God’s Voice Within by Mark Thibodeaux, SJ

My notes on the book, God's Voice Within - The Ignatian Way to 
Discover God's Will by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ

“Ultimately, this book is centered on God: how God can help us make important decisions, how God can move our hearts to “discern” well, how God can be found is all the different “spirits” that move our lives. How God’s voice can be found within.” ~ Fr. James Martin

What is Ignatian Discernment?

  • St. Ignatius of Loyola is sometimes called “the world’s first psychologist” (9). Ignatius was convinced that if the soul were truly in touch with its deepest desires, it would find itself wanting nothing more than to praise, reverence, and serve God – wanting nothing more than to glorify God with one’s life. It is the deepest desire of all and is the ultimate source of all other desires. Once a person names that greatest desire of all, she then finds herself ready to give up whatever does not lead to the glory of God and ready to take on whatever will lead to the greater glory of God.
  • The Ignatian method of discernment teaches you how to fine-tune your spiritual senses so that you can more readily detect and move toward the voice of the Good Shepherd, distinguishing that voice from all others (cf. John 10:1-5) (7).
  • Ignatian discernment isn’t so much about what to do but about who to be. It’s about becoming a person in tune with the movements that lead toward God. The doing will flow from the being (6).
  • By developing an Ignatian intuition, we can recognize the motives attracting and repulsing us toward or away from any given option.

 

The good spirit:

  • Often referred to as “the true spirit.”
  • The good spirit = “the Holy Spirit + good in the world + happy life circumstances such as good health and sunny weather + life-affirming experiences and behaviours + psychological well-being and strength” ~ Fr. William Huete
  • Therefore, Consolation = the state of being under the influence of the good spirit.

The true spirit: the “inner pull” toward God’s plan and toward faith, hope and love ~ Fr. Thibodeaux, SJ

Example:

  • If I’m kind to my father one day, is it b/c of the Holy Spirit within me or b/c my father raised me well or b/c I had a good night’s sleep? My answer is yes! The convergence of these factors pulls toward life affirmation that we call the influence of the true spirit (Fr. Thibodeaux, God’s Voice Within, pgs. 12-3).

The bad spirit:

  • Often referred to as “the false spirit,” or “the evil spirit,” or “the enemy of our human nature.”
  • The bad spirit = “the devil + the trauma of tragic circumstances such as cancer or hurricanes + destructive experiences & behaviours + psychological baggage + emotional weaknesses, and so on” ~ Fr. William Huete
  • Therefore, Desolation = the state of being under the influence of the enemy.

The false spirit: the “inner pull” away from God’s plan and away from faith, hope and love. ~ Fr. Thibodeaux, SJ

Example:

  • When I snap at my father, is it because the “devil” moves me to do so or b/c of some childhood psychological wound or b/c I didn’t get a good night’s sleep? Again, my answer to this question is yes! All these factors combine to pull me away from God. This influence, we call the false spirit or evil spirit (Fr. Thibodeaux, God’s Voice Within, pg. 12).

 

Spiritual Desolation 

4. Spiritual Desolation. I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to low and earthly things, disquiet from various agitations and temptations, moving to lack of confidence, without hope, without love, finding oneself totally slothful, tepid, sad and as if separated from one’s Creator and Lord. For just as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way the thoughts that come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts that come from desolation. ~ St. Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises #4

Short Summary: 

“Whereas consolation is letting God dream in me, desolation is allowing the false spirit to nightmare in me” ~ 30

I am in desolation when I am empty of:

  • faith, hope and love
  • the sense of God’s being close to me

and when I am filled with some combination of

  • “disquietude” (restlessness) and agitation
  • boredom and “tepidity” (apathy)
  • fear and worry
  • secrecy

Long Summary:

desolation:

  • de sole = to be made alone, to be forsaken or abandoned.

disquiet from various agitations and temptations:

