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Making Faith-Filled Decisions for Your Family

Module Three


“Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me.”

From St. Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation


In Ignatian spirituality much emphasis is placed on the importance of discernment. When it comes to making decisions as a family, discernment is a particular art because more than one person is affected by what is decided. When young, elderly, or disabled family members are in the mix, the challenges increase because they will be affected by decisions that they are unable to fully discern for themselves. In such cases, you and your spouse may feel intense pressure to make the “right” decision.

But the good news is that discernment does not lie in making “right” decisions, but in letting the decisions of your life make you — and propel you to love and accompany those who are affected. When a crossroads presents itself, good discernment means that we open our hearts to the process of making the decision, rather than being propelled by fear of the “wrong” one.

Every decision that must be made is like a litmus test for spiritual freedom. Am I trusting God with the unknown in my life and in my family’s lives? Am I able to hold the outcome with open and free hands, or am I clinging to a certain scenario?

One working definition of faith is that which arises from an existential experience of trust in the unknown. Parenting in particular requires a hefty portion of this trust. As our children grow and are flung further and further from home into this beautiful, haunting world of chaos, suffering, joy, loss, addiction, happiness, and fulfillment, we cannot control either what happens to them or how they respond to it. We are called to open our arms in surrender. Just as this world has surprised us, it must surprise them — and we do not get to know how that will happen or what meaning they will make out of it. By faith we have the courage to enter the unknown. And by faith we give our children space to enter it themselves.

No matter what your family life looks like, the pressure of decision-making can feel overwhelming at times. Having discernment tools to help us make decisions at big crossroads can take a bit of the pressure off and make peace and joy more accessible on the journey.

As you embark on the exercise below, remember that clarity in decision-making is really just a by-product of this exercise. It primarily brings clarity in what unconscious desires the decision is bringing up in us. This is a gift, for then we can understand those desires better so that we can more consciously say “yes” or “no” to them in our lives. This might apply to the specific decision at hand or it might not. This is an exercise in faith, believing the Spirit always wants to bring us to internal freedom as we make decisions.

Two List Tool for Individual Use:

  1. Narrow down the family decision you must make into two distinct either/or options. (Ex: Should our child go to a different school next year or should they stay where they are currently enrolled? ) 
    • Note that these options cannot be abstract. An example of an abstraction would be: Should we teach our child to be disciplined or should we cultivate their creativity? This can be a good place to start, but narrow that down more to a concrete decision. For example: Should Saturday mornings be reserved for doing chores or for arts and crafts?
  2. Grab two pieces of paper. At the top of each piece of paper, write down the two options respectively and divide each paper into two columns. Look at one of the options. Imagine you decide this option. In one column make a list of the good and life-giving things that you see coming out of this. In the other column make a list of the challenges, fears, and not-so-good things you fear might come out of this. Do this for both options.
  3. Stop. Take time to be quiet and ask for the Spirit’s guidance and presence. (This is an important step! Don’t skip it.)
  4. Now look at your lists; there should be four in total. Go through each of them and highlight or underline the one thing in each list that causes the most movement within you, whether for good or for bad.
  5. Isolate these four “inner movements” and write them down on a separate sheet of paper. Ask yourself, out of all of these things, where do I feel the most clarity and freedom? Now ask yourself, is there a deeper desire that I can discern underneath this feeling of clarity and freedom?
  6. Isolate this discerned desire and compare it to the original either/or option. Does this bring more clarity to the decision? Or does something else seemingly entirely unrelated come up?  (If nothing is coming up for you here, do steps 5 and 6 asking yourself where you feel the most fear and confusion)

Coming Together:

Talk with your partner about what came up for you and what came up for them. What do both of your experiences bring to the decision?

About the Retreat Leaders

Shannon K. Evans is the author of  “Rewilding Motherhood,” “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World” and “Luminous: A 30-Day Journal for Accepting Your Body, Honoring Your Soul, and Finding Your Joy.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.

Eric Evans is a spiritual director who earned his certification from St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota. An alumnus of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School, he has served as a breakout session facilitator at the CAC’s international Conspire conference and has led retreats and centering prayer groups in local contexts. Prior to opening his spiritual direction practice, Eric served five years in parish ministry as director of music and campus minister at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and Student Center in Ames, IA. He has also lived and ministered in overseas contexts such as South Africa and Indonesia. Eric’s practice of spiritual accompaniment is rooted in both Ignatian and Benedictine values. 

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