Freedom and Discernment

Freedom and Discernment

by Vinita Hampton Wright

Freedom and discernment go hand in hand. The freer we become, the more we are able to go about life in a wise and discerning way. And the more we use wisdom and discernment, the freer we become to make choices and then get on with life. It’s difficult to say which comes first—discernment or freedom. One leads to the other. For today, let’s focus on the emotional freedom that can lead to wise decisions.

When making a decision, we are nearly always biased in some way. And usually we have an emotional investment in one outcome or another. One key principle of Ignatian spirituality is the need for detachment, or indifference. In common usage, these terms can mean that a person doesn’t care at all or is completely disinterested. But when using the terms in a spiritual context, we simply mean that a person making a decision will distance herself from her biases and emotions, enough so that she can objectively weigh different options.

When we practice this sort of detachment, our decision-making process can become more well-rounded and holistic. Yes, we acknowledge our emotional state because it’s important to understand what we want and why. But we also look at the situation from a rational perspective, considering the pros and cons. We weigh a decision against our core values in life—and sometimes our emotions are out of sync with what we truly believe.

And we allow the wisdom, intuition, and love of other people to influence our discernment. Some decisions simply cannot be made by one person alone. Even when the discernment involves a private matter, the presence and voice of a spiritual director or counselor can be invaluable.

We have to admit that sometimes we are not fit to make a decision. We are distraught or traumatized. Or some other factor has made us feel desperate—and it’s nearly always a bad idea to get pushed into a decision out of desperation or some other pressure, such as another person’s forcefulness.

There’s much more to say about this. But for now, we can meditate on what detachment means and how we work with it.