  • Disquiet = may well be the most revealing characteristic of the false spirit b/c it is the disquietude about the other characteristics that reveals its source.
  • Ignatius does NOT focus on agitations & temptations, but rather the disquiet from them.
  • Q. What is the extent to which negative movements with me disrupt my peace of mind?
  • If I set out to have NO negative moods, thoughts, or feelings, I’m setting myself up for failure. Agitations will come and go in life.
  • FOCUS = on my PERCEPTIONS & ATTITUDES towards negative moods, thoughts, and feelings.
    • STORY = A Native American legend tells of an elder explaining to his grandson that there are two wolves within him struggling for control of his actions. One wolf is the true spirit, and the other is the false spirit. The young grandson asks, “And which will win, Grandfather?” The old man says, “The one I feed.” This is precisely the point. I do not have a choice about having the two wolves within me. This side of heaven, I must deal with inner negativity. But I do have some choice in my attitude toward that negativity (22).

moving to lack of confidence:

  • More trust?
  • OR more doubts?

without hope:

  • More optimism and confidence in God’s providence for the future?
  • OR despair and worry?

without love:

  • greater love?
  • OR isolation, secrecy, passivity, aggressiveness?

totally slothful, tepid, sad:

  • Slothful (boredom) and tepid (apathy). The opposite of love is apathy, whereby I don’t care about the person enough to hate him.
  • Worse than feeling distant from God is a lack of desire to be close to Christ.
  • Q. Do you want God to be close?

as if separated from one’s Creator and Lord.

  • In desolation, I begin to question my entire relationship with God.
  • St. Therese of Lisieux once referred to herself as an abandoned toy of the child Jesus.
  • Mother Teresa of Calcutta endured very long stretches of prayer with no sense of the Father’s presence.

Confusion: a subcategory

  • Confusion in and of itself is not a problem.
  • Confusion only becomes a desolating experience when we allow ourselves to be upset about not knowing – when our uncertainty or lack or knowledge leads to disturbance within us.
    • STORY = John Kavanaugh asked Mother Teresa to prayer for him to have clarity. She said, “I’ve never had clarity and certitude. I only have trust. I’ll pray that you trust” (25).

False Consolation: An Advanced Form of Desolation

  • false consolation = the experience of being drawn to feelings, thoughts and motivations that look good and holy at first (you think you are in consolation) but that ultimately lead to actions to which God is NOT calling that person, or NOT calling that person to at that time.
  • A good Christian might be in false consolation when he is attracted to something holy that happens to be:
    • the wrong mission for this particular reason
    • the right mission but the wrong timing
    • the right mission but with the wrong method, emphasis, or degree of involvement.
  • EXAMPLE = Jesus resisting to make bread in Matthew 4 (source = false spirit) VS. choosing to make bread in Matthew 14 (source = true spirit).
  • “Every day you have to say yes. Total surrender! To be where He wants you to be… If God wants you to be in a palace, alright… accept to be in the palace” ~ Mother Teresa

 

Spiritual Consolation

Third Rule. The third is of spiritual consolation. I call it consolation when some interior movement is caused in the soul, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and, consequently when it can love no created thing on the face of the earth itself, but only in the Creator of them all. Likewise when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one’s sins or for the passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly ordered to His service and praise. Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy that calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord. (316)

I am in consolation when I have:

  • faith, hope & love
  • the sense of God’s closeness
  • peace & tranquility
  • great desires
  • transparency

I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and love…

  • If my thoughts, feelings, and actions are not increasing my faith, hope & love, then what good are they? (cf. 1 Cor 13)
  • If confused & disoriented by the false spirit, ask yourself in prayer:
    • What is the most loving thing to do?
    • What is the most hopeful thing to do?
    • What is the most faith-filled thing to do?

I call it consolation when some interior movement is caused in the soul, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and, consequently when it can love no created thing on the face of the earth itself, but only in the Creator of them all.

  • One of the strongest signs of consolation is the strong, deep, and lasting sense of God’s presence and God’s personal love for us.
  • We begin to love God, who is labouring to love us in all created things on earth.
  • In God’s providence, He uses chance and random happenings to communicate with us.

I call consolation…quieting [the soul] and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.

