Process Of Discerning Decisions
Chapter 28 of Orientations Vol 2: Part B
Some Introductory Remarks
Confirmation in Ignatian spirituality is that interior assurance within the directee that the discerned decision has been made well. It is the final phase of the process of discerning a decision. This chapter explores its meaning and experience whether during or outside the Exercises journey , , .
This interior assurance does not guarantee that the decision will prove successful, nor that history will judge it to be a right decision, nor that the decision will ever have to be reconsidered in the light of new facts. Rather, with a kind of loving, moral(1) security, Confirmation assures the directee that the decision has been made well; that is, it is not so much a confirming of the decision but rather of the person who has just made the decision.
Consolation can be experienced in many different ways, even with a certain "downness," and often this is the way with the Consolation of Confirmation. Absence of fear in the face of realistic difficulties and absence of all apprehensive doubts are not necessarily signs of confirmation. In the bible, many or our ancestors who responded positively to God's call experienced fear and terror as they began to think of the implications. Whatever be the "up" or "down" quality of the Confirmation experience, the signs of true Confirmation include one or more of the following:
- A Jesus-centred experience;
- A realistic awareness of the suffering involved;
- A sense of peace underneath the sadness and apprehension of the consequences of the implementation;
- A quiet growth in trust;
- Humility and dependence on God.
Keeping Oneself In Harmony With The Grace Being Sought
Whether during the Exercises journey or in daily life outside the Exercises, when a directee is discerning a decision, he may have to refrain from certain activities that create energies that muddle the movements within his heart. Here are some examples:
- Minimize disturbing external stimuli -- Requests coming to him that invite his generosity may need to be placed "on hold." Exciting adventures that may interfere with the graces being sought may need to be cancelled in order to keep in harmony with the subject of his prayer.
- Exercise discipline over internal questioning -- If your directee has settled on his decision and is asking God for Confirmation during his prayer time, he must not give way between the times of prayer to thoughts and doubts as to whether he arrived at this point properly! That would be disposing himself for Desolation of some sort!
- Certain external activities and gestures can dispose for the grace -- Sometimes choosing some practical action(2) as a form of penance may be of help in being disposed for the gift of Confirmation.
On Listening For Consolation In The Confirming Experience
Notice how the directee is entering the prayer and the way he accepts or faces difficulties in prayer and daily living. Is he continuing to experience an appropriate attitude towards all this?(3) What signs of Confirmation seem to be emerging? Are there any false images of Confirmation getting in the way of his experience? If he is using Gospel Contemplation, how does he relate to Jesus? How is he manifesting compassion in the concrete aspects of daily living? There should be some harmony between prayer and daily living. The following examples might indicate the kinds of shifts that manifest the grace of Confirmation in the concrete circumstances of daily life:
What Confirmation is not -- Knowing what Confirmation is not gives further insight into what it is. For example:
- Previously he never spoke about his feelings at meetings; now he brings up topics that he used to sweep under the rug.
- Or before, his need to be secure showed itself in the secure circle of friends that he kept around himself; now he is beginning to open himself to people on the margin.
- Confirmation is the sign that the discernment/decision-making process has been completed and that one's decision has been made well.Joseph and Helen belong to a faith-sharing group and have described to the group the process by which they arrived at a decision to simplify their lifestyle. Someone from the group asks, "Was your decision confirmed by God?" Joseph answers, "Yes, so many good things have happened to us since we made the decision last year. I have found that I am much happier. Our children are taking more responsibility for their own financial upkeep. All the bills are getting paid."This is not the meaning of Confirmation that we are using here. There is a danger of using external results alone to check out whether the choice was a well made before God. The danger is a certain success-failure image of decision-making. Some images verge on a magical worldview:"If I truly make a decision in keeping with the God's will, everything has to work out well.... Since everything in life goes ultimately according to the plan of God, my decision, if it is a correct one, has to be successful; otherwise God would somehow make it fail because God wants God's desires to be accomplished.... Since that choice was discerned, it must work out."What is implied here is an attitude toward God's interaction with the world that understands humans as having to fit into some prefixed design. It is as if our decision is already out there waiting to be discovered.
This is much different from the image contained in the Exercises where God's relationship to our decision-making activities is one of mutuality -, . We co-operate with God and God co-operates with us as we exercise our intelligence and our personal responsibility in collaboration with others to establish God's reign. The Exercises support the image of us as being co-creators with God.
