Have you ever heard of someone running a red light without even realizing it? It seems crazy, but perhaps it has even happened to you on a chaotic day while your thoughts were elsewhere. Clearly, it’s dangerous to be unaware of your surroundings like that! This is just as true for our spiritual lives as it is for our physical lives. Awareness of the thoughts, feelings and desires of our lives not only protects us from giving into unwieldy temptations and unhelpful discouragement, but it also enables us to discern God’s presence more fully. Unfortunately, there are all kinds of pitfalls in the quest to maintain spiritual awareness.
Perhaps the most common threat to our spiritual awareness is simply the daily grind. “I just don’t have time or energy to pray!” This sentiment is expressed almost everywhere, regardless of age, occupation or vocation. And frankly, the most important responsibilities — the ones we cannot let slide — are often the ones that demand everything we have to offer.
A great example of this is being a working parent. Raising children is a 24/7 vocation, which requires not just time, but emotional and mental energy. For parents, or for anyone who is deeply committed to any such responsibility, these demands are no small obstacle to remaining interiorly available to God’s action. Let’s face it, it’s a whole lot easier to get to the end of an exhausting day and sit down to watch Netflix than it is to review where you’ve been spiritually. Oftentimes this difficulty flows from the fear that being attentive to God will leave us bored or unsatisfied.
The truth is He will always keep us fascinated and fulfilled when we learn to walk with Him in a stable way. Learning to live this way is not something we can attain. Jesus says so: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This is good news, because this means the most important thing we can do to grow our spiritual awareness is also very simple: Ask for that grace. This is how St. Ignatius begins every prayer period in the Spiritual Exercises. It can be very short, such as, “Jesus, give me the grace to be more aware of Your presence.” Put it on your mirror and read it every day. Make it a mantra you repeat throughout your day, as you type at the computer or while you change a diaper.
The beauty of this prayer is that it accomplishes two things. First, your request moves the Heart of Jesus to give the grace! If you persevere in asking from the heart, He cannot help but grant it. Second, regularly asking for the grace trains your own heart to desire it more. This is especially important because maintaining spiritual awareness is, at the end of the day, not a question of time or energy but of what your heart really wants.
This is the second in a series of six articles exploring the art of discernment according to St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Father Mitchell Baer is associate pastor at Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie.
To learn more about Ignatian discernment, read “The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living,” by Father Timothy Gallagher, OMV.