the good way

Making Decisions

Session 8 • Maturity • Activation

When we give Jesus Lordship over our whole lives, we should increasingly find that we are making decisions thoughtfully and prayerfully. We will begin to live with greater interior freedom, relinquishing control and surrendering our will to God, saying ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’

It’s estimated that adults make over 35,000 decisions every day! We are continually making choices about what food to eat, which direction to walk, which clothes to wear, which project to tackle first. Many of these decisions we will make instinctively, and without much thought or concern. But what about decisions regarding travel, changing jobs, dating, marriage, large purchases, or having another baby? How do we make the right decision when it comes to these bigger life choices? How do we make decisions motivated by love and not by fear or guilt? Consider a recent decision that you made. How did you come to your decision? What was your process for discerning the right next step?

There are many helpful books that have been written with regards to decision making and spiritual discernment. The following activation has been gleaned and modified from The Art of Discernment by Pierre Wolff and God’s Voice Within by Mark E Thibodeaux.

In making a good discernment, a person typically will:

Get quiet

Gather data

Dream dreams

Ponder the dreams

Get Quiet

Sit comfortably and breathe deeply. You may want to use a breath prayer as you slowly inhale and exhale, such as ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, or simply ‘Jesus.’

  1. Put before your mind the choice you need to make. Clarify it; state it with the most straightforward language possible.
  2. Write a short and simple prayer of commitment to God’s will. (This is really about surrender and relinquishing any attachment to each alternative choice. Ignatian Indifference: The grace-filled state of desiring to do God’s will and to praise, reverence and serve God more than desiring anything else. The state of grateful availability.)
  3. Pay attention to any initial leanings you have, one way or the other, that might influence your ability to know and choose God’s will. Notice any underlying emotions regarding the decision. (i.e. excitement/guilt/fear/pride) Write those down.

Gather Data

  1. Now consider all the aspects of that decision; values that will help you recognize the best and most fruitful choice. If it’s helpful, create a ‘mind map’ of all the variables. (You might want to consider time/energy/margin/desire/personality traits that would make this a suitable/unsuitable choice)
  2. List the advantages/benefits and disadvantages/threats related to each option.
  3. How will your decision, regardless of what you choose, affect ‘the poor’ (i.e. the poor quite literally but also those who don’t have a voice in the decision yet but will be impacted by it.)
  4. During this phase of discernment it might be helpful to invite a trusted friend/mentor into your decision-making process and ask for their prayer and input. If you have a ‘rule of life’, weigh the decision in light of that.

Dream Dreams

Saint Ignatius believed that God dwells within our desires and that God “inflames the heart with holy desires and with attractions toward a life of greater divine praise and service.” While grounded in indifference - we can pick up again the desires of our hearts and can contemplate our desires without being a servant to them.

  1. My purpose in life is to praise, reverence and serve God. How am I uniquely called to do this?
  2. What are the things that excite me most about following and serving Jesus? Where is the place where my ‘deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet’?

Ponder the Dreams

  1. Ask God to reveal to you his will and move your heart in that direction.
  2. Which of these thoughts/dreams leave me with a sense of closeness to God and an increase in faith, hope and love? Which leave me with a sense of deep down peace/a sense of rightness/with a ‘fits-like-a-glove’ feeling and a sense of energy? On the contrary, which leave me without a sense of God’s closeness? Which leave me with a sense of deep down disquiet/ agitation/ fear/ boredom/ deflation?
  3. Review all of the information you’ve gathered. Now decide which alternative appears to be more reasonable. Write it down and explain why this option seems best.
  4. Finally, weigh the alternative you’ve chosen with your heart. How does it feel to you? Bring it before God in prayer and ask for him to confirm the rightness of it. Record your response.

“Coming to a decision…it will feel not as though I am making a decision, but rather as though I am acknowledging a decision that my heart has already made.”

Final steps

  • Offer your tentative decision to God and invite him to confirm it.
  • Continue to pay attention to your interior movements (Sometimes I find it helpful to get up one morning and live as if my permanent decision were made, paying attention to how that feels.)
  • Make your final decision and live in trust.

“The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” - Psalm 37:23-24

Hasty versus Hesitant

A hasty decision maker is someone who tends to jump too quickly into a decision, someone who makes a decision without thoroughly discerning. A hesitant decision maker is someone who drags his or her feet in making a decision, usually because the decision requires an uncomfortable choice. St Ignatius cautions that we be particularly wary of a hasty decision marker in desolation.

Prayer of Surrender

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

- Thomas Merton

Image credit: Nikki Krecikki

Prayer of Abandonment


I abandon myself

Into your hands;

Do with me what you will.

For whatever you may do, I thank you.

I am ready for all,

I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me

As in all your creatures.

I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands

I commend my soul.

I offer it to you

With all the love of my heart.

For I love you, my God,

And I so need to give myself,

To surrender myself

Into your hands,

Without reserve,

And with boundless confidence,

For you are my Father.

- Charles de Foucauld, 1858-1916

“God’s ideas are not always obvious, and are always more clever than we can imagine. Even though the circumstances may be the same as many times before, God may have a different and better idea. So we are wise to ask for guidance each time.” - Jan Johnson

For further reading on simple and soulful practices for making life decisions, check out The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman, with accompanying journal.

We highly recommend that you begin considering investing in Spiritual Direction as a way for you take a step towards pursuing greater spiritual maturity. Spiritual Directors are not therapists but they are prayerful companions who journey with us as we make life decisions, asking us questions and helping us to notice the activity of God in our lives.

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