Does the success or failure resulting from the decision indicate whether the decision was well-discerned or not? Results in themselves do not indicate this! If, as Christians, we are called to be conformed to the pattern of Jesus' death (Phil 3:10), then the experience of failure will often accompany the decisions that are in harmony with God's desires. However, there is still some truth that later on down the road, events may indicate whether the decision was in harmony with God's desires, not so much from the material success or the material failure of the results of the decision but more from what has happened in one's heart in reaction to such results. Is the fruit in one's heart in keeping with those signs of the Spirit -- peace, love, joy, self-control, patience, faithfulness -- that Paul gives in Gal 5:22-25? These signs certainly indicate that some co-operation is taking place between a Christian and God's influences in one's life.
When Jesus was confronted (John 11) with the option of going to the funeral of Lazarus and thus risking his own life by being captured by his persecutors, was his decision to proceed in harmony with his Abba's desires or not? From its results, at least in his human awareness until he died, he could have experienced the external results of this decision as a failure.(4) His apostles ran away and the leaders of the religion he was trying to renew crucified him. Yet the psalm that Jesus quoted in his last cry -- "My God, my God why have you abandoned me!" -- was a psalm of deep trust and interior faith in the midst of the external failure and persecution. The external results of a decision are not what is meant by Confirmation in spirituality of the Exercises.
Let us go back to Helen and Joseph. Someone in their group has just asked, "Was your decision confirmed by God?" Joseph now answers:"I certainly felt that it was confirmed by God because every time I opened the bible during the week we were making our decision, words like `Blessed are the poor.... Go sell what you have and give to the poor....' were given to me. Also it seemed to me that every time I opened a newspaper I came across an article that just seemed to confirm how we should be making our decision. Then when I went to my prayer group and asked them to pray for me with respect to our decision, someone later always came up to tell me how such a decision was in keeping with certain trends in the church."Though all the things that happened to Joseph may indeed have contributed to the making of the final decision, this is not what Confirmation means in the Exercises.
Nor is Confirmation a feeling of relief and contentment that frequently follows after the hard struggle of some decision-making processes.
What Confirmation is -- Confirmation in Ignatian spirituality is a special interior experience of Consolation given by God in response to a request by a person seeking to discern God's call:"My God, I have come to this growing or emerging decision.... It seems right to me.... I now offer it to you for your Confirmation...."This is the last phase in the discerned decision-making process. Before your directee has finalized his decision through the explicit discerning of spirits according to the Second Time  -- and, if this does seem to work, through his natural processes of reflection in a faith context according to the Third Time  -- he takes this Unconfirmed Decision to God and asks for Confirmation. Confirmation is like a flower that has emerged from the stem which grew out of the seedling which is the beginning of the decision-making process.(5) In Ignatian spirituality, a decision-making process is not completed until Confirmation has been received.
Whenever your directee has arrived at a decision through some form of discernment, usually he should ask explicitly, even insistently, for this grace of Confirmation.
On the Exercises journey, a directee usually(7) prays for Confirmation in the Third and Fourth Weeks. For a directee in the Call Mode, the determination of a decision in time of Consolation during the Second Week is a sign of readiness for the Third and Fourth Weeks where the decision is passed through the lenses of the paschal mystery: the first lens is that of the passion of Jesus; the second, the resurrection of Jesus. In these phases, a prayer guide observes how a directee experiences Consolation when he is faced with the inevitable suffering and peace involved in the implementation of any worthwhile decision.
- If your directee has arrived at this decision according to the Third-Time mode, he needs to pray for Confirmation in order to receive a special verification through the movement of spirits in which Ignatius places more trust than in our natural processes of logic , .(6)
- If your directee has arrived at this decision according to the Second Time, he would already be in Consolation with a deep-felt rightness accompanied by some sense of God's presence or some detectable increase of faith, hope or love. Now he needs to pray for Confirmation as the flowering phase of the process.
- Obviously if your directee finds that the decision is given to him according to the First Time, Confirmation is not needed at all , though attention may need to be given to the Afterglow .
When one is praying for Confirmation outside the Exercises journey, does one always use scriptural material from the Third and Fourth Weeks? Depending on the time available and the circumstances, one might use prayer material from the Third and Fourth Weeks. However, one can also use different scripture texts and any method of prayer that might be suitable to dispose oneself for the grace of Confirmation as in the examples given in this chapter.
