(Learn to Discern Principle #1)
In my university years, there was a popular phrase that was always thrown about in Christian circles: “I need to pray about it.” Did someone ask you to join a club you didn’t want to join? “I need to pray about it.” Were you chosen for a project you didn’t want to be a part of? “I need to pray about it.” Asked out on a date by someone you weren’t into? “I need to pray about it.”
Often, instead expressing an actual openness to discern God’s presence in the invitation, the phrase acted like a “get out of jail free” card.
Finally, one of my friends told me that she had used it with her spiritual director, who responded, “Ruth, there are some things you don’t need to pray about.”
I was shocked! I had always been taught to pray about everything. After some reflection, though, and a silent Ignatian retreat, I realized the wisdom her director had displayed.
Should we pray in all circumstances? Absolutely. Do we need to pray about every situation? No.
Ignatius of Loyola has grown famous in the Christian tradition as well as secular culture for the wisdom of his discernment methods: Jesuit retreat houses are popular destinations even for those of no faith at all.
The first principle that he taught is simple but crucial in any decision making process: you can’t choose between good and evil. You can only choose between two good things.
If you are faced with two options, and one is bad, then you don’t really have two options. You only have one.
Should I leave my spouse and children to suffer while I travel the globe following my dreams, or should I be faithful and loving despite difficulties? There is no discernment needed. You don’t need to pray about it.
Should I steal money from my company or not? Not a situation for discernment. You don’t need to pray about it.
Should I lie about denting my neighbours’ car bumper or tell the truth? No need to discern. You don’t need to pray about it.
In all of these situations, the temptation to choose do to wrong might be a catalyst for consideration of deeper questions: dissatisfaction in marriage or home life, anger toward wider company injustice, fear of judgment – but the situations themselves need not be subject to discernment.
Discernment always entails something good. And choosing between goods isn’t easy! That’s why discernment can be a challenging process – something we’ll talk about more in this series.
Have you ever had a tough decision made easier when you realized that choosing the good was the only option?