Discerning requires paying attention to our moods and feelings and asking God to lead us down to the real roots of the moods and feelings we have noticed.
Ignatian spirituality speaks of moments of consolation and moments of desolation.
Consolation moments are revealed in a sense of well-being or of being on ‘solid ground’ – moments of peace, excitement, joy, hope, or possibility. Consolation bonds us more closely together and gives us fresh energy.
Desolation moments are revealed in a sense of turmoil and unease, often making us feel like giving up or withdrawing.
We need to recognize in situations when our hearts are drawn towards God and beyond ourselves and when we have turned away from God and into ourselves.
The movements of consolation will gradually reveal to you where your deepest desires are located, and the movements of desolation will show you the location of your deepest unease. It will also help you to distinguish between the action of God in your heart, which will always draw you towards consolation, and those movements that are coming from your own kingdom, or the pressure of other people’s kingdoms, which will tend towards desolation.
God uses carrots, not sticks. God attracts us, through our deepest desires, and not through threats of eternal punishment.
The stick method might go like this:
I am aware that I have a particular dependency. I put all my efforts into trying to beat it down. I try to achieve my own freedom in this way.
And now the carrot method:
I am aware that I have a particular dependency. I know that by my own efforts I cannot free myself of it. Instead, I use what energy I have (which is limited) to attend instead to those things in my experience where I feel “on solid ground” or “living true”. These will become the music in my heart that tempts me more and more into the dance and overrides the fear that keeps me clinging to the rails. In this way, God will lead me closer to freedom, by nurturing my own deepest desires.
Notice some differences between these two approaches: