Many people engage the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius precisely to discern what God wants from them. Others make the Exercises to confirm decisions about their vocation they have already prayerfully come to.
It is easy to say “I want to do what God wants me to do.” But there are two different ways of looking at the idea of “God’s will.”
One is to think of God’s will for us as a predetermined blueprint, as though God has a file cabinet with folders for each of us. People with that view look for the blueprint, thinking God’s will for them is set in stone. They have an image of God having a complete plan worked out irrespective of any input on our part.
That is not very demanding, when you think about it. “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” As though we were foot soldiers simply following the instructions of a general with no input.
Ignatius doesn’t view it that way. Rather, he has a dynamic image of God and believes that at the deepest levels our desires and God’s desires for us coincide. That suggests an active process on our part in discerning God’s will for us. If God’s will were a detailed plan for each person, discernment would not be an adult decision, but just an act of finding a pre-determined plan. Instead Ignatius believes finding God’s will is making the best choices can in given set of circumstances – with who I am and the circumstances I am in right now.
That is both harder and, in a sense, consoling.
It is harder because I have to take an active part in the process of determining my part in God’s plan. God and I together work out who I am to be.
But it is also very consoling because it means God works with who I am at any given moment. Think about it – if there were a pre-determined blueprint, what happens when we step off it (which invariably we will)? Does God just throw up his hands and say, well that one’s all messed up?
Under Ignatius’ dynamic model, God works with where we are. So if I do discern incorrectly, and fail in a given situation to choose the option which gives the greatest glory to God – If I go left, so to speak, when I perhaps should have gone right – God and I can and will recalibrate (just like the GPS in your car.)
Note that this is a the twenty-first in a series of posts in celebration of the Ignatian Year, which began on May 20 of this year.