  • The peace of consolation = a divine peace about those difficult, unresolved issues of my life. A sense that deep down God is working through even the most difficult parts of my life.
  • Example: read Acts 4-5. Despite their troubled & uneducated pasts, threats, beatings, and incarceration, Peter & John display an amazing sense of confidence that God will provide for those who are doing God’s work, regardless of how hard it may seem.
  • True perspective = a subcategory. You trust that God will enlighten your mind when the time is right, according to the divine timetable, so it’s okay not to have all the answers… confusion is okay.

I call consolation… all interior joy that calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul…

  • Great desires = holy desires that inflame my heart to do good in the world.
  • When I am in tune with God’s ever-creative love, I too, have that passion to create, that desire to bring forth new life (cf. Genesis 1).

Transparency

  • Whereas the false spirit works through secrecy, we know that “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

 

PART TWO: RESPONDING TO DESOLATION AND TO CONSOLATION

 

8 helpful responses to desolation:

Quick Summary:

  1. Name it
  2. Make no unnecessary changes
  3. Rely on your support network
  4. Consider logistical or moral causes
  5. Be aware of the false angel of light
  6. Be firm with the false spirit
  7. Be gentle with yourself
  8. Have faith that God is at work in your desolation

General Summary:

1. Name the Desolation

  • To name something out loud is to have authority over it (cf. Gen 2, Mt 16, Luke 1, Mark 1, Mark 5).
  • In psychology, too, we learn that giving a name to an experience can liberate us.
  • Naming it in blunt and unambiguous terms reveals its smallness before the mighty love and mercy of God.
  • Be ready to name things in the midst of a potentially desolating experience.

2. Avoid Making Changes or Important Decisions

Fifth rule. The fifth: in time of desolation never make a change, but be firm and constant in the proposals and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination in which one was in the preceding consolation. Because as in consolation the Good Spirit guides and counsels us more, so in desolation the bad spirit, with whose counsels we cannot find the way to a right decision. (318)

  • A person loses objectivity when in desolation & allows less significant concerns to distract him from the love of Christ, which is ultimately the objective of every prayer time.
  • Tip = If in those desolate moments of my life I can succeed in the first directive, to name it as desolation, then my next conclusion should be to draw no more conclusions without careful consideration and counsel from those who have an objective point of view.

3. Rely on Your Support Network

  • This response goes precisely against the false lover in Rule 13.
  • We need good & wise mentors.
  • We need spiritual directors.
  • We need companions.
  • We need the Church – a spiritual refuge for battle-weary souls.
  • TIP for mentor & spiritual director = If I think something is not important enough to discuss, I tell him anyway and let him decide whether or not we need to discuss it any further. There is nothing to lose by telling him about it and everything to lose by keeping it a secret.

Without the food & without the light I wither. Without the bread and without the Bible I wander. Without the Sacrament of life and the book of life, I perish ~ Thomas A Kempis

4. Consider Potential Logistical, Moral, or Psychological Problems

Ninth Rule. The ninth: there are three principal causes for which we find ourselves desolate. The first is because we are tepid, slothful or negligent in our spiritual exercises, and so through our faults spiritual consolation withdraws from us. The second, to try us and see how much we are and how much we extend ourselves in His service and praise without so much payment of consolation and increased graces. The third, to give us true recognition and understanding so that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to attain or maintain increased devotion, intense love, tears or any spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and so that we may not build a nest in something belonging to another, raising our mind in some pride or vainglory, attributing to ourselves the devotion or the other parts of the spiritual consolation. (322)

Logistical Problems = when, where, or how long I pray might be the appropriate thing to discuss with a spiritual director. Also consider what resources, with whom, and what prayer style. God is always the one that does the heavy lifting in our prayer time. Cautionary note: Ignatius warned sternly against making big changes in desolation.

  • When: Am I praying at the best time of day? If I’m throwing God the scraps of my time and energy – then my prayer life will suffer.

Moral Problems = sins of commission & omission.

Psychological Problems = “we must deal with spiritual spiritually and pyschological problems psychologically” ~ Fr William Huete

 

5. Be Aware of the False “Angel of Light”

The sixth: When the enemy of human nature has been perceived and known by his serpent’s tail and the bad end to which he leads on, it helps the person who was tempted by him, to look immediately at the course of the good thoughts which he brought him at their beginning, and how little by little he aimed at making him descend from the spiritual sweetness and joy in which he was, so far as to bring him to his depraved intention; in order that with this experience, known and noted, the person may be able to guard for the future against his usual deceits. ~ SE 2nd week Rule 6

Tip = Review the past.

