Ignatian Spiritual Discernment

July 19, 2022

Teresa A. Blythe, 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times (Nashville: Abington Press, 2006), 73-76.


To seek God’s desire for us in a given concrete, life situation.

The Exercise

  • Prepare. Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed as you enter this adventure with God.
    Have a journal on hand to write your reflections or jot down your thoughts. Light a candle and begin
    this process with a prayer, asking God to open your mind and heart to God’s desires. Ask for honesty
    of heart, and inner freedom from any destructive habits.
  • Desire to follow God’s leading and be indifferent to all else. Ask God to help you become indifferent
    to anything that is not of God. This does not mean you are uninterested in the outcome of your
    discernment, but it means you are willing to leave the outcome in God’s hands. If you feel you
    cannot find in yourself this place of “holy indifference” to the outcome, then express to God your
    desire to be open to God’s leading, saying something like, “Lord, help my lack of indifference.”
  • Frame the question. Name the issue you wish to discern. It should be a concrete and concise
    question. Questions that are most helpful are those that can be answered yes or no (as in “Should
    I start to look for another job?”) or those for which you can list realistic and concrete choices. Your
    question may change over time in discernment. Write out your question and sit with it in prayer. Pay
    attention to any insight, emotion, or felt body sense that arises in you.
  • Look at the question rationally. First, list two or three choices that would answer your question.
    Make a list of pros and cons for each choice. Gauge at this point which choice you are leaning
    toward. How does each choice feel after considering the pros and cons? Weigh your lists. Which
    pros and which cons feel more important than the others? Make a tentative choice before moving
    on to the next step.
  • Look at your life situation. The tentative choice you made will affect the context of your life. How
    will this decision affect your family? Your lifestyle? How is your circle of friends affected? How does
    the choice fit into your personal spiritual journey? What image of God pervades as you consider this
    issue? What is the background history of the issue under consideration? What are the facts at hand?
    Now that you have spent some time with this choice, hold it in the light of your desire to follow God.
    Notice how free or unfree you feel as you imagine yourself pursuing this choice. At this time, do you
    want to go back and consider other choices? If so, do that now and proceed with a new tentative
  • Look at your beliefs and values. When you think about your choice, how are your personal and
    spiritual values honored? What “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22) is evident? Is the choice in accord
    with the Biblical witness? Does this choice increase your generosity, openness to others who are
    different, your self-esteem? Does this choice allow you to love as Jesus loved?
  • Listen to your intuition. Imagine your thoughts dropping down into the center of your being and
    becoming very still. Listen to your breath for a few minutes. Now, allow any images to emerge
    freely for you. Does any image predominate? In what way does this image relate to your choice?
    What is your gut feeling about the path you have chosen? As you ponder your options, what is your
    present body language? How does your body feel? Can you identify a felt sense within your body
    that is related to this choice? After listening to your intuition and to any images or bodily senses that
    emerged, do any new ideas or choices emerge?
  • Use your imagination. Imagine yourself living out the choice you are most leaning toward at the
    moment. Then, imagine taking a different course. Which feels more right? More free? In which choice
    did your body feel relaxed and energized?

    • Imagine that you are very old and looking back on this decision. What will you wish you
      had done?
    • Imagine that your best friend came to you with a similar question and was leaning toward
      a similar choice. What would you advise?
    • Imagine that you are explaining your decision to the wisest person you know. What do
      you imagine they would say to you?
  • Examine your consolation and desolation. As you continue to test the option you are leaning toward,
    examine it to see if you are feeling more consolation or desolation:
  • Consolation. A mostly positive movement of the heart (even in the midst of grief or longing); an
    increase in faith, hope, and love; inner and lasting peace; joy; an inner knowing that encourages,
    supports, and enlivens your decision. Consolation generally draws you closer to God.
  • Desolation. A mostly negative movement of the heart (even in the midst of good fortune or
    excitement); a turning away from faith; a restlessness, heaviness, or anxiety; an inner knowing that
    discourages, calls into doubt, or dulls the energy around your decision. Desolation generally makes
    you feel far from God.
  • Make your decision. Based on all you have experienced in the questions and tests of this process,
    make a decision. Notice your immediate reaction. Is it one of consolation or desolation? You may
    choose not to act on the decision right away, testing to see if your feelings and thoughts remain the
    same for a few days. At some point, though, you must act on faith on the decision you have made.
  • Test the decision. How does the decision feel after taking action on it? Do you have energy to live
    it out? Are you feeling more consolation or desolation? Does your decision fit with the law of love
    that Jesus calls us to? How have the people in your life responded to the decision? What “fruit of the
    Spirit” (Gal.5:22) have you noticed? Do you feel closer to God or father from God as a result of taking
    action on your decision? If, after testing the decision, you believe it not to be a call from God, do not
    panic. This is a time for ongoing discernment. Do you need to adjust your decision?