This post is based on Week Five of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.
It was the last day of a recovery retreat when my partner, Sister Mary Michael, pulled me aside with a concern over one of our retreatants. One mom would admit that she was powerless over her son’s addiction, but seconds later would search for ways to stop his drug use. She did not seem to realize that she was saying one thing while doing another.
Because I’d been in her shoes, I knew how hard it is to accept our need to “let go and let God.” I wondered, Is there an effective way to help her see what she is doing?
That is when the Meditation on the Two Standards came to mind. I’d used this meditation to familiarize myself with the characteristics of both Christ and the enemy. It was my go-to resource when I became worried about our situation. If seeds of doubt and shame came into my mind, I would know that these were not the fruits of Christ. I would consider the source and let the worry go. If I felt a nagging feeling that I was trying to control things again, I knew that this was God nudging me out of love, offering protection. I would pay attention to those feelings.
In the meditation, St. Ignatius uses the battlefield to illustrate the choices that we are each given. Do we wish to fight under the standard (flag) of Christ or under the standard of the enemy? Because we are loved, we are given the choice. While it seems obvious that we would all want to choose Christ, we need to consider what that means for us. Ignatius realizes that as humans we can easily slip into self-deception when things get hard, and so he points out the differences between Christ and the enemy to prepare us.
Satan is deceitful and disguises his motives. Meanwhile, Jesus tells us up front that following him will not be easy (Matthew 16:24–25). Ignatius tries to prepare us for this truth. In the Exercises, Ignatius makes sure that we are firmly planted on a solid foundation of God’s love. Then he helps us rid ourselves of our disordered attachments. But before we begin to follow Christ, Ignatius asks us to pause and consider what that means.
When the mom from my weekend retreat showed up at a Lenten retreat, I was grateful for the opportunity to share the Two Standards meditation. I pointed to my head and said, “I know here that I have to let go of my loved ones.” I paused and moved my finger to my heart and said, “But from here it becomes a little more difficult.” Everyone nodded.
I continued, “What happens between our understanding that we are powerless and our accepting that we are powerless? Thoughts such as, What kind of mom lets go of her child in the greatest time of need? often come along. Do you think those thoughts come from Christ or from the enemy?”
The room was quiet for a long time. I could see eyes opening. I felt so grateful to offer the practical tool of the Meditation on the Two Standards to help family members have a way to learn to stay close to Christ in their fight for their loved ones.