  1. Line up the pros and cons.
    Make a list of all the advantages of going a certain route. Then make a list of all the advantages of not going that route. If you have more than one route to consider, make pairs of lists for each possibility. Sometimes when we actually write down the pros and cons, we see things that were not apparent before.
  2. Try it on for size.
    Imagine that you have already made the decision. For instance, you have decided to get your teaching certificate. Now go through several days—a week perhaps—of pretending that you in fact are in the midst of getting the certificate and are looking for a teaching position. Notice how you react emotionally to this imaginary life. How does it feel to have made this decision? This method requires imagination but can be quite revealing.
  3. How would you counsel someone in your situation?
    Pretend that your dilemma belongs to someone else, and that person comes to you for counsel. How would you approach looking at the situation? What advice would you offer? What questions would you ask? Then try to apply your counselor’s wisdom to yourself.
  4. At the end of your life, how will you see this?
    Pretend you are nearing the end of your life; St. Ignatius actually suggested that people imagine being on their own deathbeds. Consider the whole of your life—what you did and why, what you are grateful for, what you regret. In light of this long view, how do you see the current discernment you are trying to make?

Photo by imelenchon via Morguefile.

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Vinita Hampton Wright
Vinita Hampton Wright edited books for 32 years, retiring in 2021. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places and spirituality books Days of Deepening Friendship, The Art of Spiritual Writing, Small Simple Ways: An Ignatian Daybook for Healthy Spiritual Living, and, most recently, Set the World on Fire: A 4-Week Personal Retreat with the Female Doctors of the Church. Vinita is a spiritual director and continues to facilitate retreats and write fiction and nonfiction. She lives with her husband, two dogs, and a cat in Springdale, Arkansas.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you . I am having nightmares about this at present. So many Things to do, no-one to help And a houseful of everything . I am not capable of doing things physically now and no family anywhere near. I would be happy to give things, but no takers; even charities are overloaded. some beautiful things will just go to the dump. so much waste. My place was always the the dumping place ,for family things ;as i had the space. So My advice to everyone now; don’t be the family person, who is left with everything to dispose of ; even from family!.Live simply and don’t accumulate. God Bless And I certainly need some prayers and help! A.M.D.G.

    • Meg, you say that there’s no one around you to help. I wonder if family members from out of town can’t be coaxed into coming to help sort through your memorabilia. Perhaps covid has kept people away? In any case this could certainly be a discussion that you could have with family.

      No need for nightmares!! Are there people that you know from Church–perhaps a priest or deacon or friends–who might be willing to help you make a plan for all this? In any case, your objects aren’t junk, even if others don’t grasp the value they have for you. The value is what’s significant and it remains with you.

      And it’s you yourself that hold the most significance. Christ makes us all significant, beyond what we know. So take heart! All will be well.

  2. Thanks Vinita for giving us the ‘meat of the matter’ so clearly. Just one comment. Instead going out trying to act out the choice, would it be better to do a
    Contemplation using the Five Senses and Three Powers of the Soul as two discerning prayer methods given by St.Ignatius. All this can be done perhaps in a school imaginative setting bringing in Jesus. Hope this makes sense.
    daphne stockman

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