Discernment of Spirits

Updated: Apr 7


A few years ago, I gave up worrying for Lent. The main reason why I chose to give up worrying was because I wanted to do something more meaningful than giving up chocolate or a favorite food--I wanted to challenge myself in more ways than practicing self-control. Since I worry to gain a sense of control in situations that are out of my control, by giving up worrying, I gave up a crutch that I use to deal with life. I must say I love this practice and come back to it regularly during Lent. I feel more peaceful and joyful when I don’t worry than when I do.


In the last couple of years, our world has changed so much that I wish worrying was all I had to give up. We are dealing with a pandemic, economic trouble, and now a new and brutal war. We have added so many other emotions to worry— we feel despair, fear, and anger on a daily basis. As much as these emotions are a normal reaction to what is going on around us, they have also been leading us astray. When we feel fear and despair, we shift our focus to our own safety and protection and away from God and His people. We lose our compassion, love, faith, joy, patience, and kindness.


This goes along with what my favorite Jesuit priest, Father James Martin, talked about in his weekly faith sharing group on Facebook: despair, worry, fear, unforgiveness, and anxiety don’t come from God. (We are talking about the everyday variety of these feelings, not the ones that people experience when they struggle with mental health.)


St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, taught the spiritual practice of Discernment of Spirits in making the distinction between what comes from God and what doesn’t. He says that we must notice the interior movement of our hearts and discern where they are leading us. This means that we need to take an honest look at what our feelings and our actions are steering us toward—what fruits are they producing? Do they produce the fruit of the Spirit that the Apostle Paul talks about in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Or do they bring out the opposite: hurt relationships, isolation, confusion, more fear?


The Discernment of Spirits presents an important invitation for us this Lent: to discern and give up those feelings and actions that lead us astray. For me, that would mean noticing when I am worried, angry, or fearful and not allowing those emotions to guide my heart and my actions. It means choosing instead those actions, words and feelings that will help me be more kind, compassionate, patient, joyful, and loving.


As part of your spiritual practice this week, I invite you to ponder the following questions:


  • What feelings or actions do you need to let go of this Lent?

  • How will you recognize them and know that they are leading you astray?

  • What will you choose instead?


Our next week’s practice: Praying for a Stranger

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