What Confirmation Looks And Feels Like
Sometimes the experience of Confirmation is given by God in a clear, unambiguous way over and above the Consolation that was present through the earlier phases of the decision-making process. But, most often, the confirming experience is not dramatically clear. Often experiences of fear and discouragement begin to take over, and one appears to move toward Desolation because consequences of the future implementation of the decision begin to appear.
How does the experience of Confirmation reveal itself when it is not an evident Consolation? Often Confirmation is revealed in the union that a directee experiences with Jesus suffering or rejected. In other words, there is a sense of readiness in a directee to be with Jesus, whether in isolation, or in compassion, or in going out of himself. The decision appears difficult. Feelings rebel as he experiences realistic fears, but he still knows with a certain underlying peace that "... the decision I came to ... in spite of it all ... is still all right...." It all makes sense with the eyes of faith and in the heart of the loving directee. Here, the experience of Consolation is more subtle. You could say that the added difficulty and struggle that a directee goes through is often a sign of true Confirmation!
Some Examples Of Confirmation
Outside The Exercises Journey
Jim and Janice have been heavily involved with anti-nuclear pollution programs in the Pickering area where they have lived for four years. They also belong to a local Cursillo group that has a very active ministry. They have many friends. The bank for which Jim works has asked him to consider a move to Montreal. He is free to accept or reject the offer because of his present position in the bank. But if he does accept, he would have to start his work in Montreal within a month and a half. Jim has investigated the area in which his new assignment is located. It is very near a high unemployment area with a concentration of Indian people. The local church in the area is trying to respond to the economic needs of the people, but its leaders do not seem to have the economic understanding to be of any real help. Jim does. Also, Janice has a degree in social work and has been trained as a facilitator to work with groups. Both of them are discerning this decision. After discussion and prayer over the implied issues and after help from their local Cursillo community, they both prayed separately with the Unconfirmed Decision that they should move to Montreal. Now they are praying for Confirmation before their decision is finalized. They have gone to a prayer guide trained in Ignatian spirituality to help them through this final phase.
Here is one scenario of a possible interior experience in this hypothetical case:Janice is at peace as she begins to pray for Confirmation. During the week, she uses the scripture text of the Flight into Egypt as prayer material. A couple of days into the prayer, she begins to feel disturbed as questions concerning the realism of this move surface: "... What about the children ... will they be forced to speak French? ... And my friends ... I have been effective apostolically because they were present and I have no guarantee of this in Montreal! ..." Even though she continues to feel the pressure of such concerns, she seems to be at home with the scripture text she is using. She sees herself in union with Jesus going into an unknown country with its dangers and she begins to have a sense that it is Jesus' service that she desires, in spite of all the difficulties. Even if it does not work out, it is all right. There is a sense of trust and dependence on God.Note that Janice is still feeling down, because of the fears, doubts of success, etc., but the direction of her affectivity is pointed towards God and God's service -- she is in Consolation. She has received Confirmation.
Let us put another twist on this hypothetical case and presume that the Unconfirmed Decision was to remain in Pickering while at the same time God was calling them to move to Montreal. They have both reached this conclusion in peace and now they offer this decision to God for Confirmation. Here is a reading of Janice's experience:Janice can hardly contain herself. She is so happy that the decision went this way. She will be able to stay with her friends. Finally after these few years, she will be able to get the cottage up north finished. Further, she will be able to keep up with her involvement in the anti-pollution movement and her associates will be happy about that. These thoughts are coming to Janice as she uses passages from scripture which say "thank you" to God. There is a "hyper" quality about her prayer and in between the praises, she is laying plans for the interior decoration of the cottage!She is either in Desolation or moving in that direction. She has not received God's Confirmation. If she remains long enough with the prayer material, she will probably begin to experience the turmoil described in  and be unable to pray at all!
In the first example, her affectivity is down, but Janice is in Consolation and has received Confirmation. In the second example, her affectivity is up, but Janice is in Desolation and has not received Confirmation. What clarifies the seeming ambiguity of the experience is the direction of the thoughts and feelings. In the first situation, her affectivity is directed outward, away from self; everything is being understood in terms of her union with Jesus in struggle and weakness.
