Characteristic Signs of God

How do I know which thoughts and feelings come  from God and which do not? St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, teaches us how to understand the characteristic signs of God working in our life.

Tracking Back

As a way of understanding ups and downs in our lives, Ignatius suggests a person examine carefully their own experiences to reveal what causes such emotions as anxiety, sadness, confusion or, as he called it, feeling ‘scattered’. Ignatius taught people to track feelings and thoughts backward to see where and how they began. In practicing this, people become aware that there is a spiritual element even in the ordinary events of one’s life.

Beginning, Middle, End

When wanting to make a decision in line with God’s plan, Ignatius encourages us to look at the beginning, middle and end of our thoughts and ideas. If from beginning to end, my attention has been focused on what is good and  what will lead me closer to Christ, then I can be sure that it is God’s spirit who has been guiding me. However,  if I started well, but my thoughts and actions gradually began to get twisted towards self-interest and greed, I realize that I have been led away from God. I have left his accompanying spirit somewhere along the way.

Characteristic Signs

Once I have practiced “tracking back” I can recognize the good and negative influences at work in me. Letting myself be guided by God’s good impulses leaves me with an feeling of peace, courage, and quiet. On the other hand, suppressing that ‘voice’ within me, leaves me with the feeling of being ‘scattered’ and uneasy. Often we don’t have a lot of time to sit down and think things through quietly. Our choices and decisions have to be made quickly. Ignatius realized this and gave some helpful images and ways to test thoughts and desires, to see if they are from God or not.

Am I drawn or driven?

The Lord’s spirit draws a person gently toward goodness and doing God’s will. It increases a person’s freedom and brings a peacefulness in choices made. On the other hand, St Ignatius speaks of a contrary spirit or voice which, if followed, typically drives a person to greater busy-ness. The person is left tired and unsatisfied.

Gentle or disturbing?

For a person whose life is directed towards God, good and negative influences are felt in different ways. Ignatius uses the image of the gentle way a drop of water penetrates a sponge, in contrast to the violent way a waterfall splashes onto a rock ledge below.

“Don’t let anyone know”

The anxiety we can feel to keep thoughts or choices secret is not typical of the Lord’s spirit at work. Keeping everything secret and hidden leaves a person with a constant feeling of agitation, and vulnerable to discouragement. It is healthy to discuss what we are thinking about with a trustworthy and wise older person, like a priest.  A typical sign of the Holy Spirit at work, is that people are led into the truth, to live in the light, and to experience a peacefulness and joy in doing what is right.

Continue reading: How to make decisions