This post is about spiritual discernment and writing which we’ll be looking through the lens of Ignatian spirituality. St. Ignatius of Loyola was a medieval monk and founder of the Jesuit order. His rules of spiritual discernment remain in wide and active use within the Catholic faith to this very day.
In my last post I gave a short introduction to Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s work on St. Ignatius. I also promised a blog series on my process with Fr. Gallagher’s books on discernment, “Discerning the Will of God” and “The Discernment of Spirits” (affiliate links). It’s my idea to apply the rules of St. Ignatius to my own creative dilemma.
This post is the first in that series.
I have a lot of issues around my writing. When I try to write fiction my writing usually takes on a life of its own and goes places I don’t want it to go. When I try to write book length nonfiction I experience a LOT of self-doubt. I sometimes wrestle with new ideas for the blog and occasionally wonder if blogging is worth the time and effort.
These doubts presents in various but related ways: I don’t feel qualified to write on any of the various ebook topics I come up with. When I try to qualify myself by writing about my experiences in an introduction, I feel like I’m bragging. When I read back over what I’ve written I almost always dislike it. One of my biggest fears is that if I put it out there no one will read or, if they do, they’ll hate it.
My childhood experience explains the low self-esteem that feeds these doubts. I also believe that spiritual warfare plays a part and that my past experience in the new age and occult puts me at above average risk. According to experts this is not unlikely.
Archdiocese of Denver exorcist Fr. Chad Ripperger lists past involvement in the occult as one of three ways a person can open a door to diabolic interference. The other two are mortal sin and having had experiences that Father refers to as “very disordered.”
This makes me three for three.
Because of all this, I struggle with my writing, pray about my writing and try to work through my issues with writing in journal entries and blog posts.
The process I wrote about in my recent nonfiction book idea article (here) did help me come up with two potential nonfiction book projects: a book about overcoming childhood trauma and a short ebook on blogging.
The main reason I want to write about my childhood is, not because I’ve made some stellar recovery, but because I feel called to share how God and my Catholic faith have helped me. This is a book I’ve been trying to write for some time. But each time I make the attempt, whether sooner or later, I get to a point where I am BESET by doubt.
Questions overwhelm me. Most go something like this: What makes you think you’re qualified to write book like this? Do you actually think of your life as a success story? Shouldn’t you have an advanced degree to write about this? What will people think? Isn’t this too personal to share?
I have similar but less intense questions around the blogging book.
And then there is the blog. Which I kind of always feel good about, even though I do change things a lot and sometimes worry that I’m wasting my (kind of limited) time in writing it.
Thinking of these doubts as spiritual warfare working through my own low self-esteem doesn’t make it any easier really to dismiss them. So I wonder if writing about the aftereffects of childhood trauma (or how to blog) is part of God’s plan for my life. It makes me wonder if writing – in any way, shape or form – is part of God’s plan for my life.
I wonder if God wants me to focus on my family, instead. If He would like it more if I were a better mom to my three grownup sons (two of whom have serious medical problems), take better care of the house in which we all live, make better meals, finish stripping and staining the woodwork in the front hall, and take better care of the strawberries that are being choked out by weeds.
I often think that if God were really on board with the writing idea, I’d know it. Or at least not have all of these questions. I ask myself if my ability to get lost in my writing means I have a vocation or if it just means that writing is easier than sanding the front steps or pulling weeds.
Through prayer and reflection I’ve distilled all of these concerns into a few larger questions. Does God want me to write a book? Or completely dedicate myself to family?
And if He does want me to write a book, what kind of book – and on what?
These were the kind of questions rattling around in my head when I first heard Fr. Timothy Gallagher speak on EWTN and these are the questions I hoped I might answer through Father’s books on St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, and author of the 14 Rules of Ignatian Discernment.
Deciding on What I Should Decide On
I began with Fr. Gallagher’s second book, Discerning the Will of God, because that was precisely what I was trying to do. I didn’t get far in, however, before I realized that I needed to read Father’s first book – which explained the 14 Rules of St. Ignatius in detail – first.
Although I haven’t gotten far with Discerning the Will of God, there was something in that bit I did read that made a lot of sense to me – the idea that we don’t need the 14 rules when it comes to something covered in scripture or Church tradition – because those kind of decisions can be made based on info we already have.
Morally necessary activities would include, for example, commitments like caring for our family. So clearly, wherever God leads me it won’t negatively impact my family – which I found reassuring.
Questions to Ask Myself
The Rules of St. Ignatius then are for discerning between morally acceptable, good and better, choices. Because my vocational options aren’t sinful they can be examined through the 14 rules. So I came up five questions about vocation wrote them out as questions.
- Can I effectively combine writing with the responsibilities of home and family?
- Is being a mother and a writer part of God’s plan for my life?
- If I discern that God wants me to write – should I write fiction or nonfiction or both?
- If the answer to #2 includes nonfiction – what book topic would align with God’s plan for my life?
- Is it possible for me to do more than one creative project (such as two different books) at the same time – as I so often feel called to do?
- Is toggling back and forth between multiple manuscripts my way of not really committing to any or is it just how I work?
- Where does the blog fit in in all of this? Or does it?
The Entry Point
After writing out these questions, it occurred to me that a point Fr. Gallagher had made in his talk on EWTN was worth looking at. It is what Father refers to as the entry point or necessary condition for working with the rules.
This necessary condition is to be completely open to the will of God. This openness, Fr. Gallagher explained, should present as an attitude of absolutely neutrality.
While neutrality means that we should be completely unattached to any given outcome, Fr. Gallagher also pointed out that it is beneficial to have a bias toward the outcome that is most in line with the teaching of Jesus. Examples would be the outcome that pays less, has less statues or provides the greatest opportunity for service. Father Gallagher called this a beneficial predisposition.
I felt I was very close to a beneficial disposition in terms of my family because I want to do my best for them even if it means sacrificing other things that are important to me.
But I know I don’t have a purely beneficial disposition when it comes to my writing.
For me, writing an ebook isn’t about making money which is good. My overriding desire with nonfiction is to be of some help to people which was also good. My overriding desire with fiction is to entertain people.
I know that it’s very important to me that people like what I write, however. I know I have a strong attachment to writing a nonfiction book but wonder if it might be possible to fulfill this need through blogging.
Where I Ended Up
I know that I need to pray about my biases but feel that, for now, having an awareness of them might be enough. So I feel that it does make sense to go forward and work with the 14 Rules of St. Ignatius as presented in “The Discernment of Spirits.”
Which means, as it turns out, that this series will probably focus on Fr. Gallagher’s first book on Ignatius though it is possible that the series will spill over into book number two.
I know that I’m expecting a lot of Fr. Gallagher and St. Ignatius.
There are so many different things to consider, in fact, that I can’t help thinking that it will be pretty darned miraculous if St. Ignatius CAN help clear it all up. But instead of feeling discouraged by that thought, I feel reassured. While that may seem counter intuitive, to me, it makes sense.
Saints are made saints, after all, because of the miracles they do.
Because I will be blogging on other topics (in addition to Ignatian spirituality) you can expect a post a month on this topic. To receive these posts via email, please sign up for my newsletter.
To read my next post in the series, please see The 1st & 2nd Rules of St. Ignatius.
For more on Fr. Gallagher and his work, please check out his website at FrTimothyGallagher.org.