Healthy Confusion

confused faceThis post is based on Week Three of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.

Ignatian spirituality has a way of flipping upside down everything I thought I knew about faith. For years of classes in the Catechism, ethics, and theology, the focus was on clearly understanding the Catholic worldview. This was right and that was wrong. The answers were clear. Follow the “do’s” and avoid the “don’ts” and you are good to go. All of that works great—until my life is the ethical case study in question. Then things aren’t quite so clear. Figuring out where the trail of love begins and the reach of sin ends can be quite confusing. And that, ironically, is right where St. Ignatius wants me to be.

Rather than having us sit comfortably on pat answers, Ignatius challenges us to seek a healthy confusion. Yep, seek confusion, not clarity. That sounds crazy. In a world that regularly pits one side against the other, Ignatius says to sit in the tension. If the answer comes too easily, it is likely suspect, and we may want to look again. Why? Because until we sit in the healthy confusion of grappling with our part of a sinful situation, we haven’t made the answer our own, rooting ourselves in it. Until we sit in healthy confusion, we haven’t honestly admitted our motivations or what inhibits acting in response. Until the experience of healthy confusion, we haven’t found where God is calling us.

As I go through my Examen and note the parts of my day when I feel negativity, disdain, anxiety, or condemnation, I beg in my prayer, Why did I do that?, Where is that coming from?, or What am I going to do about that? I admit that despite all those years of study, I don’t have the answer. I need God to show me. I am confused about how to live in a sinful world without participating in the sin itself. But it is easier to admit my confusion before God than it is to fake clarity we both know I don’t have.

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Lisa Kelly
Lisa Kelly is a wife, mother, and Ignatian Associate living in Omaha, Nebraska. She works to help organizations integrate spirituality into their planning and systems. She and her husband, Tom, completed the 19th Annotation in 2005, just prior to spending two years living in the Dominican Republic with their three young children, supporting the work of the Jesuit Institute for Latin American Concern. Additionally they have lived in El Salvador and Bolivia for extended periods.


  1. Thank you for this wonderful article. I grappled with trying to find the right balance today. Coming across this article this evening gave me comfort, knowing that I’m on the right path and knowing that I’m not alone.

  2. Lisa I am so delighted with your article and what you are doing. I have often Wondered how this possible? Obviously it is. How wonderful Thank You Lisa. Keep on……xxx Margarita

    • Thank you Lynda and Margarita! I think the strongest consolation in life is in knowing none of us is alone in whatever we are experiencing. I appreciate your confirming that connection is alive and well when it comes to making sense of sin.

  3. Lisa, thank you for articulating so clearly the challenge that we all face every moment of our lives: “how to live in a sinful world without participating in the sin itself”. It is indeed confusing and the answer will be unique in some ways for each of us.


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