How does one discern the movements of one’s own heart, let alone the heart of God? Especially when it comes to things like discerning vocation, relationships, and how to spend our time and resources, this can be an area of anxiety for most of us.
There are many tools of discernment that have been used throughout church history. One of my favorites is a concept called consolation and desolation.
Ignatius of Loyola is credited with expounding on this idea after being injured in battle and finding himself on bedrest. He realized he only had a few books to read including romance novels and a book about the life of Jesus and the saints. He had lots of time to read and then to think, to ponder, and to meditate during this time.
He found that when he thought of a future as a chivalrous knight he found himself unmoved, but when he imagined living like the saints, he was filled with hope and anticipation. He believed that these feelings helped him to discern what God was leading him to do.
What are consolation and desolation?
According to Ignatius, consolation is when the heart is inflamed with such love of Jesus that it leads to faith, hope, and love.
- Directs our focus outside and beyond ourselves
- Lifts our hearts so we can be others-focused through joys and sorrows
- Links us to community
- Generates creativity
- Refreshes our inner vision
- Shows us where God is active
- Releases new energy in us
Desolation, very simply, is the opposite. It leads us away from faith, hope, and love.
- Turns us inwards where we’re focused on ourselves
- Gets us stuck in a spiral of negative feelings
- Cuts us off from people
- Makes us give up on things that used to be important
- Steals our focus and keeps us from thinking about the future
- Drains our energy
Isn’t focusing on our feelings dangerous?
If we’re honest, many of our decisions are based on how we feel. And that’s not all bad. The trick to discernment is to become aware of our feelings and interrogate and sift through them.
You can ask yourself why you feel these emotions, where they are coming from, how they have impacted the choices and decisions that you’re making, and where, or perhaps to whom, they are leading you.
A great tool to help you examine your feelings in a spiritually mature way is the spiritual examen. Read more about it here.
Then, what do you do?
Once we are more aware of our spiritual movements and where they come from, we can make decisions based on that truth rather than what we think we should do, or what our culture, upbringing, or emotional woundings are telling us to do.
We take our awareness of what is bringing us closer to God, filling us with life, and giving us more faith, hope and love and move towards those things.
It is good to note here that this has almost nothing to do with our outward circumstances. We can be overwhelmingly sick, but the movement of our spirit is towards consolation, being filled with faith, hope, and love. We can be living the “perfect” life while in the throes of desolation.
The point is to notice the gentle breeze of consolation and open yourself up to it and to realize where in your life is the death of desolation and to reject it.
One final point; don’t undertake discernment alone. We are built for community! Early in the process of discernment involve those around you, those over you in authority, friends, colleagues, and those under your authority. This process done well will honor God and the people around you.
About the Author
Michael and his wife Jess reside in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Mike is the Vineyard Training and Spiritual Direction Coordinator for Vineyard UK. He currently coordinates the Hub Pioneering Leadership program, which is in 24 locations around the UK and is training 400+ students in leadership skills. He coordinates VI and Spiritual Direction within the Vineyard Churches of the United Kingdom and Ireland. He is a trained spiritual director and member of the Order of Sustainable Faith.
His heart lies with wanting to help the local church be as healthy and intentional as possible. His other passions and hobbies are of the geek variety; astronomy, games of all sorts, history, and anything he hasn’t been able to try yet.
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