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Every spring, I invite the freshmen to consider how they can more actively engage in their faith lives as they prepare to move into their sophomore year. I wait until spring, because that is when they are just starting to settle in and find their niches. After all, most of freshman year is about exploring possibilities for involvement. I know it was for me. In just that one school year, in fact, I tried soccer, theater, piano, student council, and more. It was not until my freshman year was almost over that I discovered where I truly belonged.
That spring, I came across the campus ministry office for the first time. The senior campus ministry group was graduating, and the office was wide open for a new enthusiastic student to take over. I was sold. The rest of high school, that is where I spent all my time, organizing prayer and spiritual experiences for the community, alongside my closest friends. I had found my niche.
The struggle to discover who we are and what we are meant to do, however, is a lifelong struggle. And having an adequate vocabulary to help us through the twists and turns in the journey is key. Ignatian discernment gave me that vocabulary that helped me get to where I am today, back in a campus ministry office 15 years (and a few career choices) after that first day. How did I know this was where I was supposed to be? I embraced the tools of Ignatian discernment. How could I not embrace them?
After all, Ignatian discernment:
1. Honors my desires.
I remembered as I entered into the discernment process to consider returning to ministry how much I had loved leading others in prayer. I remembered how inspired I was when I organized a Stations of the Cross experience for the school or helped set up for Mass. I realized how much I missed it too.
2. Values my pro/con lists.
I have always enjoyed a good pro/con list, but it took time to realize that these lists were valuable to God as well. I discovered that God actually wanted me to use my brain and my experiences and encounters to discern my path.
3. Gives me a vocabulary.
Feelings had always played a role how I moved from job to job, career choice to career choice, but often they had to slap me over the head in order for me to listen. I often had to be brought to my knees in front of the cross before I realized the movements of desolation inside of me. Knowing now what desolation and consolation are and what they feel like has increased my attentiveness to them on a more consistent basis.
4. Directs my prayer.
Whenever I had to make a big decision before I learned about Ignatian discernment, I would often sit in a chapel, lost as to where to begin. Tools like the Examen began to direct my prayer in the times when decisions, big or small, weighed on me.
5. Centers me on my true goal.
I used to think my goal should be whatever kept me financially stable, kept food on the table, or kept a roof over my head. Ignatian discernment showed me my goal was instead whatever brought me to a closer relationship with God. It helped me realize that if that was what I was aiming for, the details would inevitably work themselves out.
6. Shows me love.
The daily Examen and other tools used in Ignatian discernment start with gratitude. This practice of recognizing the blessings in my life had a surprising impact: it showed me how truly loved I was by God.
7. Embraces my imagination.
I have always been an imaginative person. I can get lost in my thoughts for hours, but I always felt that my imagination was a distraction. Ignatian discernment embraces the imagination and invites me to dream big, allowing my emotions to show me which dreams lead me closer to God and which dreams lead me further away.
8. Endows me with the power of yes.
Saying yes to things was difficult without the tools of discernment. If I could not see the end and did not know what stability a dream would provide, I struggled to say yes, no matter how joyful it might make me. Ignatian discernment reminds me that if I say yes to God, God says yes to me right back.
9. Reminds me I’m not finished yet.
There were several times along my journey from the campus ministry office in the back corner of my high school to my office today that I felt, Well, this is it. This is where I am going to be from now on, regardless of whether or not it made me happy, regardless of whether or not it brought me real joy. However, I have learned through Ignatian discernment that I am a continual creation of God. Discernment never stops, thankfully! Knowing I am a continual creation of God helps me not only live in joy now but look forward with joy to what comes next!