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Holy Indifference And Decision-Making

June 14, 2012

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Last night my wife and I spent three hours with a younger couple who was facing a significant decision.  They were being asked to apply for an international ministry position. The issue on the table was this “Is now the time to follow the sense of calling we have had for years – to serve cross-culturally?”

Leaving would be incredibly difficult.  They have a young son and a daughter on the way.  Family members live close by and love them dearly. They currently serve in pastoral roles and have established significant influence as leaders.

At one point in the evening I suggested the value of the Ignatian principle referred to as “holy indifference.”  Ignatius believed this is the pathway to freedom and to the true discovery of being centered in God’s will.

Holy indifference means that we come to a place where our interior attitude is one of complete openness.  We are willing to do whatever God wills.  There are no boxes marked “private,” instead we have released any agendas and our inclinations to manipulate the outcome to suit our hopes.  In our interior being the first priority is to know that we are where God wants us to be. Karl Rahner contends, “This distance from things is a goal that must always be re-won again and again.”

As soon as I mentioned “holy indifference” I could see a connection on the face of the woman who sat across the table.  It was as if everything became easier.  The burden of having to make a decision, the right decision, was lifted.  What mattered was attitude, not outcome.

The concept of holy indifference involves “naming and laying aside anything that will deter the person or group from focusing on God’s will as the ultimate value.” When we reach this state of interior freedom we care about the outcome in a way that leaves everything wide open for God to act.  There is a confidence that settles in because you have a deep sense that his sovereignty is being honored in a way that insures the outcome.

Holy indifference is always a journey.  It is central to our spiritual formation when we find ourselves in the decision-making process.  As we move through the season of discernment we will bump up against hopes and assumptions that must be released to move back to the place of freedom.  Often, we will find ourselves saying “yes, but…” as we try to fully release that which holds us hostage.  The process of decision-making is often God’s way of exposing the assumptions we hold… ones that are not in line with his purposes.  We discover that, even though we sincerely want God’s will, we have exceptions that remain hidden in our soul.

Ignatius believed that following God meant rigorously tracking down those assumptions and returning to the place of freedom.  The only way to get there is to set your sights on holy indifference and the choice to release any and all objections.

I often meet people who carry significant stress related to decisions.  It seems perfectly acceptable, yet it’s not.  Something is overriding their ability to come to a place of internal peace, even before the decision is made.  Usually that something is the deep desire to maintain control insuring the best outcome.  Often, a type of perfectionism rules as the individual continues to fear that they might not make the right choice.

Once a sincere follower is able to understand and experience the freedom that comes with holy indifference they are capable of sensing when their inner being is off balance.  Life is filled with decisions.  To learn the joy of releasing is a difficult journey that grows easier as we begin to disengage from attachments and agendas that simply can’t coexist with the discovery of God’s will. Ignatius invites us to find the freedom God intended by choosing holy indifference as the way forward.


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