Thoughts on Making Choices

I keep one conviction first: God keeps making me, momently, for this original purpose - to go back to God and give God my love.
Some first choose to get rich, and then they decide to serve God as rich people. Some decide that they more or less have to martyr and after that they can figure out how to serve God. Some choose to get ordained priests, and then ask God (really, require God) to accept their service as priests. Some reach for power, or popularity, or tenure, or successful careers - and so on, determined to serve God as powerful, popular, tenured, and successful. I see this inversion as mistaken. Putting some creature first is not Jesusí way and not mine.

When it comes to any serious decision about my life, I intend first to serve God and to love God - and then I will figure out what else to intend.

I believe I come to know why God wants in many ways commandments, the teaching of the Church, the advice of holy people and loving friends, my own spirit. I know that God leads me, by interior desire and inclination, and by exterior circumstance.

What choices do I need to think about in the Exercises? Well, I have already chosen against anything sinful. But all of us have to choose among many good alternatives.

During the Ignatian Exercises, I may be weighing life choices: marriage, single life, public service, religious congregation, priesthood, ministry, and serious career. "Life style," too, since it shapes much of what I am free to do and not do. If I am working on this basic choice, I will find the Ignatian Exercises an excellent context in which to come to a decision based on my principle of serving God first. I can make this an occasion to center myself so that I am not led by an unbalanced desire or prejudice into a basic life choice that is not authentic to my God?given original purpose and myself.

What about a serious permanent decision already made? Say I'm married or a religious or a clinician. If I consider my original decision a good one, well made, then I have only to let God teach me how to live it out well. If I consider my original decision a bad one and I am free to change it, then I pray for God's help to know what and when to change. For instance, I might be coming to the end of an unhappy period in temporary vows, or I turned out to be a poor clinician. The Ignatian Exercises generally offer a fine context in which to pray and come to a decision about what to do.

Suppose I made a serious permanent decision and I now think that I chose for poor reasons? Suppose I married the "wrong person" for money? Suppose I now feel that I accepted ordination as a priest while I kept my sexuality repressed?

First, if I have grown convinced that I was gravely disturbed emotionally when I made my original decision, then I have to figure out whether the sacraments or the vows were valid. I am not going to solve that during the Ignatian Exercises, since it requires help and official intervention. So I do not try to face the question of validity, though I may reasonably pray to make a decision whether I need to approach some authority about the matter.

Second, say I was reasonably balanced emotionally and I freely chose ? but I just chose badly. Marrying someone for money is a bad motive for marrying. Freely accepting ordination to please a parent is a bad reason for becoming a priest. Are the Ignatian Exercises a good context to review those decisions and decide whether to withdraw the original permanent commitment? Probably not, judging from experience. Those who begin the Exercises determined to decide whether to honor a permanent commitment that they made validly but badly seem almost without exception to withdraw the commitment.

Rather, when I find that I have made a permanent commitment for poor motives, I would do well to proceed this way. Going against my culture (which feel terror when faced with permanent commitments), I recommit myself, hoping to grow into better motives. I show my sorrow and repentance to the Lord for having made a permanent commitment for a poor reason. I plan ways to make amends to God and to others to whom I may owe them. And then I set myself to live out my permanent commitment. Since I am aware that I have chosen on my own when I was unbalanced and prejudiced, I know that I will have to live close to God.

What about less radical things in my life that I can change, like career or lifestyle? Well, first, I reject all anxiety that I might be going the wrong way. I quietly examine the choices I have made (of home, job, city, friends, activities, everything). Then, unless the Spirit of God leads me to question them, I offer them to God and leave them in place.

And, if the Spirit leads me to question some of my choices, I pray, begging God the Lord to make me want to cling first to Him. And then with quiet spirit, go about finding His true desires.