Tip = Prepare for the future.

We can learn that, when in desolation, we will be tempted to do things that seem “good and holy” but that do not withstand the Ignatian tests:

  • Am I drawn to make a change while in desolation?
  • Am I drawn to secrecy?

Job in the Old Testament = a hero of desolation

  • Job’s friends are the false angels tempting him to do incorrect “holy” actions.
  • Job accuses and scolds God and God commends Job!

Q. How do I guard against this false angel of light? 

  • Do not take any holy attractions at face value.
  • Test them using Ignatius’ insights.
  • Will this action lead to greater faith, hope and love in me?
  • Am I making a crucial change during desolation?
  • Am I transparent in confession, with my spiritual director, mentors and companions, or would I hesitate to tell them about this attraction?
  • Am I attracted to this right now b/c it would be a means of escaping an uncomfortable situation?

6. Be Firm with the False Spirit & Work Diligently

The sixth: although in desolation we should not change our first proposals, it is very advantageous to change ourselves intensely against the desolation itself,  as by insisting more upon prayer, meditation, upon much examination, and upon extending ourselves in some suitable way of doing penance.  ~ SE 1st week Rule 6

The evil spirit often behaves like a spoiled child. If a person is firm with children, children give up petulant ways of acting. But if a person shows indulgence or weakness in any way, children are merciless in trying to get what they want, stomping their feet in defiance or wheedling their way into favour. So our tactics must include firmness in dealing with the evil spirit in our lives ~ SE 1st week Rule 12 David Fleming’s contemporary metaphor

Thirteenth Annotation. The thirteenth: It is likewise to be remarked that, as, in the time of consolation, it is easy and not irksome to be in contemplation the full hour, so it is very hard in the time of desolation to fill it out. For this reason, the person who is exercising himself, in order to act against the desolation and conquer the temptations, ought always to stay somewhat more than the full hour; so as to accustom himself not only to resist the adversary, but even to overthrow him.

Desolation tempts me to remain interiorly passive and let disquietude, confusion, anger, and fear get the best of me.

We must treat the false spirit as a spoiled child.

Agere contra = literally, to “act against,” the choice to do the opposite of what I am tempted to do in desolation.

  • Add a few extra minutes to pray when I want to stop early.
  • Avoid a radical change like doubling time – could be false spirit.

7. Be Gentle, Patient, and Encouraging to Yourself

The seventh: let one who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, so that he may resist the various agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can resist with divine help, which always remains with him, though he does not clearly feel it; for the Lord has taken away from him His great fervor, abundant love and intense grace, leaving him, however sufficient grace for eternal salvation. (320)

Towards the false spirit = be firm & disciplined.

Towards yourself = be gentle, patient and encouraging.

  • Why? b/c harsh self-treatment in desolation does NOT lead to greater faith, hope and love. Usually it’s hope in particular that suffers during desolation.
  • “Since he can resist…”

Tips:

  • say the things a good mother would say to a wounded child.
  • Consider that desolation will soon pass (Job only spent 1% of life in desolation).
  • Don’t make bold moves, be patient, be low-profile.
  • Remember that God is all-loving and all-powerful, he will NOT send me any challenge that I cannot handle.

8. Have faith that God will make good use of this desolation

  • Desolation is a great opportunity to receive the more difficult graces that can come only through a bit of suffering.
  • God allows desolation for 3 difficult graces: repentance, fortitude, humility.
  • Remember that God transformed the worst evil into the greatest means of salvation.
  • Welcome and utilize desolation for God’s greater glory. It’s the ultimate practical joke that God and I play on the false spirit.

Ignatian Discernment: Responding to Consolation & Preparing for Desolation

QUICK SUMMARY:

4 Ways to Prepare for Desolation:

  1. Observe the course of thoughts.
  2. Look out for false consolation.
  3. Attend to vulnerabilities.
  4. Seek God in your painful past.

