How Indifferent Are You?

Ignatius really means it when he says that we need to be “indifferent to all created things.”  In his Principle and Foundation at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, he says “we ought not to seek health rather than sickness, wealth rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long life rather than a short one.”

To make it even more challenging, Michelle Francl-Donnay suggests that we write our personal version of that sentence, inserting things we especially love and loathe.  This is hers:

I should not fix my desires on wet socks or dry feet, placemats or tablecloths, silence or noise, order or utter chaos.

Here’s mine:

I should not prefer Mozart to Lady Gaga, New York City to Las Vegas, steamed lobster to a tofu burger, baseball to soccer.

It’s very hard to be indifferent.

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Jim Manney
Jim Manney is the author of highly praised popular books on Ignatian spirituality, including A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer (about the Daily Examen) and God Finds Us (about the Spiritual Exercises). He is the compiler/editor of An Ignatian Book of Days. His latest book is What Matters Most and Why. He and his wife live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


  1. “My Secret Desire To Be Rich” by Jurrell Sison and “How Indifferent Are You?” by Jim Manney are both meditations coming from Ignatius of Loyola. I resonate with Jurrell more than Jim. Why? Because I find that desire more than indifference leads me more to God. After I bring to Him what I really really really want, and I don’t achieve it, well I am still His beloved. And for me to say “Amen” to what comes after I’ve shared my deepest desire, well, that I believe is where indiffernce comes in. Now my will but yours be done.

  2. How does this meditation on indifference square witht he meditation on “My Secret Desire to Be Rich?” which asks three times What do I want? What do I really want? What do I really, really want? And concludes that going deep reveals the intersection between God’s Desire and my desire. And finding that my deepest desire is holy. WOW!

  3. Indifference in this context means being able to appreciate things I would not necessarily want in my home, body or space I’m occupying such as rap music, oriental furnishings, sugar laden beverages, or room air fresheners. In this context appreciate means I see the value to others but don’t embrace or need it for myself. I accept what is part of my existence with gratitude.

  4. “we ought not to seek health rather than sickness, wealth rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long life rather than a short one.”
    That is hard for me right there. I DO actively want health, wealth, honor and long life, especially health and long life. I can see that when I am content with trusting God that I will be content even if I get the parts I do not want.
    So I ought not to seek focus instead of interruptions, quiet instead of noise, ease instead of work.

  5. Think that indifference has much to do with acceptance of our own present reality and identity. It is not wishing that were someone else or somewhere else or in some other circumstances but accepting where I find myself and asking for God’s help in dealing with it, making it through and finding the learning that it contains.

  6. It seems that many things to which I should be indifferent, such as whether it’s hot and stuffy in church; or whether the last bottle of soda was taken by someone else, cause me to rail at others and at the heavens. Holy Spirit, today please help me to remain indifferent to the insignificant things, that like invisible chains hold me back from loving God more.

  7. This day I can say that I should not fix my desires on running or not running, having coffee or not, having peace instead of anxious, hurrying, of desiring recognition or fading into the background……

  8. The day I can say: “whether I am fit enough to walk the Camino or not fit enough,” since at the idea that I could not walk the Camino I feel I could howl… Then I will have reached indifference.

  9. Methinks that too much hair splitting such as forcing oneself to eat tofu or listen to opera when you know you hate those, ends with scrupolosity and frustration which in turn could lead to giving up and joining the New Agers. God wants us to be happy about doing his service and right now I am going to thank him hugely for my first cup of morning coffee.

      • Linda, that’s a good point. I take Ignatius to mean not so much choosing wet socks just for their ascetic value — nor to not rule them out as a option just because I don’t like them — but to ask myself, could I tolerate them if it meant getting closer to God? and equally, can I enjoy the joys of dry socks each and every time I put them on in the morning?
        And for me, it’s that first cup of tea in the morning that’s a huge grace (coffee, I’d have to include in my antinomy list!).
        For me this was a challenge not because I think God wants to make it tough on us (I agree, there’s a door to scrupulosity there), but because unlike some of the big things, I’m confronted with such choices all the time. I want to be poised to rejoice in what is here, where God always is.

        • Right on, Michelle. And thanks for not telling me I have to listen to opera or put that tofu stuff in me. You already scared me with the tea (smiles over here).
          I try to be more indifferent to the weather now instead of looking out in the winter and saying, “Ewwww. it’s The Ugly,” and to think of my customers as someone I am supposed to bring Christ to (“Have a nice day” instead of hang up and growl).
          Cheers — oh yes happy July 4 coming up over there.

          • Linda G,
            I agree with your interpretation of Ignatian indifference over and above the one highlighted in the original post. Indifference is not about readjusting our preferences, which to me would be superficial and unnatural and depersonalizing, but about putting such preferences in the proper perspective – they are not what ultimately defines or decides for us, but rather our constant radical openess to God.
            To that end, I think St. Francis de Sales is a big help to us in integrating true indifference:
            “When charity draws some to poverty and withdraws others from it, when she impels some to marriage and others to continence, when she shuts one up in a cloister and makes another leave it, she has no need to give an account to any one: for she has the plenitude of power in the Christian law, as it is written: charity can do all things (Cf. 1 Cor 13:7); she has the fullness of prudence, as it is said: charity does nothing in vain. And if any would contest, and demand of her why she does so, she will boldly answer: The Lord has need of it. All is made for charity, and charity for God.” (Treatise on the Love of God, book 8, ch. 6).

  10. Good food for thought and contemplation. I like the idea of rewriting a personal version for each day as an exercise in returning to ‘indifference,’ wherever we find ourselves. So much nourishment in your words, Jim.


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