This past Saturday I caught the last 20 minutes of our SDSU Jackrabbit football team's loss to Missouri State. It wasn't pretty. As I watched the Jacks- students I love as sons- struggle back from a 27-7 deficit, I could hear the criticisms mounting. I sometimes sit in the season ticket section, thanks to generous people, and I know there are chat sites where people criticize and Jackrabbit football. "Sumner is going to get ripped in the chat rooms for this!"
Now, when teams lose, do they need criticism? Yes! Do they need internal criticism and self-scouting? Yes! Do they need an outsider's opinion too? Yes! But a team and players need to learn which criticisms to accept.
On a team, you need to learn how to filter those ON YOUR OWN TEAM who give criticism. On a team you need to learn how to filter those OUTSIDE YOUR OWN TEAM who give criticism.
You find those voices that are true AND encouraging- those are trustworthy voices.
It is the same in the spiritual life. St. Ignatius of Loyola describes this very well in his Spiritual Exercises, especially his Rules for Discernment of spirits.
Second Rule: In the persons who are going on intensely cleansing their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord, it is the method contrary to that in the first Rule, for then it is the way of the evil spirit to bite, sadden and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, that one may not go on; and it is proper to the good to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.
Notice how St. Ignatius doesn't debate whether inspirations are true or not. The evil spirit may speak something that is real but does so in a way as to prevent your growth. The Lord, when He inspires, always does so in a way to encourage you in rising to better life.
So, how do we apply this?
- If we are living the moral life (rising from good to better in service of God our Lord) then we can discern between the good and evil spirits from how they move us.
- When a particular spirit prevents or discourages us from the Christian life, it isn't from our Lord.
- When a particular spirit encourages us then it is from the Lord.
The great news about the Christian faith is that REAL guidance exists for the Christian life. It isn't just trusting your feelings (like Star Wars) but real guidance for real life.