In the second situation, her affectivity is directed towards herself. Her plans, with their associated thoughts and feelings, are directed inward; this is what Ignatius would call Sensuality. Though in this second situation Janice is thanking God, the thanksgiving is something that does not come from within the affectivity but is almost imposed upon it. Janice, in this second situation, is not really in touch with what is going on at all.
Let us once again change the case slightly and presume that God is calling Janice and Jim to remain in Pickering but that the growing or emerging decision is to move to Montreal. Here is this scenario:She offers the Unconfirmed Decision to go to Montreal and asks God for Confirmation. As she is offering this decision to God, she uses the passage from scripture on the feeding of the five thousand. She is quite enthusiastic as she attempts to contemplate this passage. After some difficulty settling down into prayer, she tells herself that she is going to identify herself with one of the apostles who distribute the food. (Note that she does not let herself be identified; she forces it!) This she does and many people gather around her and thank her for the food that they are receiving. She is really happy to be associated with Jesus in distributing the food. But Jesus is hardly present in the contemplation at all. He is not at the centre. She is. Outside of the prayer time, she daydreams about what it will be like to live in a poor district and be able to do something for social justice. Finally, her talents will be used and challenged! Little by little throughout the week that she is praying for Confirmation, Janice becomes more short-tempered with the children -- a strange reaction because, after all, the going to Montreal is something that really fulfils all her dreams of the past two years.This experience might look and feel like Consolation but it is not. A desolating spirit is having its effect. The feeling tone is up. The focus of the affectivity is self. God is not confirming this decision! Confirmation is not always granted in a clear, unambiguous way and the signs of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-25) may be mixed with other experiences.(8)
Some material for your study, reflection, discussion .....
1. How do the following relate to the discernment of Confirmation?
2. If you were the chairperson of a committee that was praying over and arriving at a decision together, would you encourage the group to pray for Confirmation? Why? If you were to encourage this, what experiences would you expect for the group and for the individuals within the group?
- A person can have a desolate feeling and yet be in Consolation.
- What does it mean to carry one's cross daily?
- As Christians we are called to experience Jesus living and dying as the pattern of our life.
- God's will is not some part of a blueprint that one needs to discover while making a decision.
3. Do you agree with this assertion made earlier in the chapter? "Obviously if your directee finds that the decision is given to him according to a First-Time mode, Confirmation is not needed at all." Why would some commentators disagree with this statement?
4. In the first half of this century, some directors of the Exercises believed that the Second Time of Election should be confirmed by the Third Time. Why would this belief fit their culture and worldview? How does the belief fit or not fit with Ignatius' worldview?
5. In Acts 5:38-39, Gamaliel makes a wise comment to the Sanhedrin about the new movement being sparked by the followers Jesus: "Leave them alone! If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear, but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them." Does this comment harmonize with the meaning of Confirmation explained in this chapter? If so, why? If not, why not?
Permanent commitment ... [and every other serious decision for that matter!] ... is less a prediction of my future than an act of belief in my history. I believe that the fabric woven of these blessed events will not be frayed by the uncertainties that will surely come....
-- from "United States, Technology, and Adult Commitment"
by John Staudenmaier, S.J.
-- Endnotes --
1. There is a sense of congruence and rightness in light of all the data one has at the time. This does not mean absolute or complete security which we shall never have during our earthly life!
2. Such as writing an awkward letter that one has been avoiding, or walking instead of using a car, or writing those letters to Amnesty International, etc.
3. Notation  reminds us that the thoughts which come from Desolation are different from the thoughts which come from Consolation.
4. We know the end of the story because we have been privileged to live after the resurrection.
5. I am grateful for discussions with John English, S.J., and the late George Schemel, S.J., on this very point.
6. Ignatius gives several techniques to use when the movement of spirits is not surfacing a decision. He suggests that these techniques be used for decision-making in the Third Time , which is a time when the spirits are not moving with clarity. But even here in this Third Time, he hopes that the directee will pray for Confirmation , . This is a return to the movement of spirits!
7. Usually is usually; there are always exceptions. Sometimes, during the Exercises journey, a prayer guide might deem it advisable to have a directee pray for Confirmation with scriptural material different from that of the Third and Fourth Weeks.
8. Because a person's subjectivity is not always the clearest recipient of God's word, it is beneficial to seek help from those who are associated with one in a community of faith. It sometimes also helps to invite a small group of close friends to pray for this sense of Confirmation.
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