Seven Attitudes or Qualities Required for an Authentic Discernment Process

Excerpted from Some Ignatian Principles for Making Prayerful Decisions by Warren Sazama, S.J.

At the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius spells out seven basic attitudes or qualities that a person must have as preconditions for entering into an authentic discernment process seeking God's will.

They are the following:


We must approach the decision in question with an open mind and an open heart.  We cannot find God's will for us if we enter into the decision-making process with a pre-conceived outcome based on our self-will, biases, and what Ignatius calls attachments, that is, an attitude of I already have my mind made up, so don't confuse me with the facts Attachments refer to areas in our lives where we limit freedom and put conditions on a decision.  An example could be: I'll go to college anywhere as long as it's within a day's drive of my parents home.


To enter into a decision-making process with such openness requires a generous spirit with which we, with a largeness of heart, put no conditions on what God might call us to. This is like writing God a signed blank check letting God fill in the amount and content of the check. Only a generous person would do this.


Such openness and generosity require courage, for God might be asking something difficult, challenging, and risky of us. It takes courage to give up control and trustingly put the decision in God's hands while seeking God's will over our own. There's no telling where God might be calling us,To be that open and generous takes courage.

Interior Freedom:

To make such a prayerful, generous, courageous decision requires interior freedom, Their whole and deepest desire is to do whatever God's will is for them with no conditions attached.  This is the attitude necessary to authentically find and follow God's will for us.

A Habit of Prayerful Reflection on One's Experience:

How can we hear God's call if we're not listening. How can we listen, if we're not praying? To make a prayerful decision, we must first pray, putting aside a significant portion of time (twenty minutes or more) on a daily basis to quiet ourselves, put ourselves in God's presence, and listen to what God is saying to us in the interior of our hearts. 

Having One's Priotities Straight:

There is a ruthless logic to Ignatius' spirituality.  If serving God, our Creator and Lord, is the ultimate goal of our lives, then everything else in our lives must be kept in the subordinate position of a means to that end.  This means that things such as opportunities, experiences, and relationships are to be valued and chosen only insofar as they contribute to our ultimate goal in life and rejected insofar as they deter us from that goal.What we want above all is the ability to respond freely to God, and all other loves for people, places, and things are held in proper perspective by the light and strength of God's grace.In coming to a decision, only one thing is really important to seek and to find how God is calling me at this time of my life.God has created me out of love, and my salvation is found in my living out a return of that love.  All my choices, then, must be consistent with this given direction in my life.

Not Confusing Ends with Means:

Ignatius comments:It becomes obvious how easy it is for me to forget such a simple truth as the end and goal of my whole existence when I consider the manner in which choices are often made.  Many people, for example, choose marriage, which is a means. They then only secondarily consider the service and praise of God our Lord in marriage, though to follow God's lead in my life is always our human project. Many people first choose to make a lot of money or to be successful, and only afterwards to be able to serve God by it. And so too in their striving for power, popularity, and so on.  All of these people exhibit an attitude of putting God into second place, and they want God to come into their lives only after accommodating their own disordered and self-centered attachments.  In other words, they mix up the order of an end and a means to that end.  What they ought to seek first and above all else, they often put last.

One of the examples of confusing ends with means mentioned above  is a person who first chooses to make a lot of money and be successful and only afterwards look at how they might serve God with this (such as by making charitable donations or volunteering).  A person like this in effect puts God into second place, only wanting God to come into their lives after first choosing what they want.  They mix up the order of an end and a means to that end, not putting first things first.

Conclusion: Having these seven essential attitudes of openness, generosity, interior freedom, prayerful reflection on experience, having one's priorities straight, and not confusing ends with means, the discerner has their satellite dish pointed in the right direction in order to receive God's signals. Possessing these qualities is the precondition for hearing God's call through an authentic discernment process.