We Can Trust Our Experience

Knowing that we can trust our experience is the first and perhaps the most fundamental lesson about discernment. Books and ideas and the counsel of the wise are all well and good, but the main arena for discernment is what we ourselves experience. We can discern the right direction by thoughtful reflection on our relationships with others, our work in the world, and on the feelings generated by these encounters. They are meaningful because God is in them. Our life is the classroom where the Schoolmaster teaches and guides us.

Whole systems of thought and belief challenge this idea. Ancient philosophical traditions hold that the physical world of matter and human bodies is a corrupt reflection of ideal forms that exist in the heavens. A theological tradition that began with Augustine and blossomed in Calvinism holds that human judgment and reason are hopelessly corrupted by sin, and that emotions are particularly suspect. One of the key ideas of Eastern religions is that this world is essentially an illusion, and that enlightenment comes as we rid ourselves of desires and ambitions and feelings.

In this argument, Ignatius stands firmly on the side of human experience. It is real; it is meaningful; it is trustworthy when we understand it properly.

—Excerpted from What’s Your Decision? by J. Michael Sparough, SJ, Jim Manney, and Tim Hipskind, SJ


  1. Edifying to receive the reinforcement this comment provides. I am always thrilled (for want of a better word to say ‘touched in a profound way’) by the home truths that percolate up in m consciousness when I stop to pray. One such arrived fully formed today, undeniable, and a clear signal that I must, as they say, “amend my life.” I am speaking of a ‘virtuous vice,’ the workaholism that demands that I work for work’s sake on that which does not matter to me, as if in perpetual atonement (and squandering my life) while neglecting the work that I know is my life’s work. Seeing this in print makes it seem staggeringly simple. It wasn’t, not when this self-destruction has had hold of me throughout my life — and when it gets rewarded. Praise! Money! Respect! But it is not what I want, nor, it is my strong sense, is it what God wants. Getting to those more important matters will require more prayer, more discernment. I am eager for it.
    I began this Lent bemoaning another venture into false piety — what I gave up, my good deeds, money I gave away. Spiritual snoozefest. Instead, today, I woke up. These weeks, I have been more, not less, engaged with the many good things that surround me, cherishing them, giving thanks for all. This surely isn’t the Lent I was dreaming of, but it is surely the Lent I love.
    What has this to do with trusting our experience? Everything. Daily we are immersed in induced needs (who knew how many apps one needed just to make it through 24 hours) and emotional manipulation (which Presidential candidate will get a rose, and which will be sent home? oh, the drama!), but when we clear the clutter and allow God to speak, the gifts are overwhelming. This does not mean one ought to go about claiming to know the mind of God or not testing the spirits, as was so clearly instructed. It just means that if an experience seems significant, there is no reason to turn away from it. Doing so could mean burying one’s talent.

  2. My lived experiences are a sum total of what I am today. I trust them because God has always been there and will always be. I only need to be attentive and discerning to feel God’s loving presence in my daily life despite all the many aggravations that come my way. I can only humbly thank and praise and glorify Him for all the “goodness and kindness [He has given] all the days of [my] life.”


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