Do you ever get the feeling that a particular thought or urge is not from God? On the contrary, have you ever felt that God was speaking to you or moving you to choose a certain path? Discerning spirits is how you can determine whether or not something is of God or perhaps trying to pull you away from God. Fr. Chris Collins, Jesuit priest, author, and assistant to the President for Mission and Identity at Saint Louis University, joined The Inner Life® to discuss the discernment of spirits and how it can influence our decision-making.
“For us to be truly human as God created us to be, in God’s image, He made us for union with God. … So, we’re made for union; we’re made for relationship, we’re made for love. The enemy wants to disrupt those bonds of union, those relationships. The enemy wants to get us into isolation instead of relationship … so anything that’s breaking those authentic relationships that we have or leading us away or getting us turned in on ourselves, that’s the work of the evil spirit,” says Fr. Collins.
He outlined basic ways that we can discern spirits. How do we know when the enemy is attempting to pull us a certain way? “It’s really about when do I find myself getting cut off in those relationships? When do I find myself getting turned in on myself, maybe sometimes it’s self pity. Sometimes hard things have happened and I start to feel sorry for myself and cultivate resentments about the people around me or resentment about God, even, and I feel like maybe God’s forgotten me or not caring about me or paying attention to me,” says Fr. Collins. The devil can also draw us away from God through “shame for a sin that’s I’ve committed in the past, anything that leads me into fear and anxiety.”
When the Holy Spirit is working through us, it’s quite the opposite. “When is it that I am really not paying all that much attention to myself, but instead I’m really oriented toward God, toward the people around me, especially those in need? When am I being moved to generosity or joy, have a real sense of freedom and living my life for others and attentive toward others?”
How can discernment of spirits help us to make decisions? “It’s really a lot more about the day-to-day movements of my own heart and soul. Where it is that I’m experiencing true freedom in God and where it is that I’m experiencing a lot of anxiety and worry? When we pay attention to those more particular kind of nitty-gritty experiences of day-to-day life, if I’m paying attention to that and I’m recognizing some patterns, where if I’m doing this kind of activity or I’m with these sorts of people or having these kinds of experiences, I feel really free and joyful and generous, well that’s a good hint that that trajectory is of God. And then you might make some decisions based upon that.”