GENERAL SUMMARY:

1st Week: Third Rule. The third is of spiritual consolation. I call it consolation when some interior movement is caused in the soul, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and, consequently when it can love no created thing on the face of the earth itself, but only in the Creator of them all. Likewise when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one’s sins or for the passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly ordered to His service and praise. Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy that calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord. (316)

2nd Week: Seventh Rule. The seventh: In those who go on from good to better, the good Angel touches such soul sweetly, lightly and gently, like a drop of water which enters into a sponge. 

Tenth Rule. The tenth: Let him who is in consolation think how he will be in the desolation which will come after, taking new strength for then.

“Run while you have the light of life” ~ St Benedict

Desolation will come again. We can choose whether we will prepare for the next time it comes.

What are some concrete ways to prepare for desolation while in consolation?

(1) Observe the “Course of the Thoughts” 

2nd Week – Fifth Rule. The fifth: We ought to note well the course of the thoughts, and if the beginning, middle and end is all good, inclined to all good, it is a sign of the good Angel; but if in the course of the thoughts which he brings it ends in something bad, of a distracting tendency, or less good than what the soul had previously proposed to do, or if it weakens it or disquiets or disturbs the soul, taking away its peace, tranquillity and quiet, which it had before, it is a clear sign that it proceeds from the evil spirit, enemy of our profit and eternal salvation.

2nd Week – Sixth Rule. The sixth: When the enemy of human nature has been perceived and known by his serpent’s tail and the bad end to which he leads on, it helps the person who was tempted by him, to look immediately at the course of the good thoughts which he brought him at their beginning, and how little by little he aimed at making him descend from the spiritual sweetness and joy in which he was, so far as to bring him to his depraved intention; in order that with this experience, known and noted, the person may be able to guard for the future against his usual deceits.

Go back and follow the course of thoughts, emotions and actions that led me into desolation.

  • What was on my mind back then?
  • Any significant ideas or insights?
  • Any shifts in my reasoning process?
  • What are the underlying causes?

This is NOT an examination of conscience to find out where I sinned because it is very possible that I did not sin, but rather learn about the particular ways desolation typically enters my life so that I can be better prepared for the next time it begins to creep back in.

(2) Attend to Vulnerabilities

Fourteenth Rule. The fourteenth: Likewise, he behaves as a chief bent on conquering and robbing what he desires: for, as a captain and chief of the army, pitching his camp, and looking at the forces or defences of a stronghold, attacks it on the weakest side, in like manner the enemy of human nature, roaming about, looks in turn at all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral; and where he finds us weakest and most in need for our eternal salvation, there he attacks us and aims at taking us.

Desolation will push my buttons.

The more I’m aware of my own weaknesses, the more I’ll be able to recognize when the false spirit is going after them.

  • Places
  • People
  • Topics
  • Times
  • Personal traits

Remember HALT: Am I Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?

 

Building Fortifications

  1. I name the weak spots in me. In prayer, I bring to God the areas of my life where I struggle with these emotional potholes. I ask the Lord of insight and healing.
  2. I bring my weak spots to my support network.
  3. If appropriate, I tell others about this vulnerability.
  4. I commit myself to pray during the times when I feel especially vulnerable.
  5. I ask the Lord to help me move slowly and deliberately through the tense moments.
  6. I choose to be proactive rather than reactive.

(3) Look Out For False Consolation

The more intense the experience of consolation, the more susceptible I am to false consolation immediately following. Sometimes, after a profound religious experience, we can do something spiritually bold but not very prudent, like resolve to pray 4 holy hours a day or join a religious order.

“If the one giving the Exercises sees that the exercitant is going on in consolation and in great fervour, he must admonish him not to be inconsiderate or hasty in making any promise or vow” ~ SE, Annotation 14

Ultimately, all our actions should be “carefully examined” (#8).

(4) Seek God’s presence in the painful moments of your past

Whereas in desolation, I must believe that God is present in the difficult periods of my life, during consolation, it is important to look back on those dark moments in order to recognize the hand of God in them.

“Find God in all things” ~ St Ignatius

Two Helpful Practices:

  • Spiritual direction & mentorship
  • Spiritual journaling

Exercise on page 125 – Observing Past Desolation

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