Riding the Roller Coaster of Life – Advice from A Saint

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Everyone wants to know: What’s the key to happiness?

This questions transforms itself, however, when we discover God our Heavenly Father, our Savior Jesus Christ, and our divine guide the Holy Spirit. Then, we begin to wonder: What is God’s will for me?

Ultimately, these questions are one & the same; God desires our happiness, in this life and for all eternity.

To help us consider this question, there are many resources available to us. For me, however, it wasn’t until I obtained a Spiritual Director that I began to learn well how to discern God’s will for my life. He introduced me to someone who has become a close personal friend, St. Ignatius Loyola: the founder of the Society of Jesus & the contemporary guide for discernment.

Wounded Pride and A Busted Leg

Many of us know his basic story: A canon ball shattered his leg in battle. He told the surgeon to re-break his leg, because his clothes didn’t look good the way his leg was set back together. That was fiery redhead Iñigo López de Loyola: a vain, high-class bachelor whose great dreams of military triumph and fame had been utterly destroyed. Bored out of his mind as he recuperated, he read the only books available; the lives of Christ and the saints. Their example completely changed his perspective on life.

As many converts do, Ignatius adopted extreme spiritual practices fueled by his newfound zeal; he prayed day and night, hardly ate, hardly slept, and beat himself—weeping uncontrollably through the night over his past mistakes.

Thanks to God’s grace and the help of local townspeople, Ignatius’ mind and heart were opened to what God truly wanted of him.

Riding the Roller Coaster of Life

Ignatius outlined the Discernment of Spirits, which are keys that spiritual directors have used for hundreds of years all over the world, ever since. In doing so, they have taught that our life has two basic situations we face, over and over again:

  • Consolation – A period of contentment, peace, gratitude, and/or feeling closer to God
  • Desolation – A period of worry, frustration, and/or feeling further from God

Ignatius described these periods as the natural ebb and flow of every person’s spiritual life. Consolation and desolation are experienced for a wide variety of reasons; it’s not important that we know why we are experiencing the consolation or desolation. What’s important is to discern what we are experiencing, and how to respond to God’s grace in that light.

His “rules” for discernment give us practical insights into interpreting whether we are in a period of consolation or desolation. Based on this position, we learn how to act or respond to a situation or decision we need to make.

Basic Take-Aways for Success

Since we are limited in time and space here, I would strongly advise you to review Ignatius of Loyola’s Discernment of Spirits in its entirety. (The contemporary explanation recommended by my Spiritual Director was The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living by Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher. You may also consider a retreat on the Spiritual Exercises.)

For here and now, I’d like to share a few important lessons with you that I have learned from Ignatius. These have helped me ride the roller coaster of life:

  1. Make Decisions with Peace – If I am in a period of desolation, I am not properly suited for making a major decision that will impact my life, my family, etc. In these cases, I need to seek consolation, as well as the guidance of an unbiased person whom I can trust, such as a spiritual director.
  2. Don’t Worry; Desolation Will Pass – Ignatius reminds us that we will all go through periods of desolation, but that they do not last forever! This is why it’s important to discern & realize: “I am experiencing desolation.” Name what you are experiencing. This realization will remind you that your perspective will be through the lens of desolation for the time being. Then, you will be strengthened with the ability to choose wisely and remember that it will pass.
  3. Seek Consolation through Prayer – When I’m in a period of desolation, I don’t feel particularly drawn to prayer. However, this period is when prayer is essential. Since I don’t feel like praying, I should remember & revisit those times of consolation when I felt close to God. This can help motivate me to pray.
  4. Treasure Times of Consolation – If you are experiencing consolation, treasure it. Write about these blessings in a journal; how do you sense God’s closeness? Where do you see God’s hand in your life? What insights have you gained from this time? These memories are important to treasure, because they will strengthen you in times of desolation.
  5. God Is Always Near – Our Catholic faith gives us wonderful reminders of God’s nearness in the sacraments, the witness of the saints, the prayers and devotions, the sacred art, and the Body of Christ present in our brothers and sisters. No matter what we are experiencing, God who is Love is always near to us. We have no reason to fear, only to listen and do our best to grow & develop so that we can, in turn, respond by living in generous love.
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