During August, I’ll focus on how Ignatian principles of spiritual growth are quite fitting for those of us in the second half of life. “Find Your Inner Iggy” is the title of a promotion Loyola Press had going on Facebook recently, and I really like the sound of that phrase—rather whimsical.
Become a Master of Discernment
Oh, to be the citizen of a country in which people routinely make wise decisions! But take a look at the news, and it’s clear that this is not the case. Humans in general make many mistakes and sometimes make the same bad choice more than once—or even make it over and over again. Thus, bad decision making becomes a habit. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that, in the absence of good decision-making habits, we choose sloppily, lazily, and stupidly.
Discernment, by contrast, is the ongoing habit of approaching life with thoughtfulness, wisdom, and some kind of moral compass. In certain Native American traditions, discernment requires that a person make decisions only after determining their impact on future generations. In certain religious communities, discernment is made in the context of shared principles and values. In business, discernment is encouraged by boards that oversee and vet decisions and how they will affect the company and its future.
But in one person’s life, there’s no one else to do the oversight and the vetting. In my life, discernment is up to me. Granted, I participate in a workplace and in a faith community, each with cultures that encourage wise decision making. But in day-to-day life, I’m on my own. I must devise ways of making good choices.
St. Iggy’s Spiritual Exercises have an entire section on the “discernment of spirits” that, although written in the language of an earlier time, still work quite well. Ignatian discernment attends carefully to rational assessment, emotional and intuitive clues, prayer, imagination, and the basics of Christian virtue. Combined, these various aspects of the human personality and experience provide a powerful means of increasing personal wisdom.
Discernment is important throughout life, but as a person now past the age of 50, I am aware, every day, of how important discernment is. It’s simple: I don’t have a lot of time left, so I’d better make it count. I don’t have years and years ahead of me in which to undo the damage I might cause with my bad choices.
Not only that, but because I’m older, younger people will naturally look to me to be the wise woman. I can’t do the rock-star thing and say, “Well, I never intended to be a role model.” All I have to do is be present and half-awake, and someone will assume that I know things. Even if they don’t ask my advice, they will watch what I do and listen to what I say. Especially if I operate in any sort of leadership role—serving as a lector at church, editing other people’s words for a living—people will naturally expect that I have something to offer in the way of wisdom.
So, discernment is not an option. And, if you happen not to be “older” yet, then please know that discernment is crucial in your life too. Are you bringing up children? Buying a house, contributing to the environment of a neighborhood, helping create a company’s structure and culture? Please, learn to discern. The world desperately needs you to make choices that will help, and not hurt, all of us.