The reflection below was written as an assignment in a training program to be a spiritual director through Loyola University, Maryland. Not the typical post but I wanted to share it. The books referenced are all books on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
In the book, “The Boy at the Back of the Class” by Onjali Q Raúf, there is a line that I will hold with me for the rest of my days. The book is about a class and how they embrace Ahmet, a nine-year-old Syrian refugee, the focus is on the transformational power of something so simple – kindness. It reads,
Grown ups always like coming up with long words for simple things.
Reflecting on how to discuss the topic of decision making in the Spiritual Exercises, I was initially drawn to long words, a more complex explanation highlighting all the important nuances. However, when reading Michael Ivens, SJ, everything clicked for me in two words he used – simple assent. This comes when he is discussing the times for an election,
“But if the definition is vulnerable to interpretations beyond its strict content, and if the content itself leaves unanswered questions, the definition nevertheless makes clear the essential quality of the First Time and its distinctiveness in relation to the other times: it is a situation in which the evidence consists in being shown, decisively and unambiguously, the course to follow, and the response is one of simple assent.” (Ivens, p. 136)
Although each of the three times of decision making is unique, the goal is the same, as describes by David Fleming SJ in the contemporary reading of the Spiritual Exercises, “In making a choice or coming to a decision, only one thing is really important – to seek and to find how God is calling me at this time of my life.” (Fleming, p. 133)
I am not going to spend much time on the Second and Third Times of decision making, but I will share a personal example of the First Time: “When God our Lord so moves and attracts the will that without doubting or being able to doubt, the faithful soul follows which is shown, just as St. Paul and Matthew did when they followed Christ our Lord.” (Ivens, p. 135)
I decided to quit drinking a little over nine and a half years ago. Although I had thought a few times that this might be a good thing for me, I never entertained it in a decision-making process. One day, however, I woke up, dropped to my knees, and simply assented to God’s will for my life. Drinking was impacting relationships, my self-image, and looking through God’s eyes, I now see it was impacting my work, my ministry.
Leading up to this time in my life, I did not have a regular prayer life of my own choosing, it was more by default. I was serving as a middle school teacher, Religion being one of the subjects, and I was also responsible for campus ministry work which included a weekly chapel service. I worked was passionate about my craft, cared deeply about the community, and worked to spread the love of God, but I didn’t feel this personal love of God or myself in my soul. For this reason, the writing of Brian McDermott SJ, was most helpful, “Summing this up: trust in God, and act in freedom. Do the most you can, in terms of homework, act in freedom, but also trust in God who wants to bring you and your decision-making process to the reign of God more than you do.”
God wanted to bring me and my decision-making process to the reign of God more than I did.
My decision to go to an AA meeting that day was similar to the scene described by Howard Gray SJ, about the woman who was a dress designer in London and was walking by a Carmelite church and heard distinctly something, a call, go into this chapel. And she went into it and she said, I’m going to be a Carmelite.”
I walked into the room over nine and a half years ago and I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since. I am not plagued by the overwhelming desire to drink, and with attention and always knowing sobriety isn’t guaranteed, it has been manageable for all these years.
Since that day I have prioritized God in my life and my preaching, teaching, and actions. My will and Thy will are more closely aligned, and I’ve finally grown to accept God’s love. I have a more positive self-image and can even say, with some confidence, I love myself.
One of the passages we were invited to pray with was from Matthew, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
I have spent a lot of time on lengthy explanations about why I decided to quit drinking but, I now know it’s simple – because God wanted me to.
God knew why I was made and was calling me to come home before I lost my taste – before I lost my life and not in the physical sense although that could have come sooner based on how I was living, but in the spiritual sense. I was forfeiting the gift I had been given, simply by refusing to do my homework, to study and reflect on why I am on this earth and what I can do with my one chance. Ultimately God is God and can do what God wants, but what I’ve learned from the Exercises and decision making, it’s not until we decide – sometimes in a simple assent and other times after more extensive work, but we have to make a decision and keep making decisions. Life-altering ones and daily mundane ones, always putting God first trusting the words of the prophet Jeremiah,
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.