Making decisions in life can be complicated, sometimes overwhelming. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a simple test to help you make the right decision—a way you could know which of the competing options were best?
Centuries ago, Saint Ignatius gave us three simple tests to help make a life decision.
The first is a simple question:
- Will the choice I make lead me closer to God or further away from him?
The second is more of a reflection:
- At the end of my life, when I stand before God and explain why I made a certain decision, what will I tell him was the basis for my choice?
The third tool is a pros and cons list.
- Make two columns on a sheet of paper and write the pros on one side and the cons on the other of a decision you’re considering. Then, add up each column to determine which one outweighs the other.
It might seem odd to use Ignatius’ tests to decide whether to ask your girlfriend to marry you, but years ago, I figured if these tests worked for him, maybe they’d work for me, too. So, as I was discerning whether to ask my girlfriend—whom I’d been dating for a year—to marry me, I pondered Ignatius’ tests.
Would marrying my girlfriend lead me closer to God? She was a faith-filled person. She believed in God, went to church regularly, and wanted to raise children in our faith tradition. Given these facts, I was certain she passed the first test.
What would I tell God was the reason I asked this lovely woman to marry me? That one was simple, too. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her so we could raise a family and share our love with each other and the world.
The pros and cons list was tougher. As I jotted down my thoughts in each column, both columns were almost equal in number. Balanced against the con of giving up the freedom of being a single guy was the pro of having someone with whom to share my days. A life filled with raising children outweighed a life of celibacy. But, one simple item on the pros side tilted the balance toward seeking my girlfriend’s hand in marriage—I loved her.
I was excited to show my bride-to-be the results. “Look, honey, you came out on the winning side of my pros and cons test.” I proudly handed her the list. She glanced at it, breathed one of those are-you-kidding-me? sighs, and then rolled her eyes. My heart sank as I realized this wasn’t the “Oh, Romeo” moment I’d hoped.
But when I got down on bended knee and gave her a heart-shaped box of candy with an engagement ring in it, she still said yes. And after thirty-five years of marriage, our unfolding love story continues.
The ancient wisdom of Saint Ignatius still applies in our modern age. It provides a time-tested approach for discerning which way to turn.
So, when you’re faced with a life decision—or a simple choice between two competing options—consider Ignatius’ three tests as a handy tool to help you walk down the path of right living.
—brian j plachta
originally published in