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  • Writer's pictureKylie Inglis

A Key to Spiritual Discernment // Making Life Decisions


Some decisions we make in life are wrong for us, others are right for us. Most of these decisions have a silver-lining. We may discover in hindsight we made a wrong decision, and yet, we learn and grow and later experience success because of it.

However, some decisions are irreversibly disastrous and have long-term compounding effects that seem to cost us in ways we could have never foreseen. This does not mean that profoundly positive things cannot be salvaged from the wreck of these experiences. However, if we can make the right decisions first, then we can look forward to the pay-off of positive compounding interest, rather than negative.

So, what do I mean when I say the “right decision”?

I simply mean, the decision that produces good fruit in your life. You thrive as a person and others around you thrive because of it. This does not mean there are no challenges or times of friction – these are of course necessary for growth – but these challenging moments serve only to produce even more abundant fruit.


Discern comes from the Latin word discernere, meaning to separate or distinguish accurately one thing from another. The process of choosing requires discrimination, so to reveal differences without confusion “… a systematic process of working in time with our intellect and affective self (emotions), according to a value system illuminated by faith,” (Wolff, 1993: 7).

Consolation and desolation are used as major indicators in the process of discernment. “A sound is made; it hits a “sounding board” (the heart) and the sound reverberates and comes back to us. ” (Wolff, 1993: 45). Saint Ignatius gives his description of consolation and desolation in his Spiritual Exercises:

“I call consolation when an interior movement is aroused in the soul... every increase of faith, hope and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly …"

“I call desolation what is entirely the opposite of (consolation), as darkness of soul, torment of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness rising from many disturbances and temptations which lead to want of faith, want of hope, want of love. The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad, and separated...”

(FR. Elder Mullan, 1914: n.p)


In the past, I have journeyed with many people who have made painfully wrong decisions, believing whole-heartedly that they had spiritually discerned the right decision - only to discover soul-destroying desolation in the wake of it.

I too have patiently sought spiritual discernment on decisions, and through misunderstanding have taken wrong turns down dark and spiralling roads, leaving me to humbly crawl my way back out with my face in the dirt. (I am thankful that persistence is a God-given quality I carry, and I simply find it impossible to give up.)

Through these painfully wrought experiences of mine and many others, I want to draw your attention to what I believe is the key to making right decisions.


I will give you this simple key in a short equation.

Spiritual Discernment

Peace + Joy = Right Decision

I realise that this may appear oversimplified, and may even be triggering for some! But perhaps we can take a moment to compare what this equation isn't...


Wrong Decision = Peace + Misery

Wrong Decision = Joy + Anxiety

OR (& perhaps more accurately)

Wrong Decision = Excitement (imitating Joy) + Comfortability (imitating peace)

Through the wrong decisions I have made I have recognised a common thread - either I have ignored the absence of genuine peace or the absence of genuine joy.

This was commonly due to the fact that I may have held one half of the equation (i.e. joy) - or at least I thought I did – and I just chose to ignore the inner voice that was alerting me to that absence of the other half (i.e. peace).

In order to make a fruitful decision, I believe the presence of both genuine peace and genuine joy should be discerned. A right decision equation may even look something like this:

Peace + Joy + Anxious Anticipation + Uncertainty = Right Decision

I believe when you have genuine peace and joy in your decision, it will be the right decision - the fruitful, life-giving, fruit-bearing decision! Sometimes our conscious selves cannot recognise the red flags that our subconscious, unconscious, or even physical bodies can recognise.

Peace and joy are not just feelings or states of being, they are signals - signals your body is physiologically designed to give you. What are your signals telling you???


Wolff, Pierre. (1993). Discernment: The Art of Choosing Well. Liguori/Triumph.

FR. Elder Mullan, S.J. (1914). The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola. Available Internet: ( ).

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