Seven: Grounds of Decision

Background Facts leading up to the Lenten Discernment

I still remember being excited to start work when I was in Part B. I remember thinking to myself that I would finally be doing some real work (as opposed to academic work), and be able to make a real difference.

But I realise also how early it was that I had begun to doubt the path that I am currently on.

Midway through training, I stumbled (there isn’t really any other word for it) upon Geneva Academy’s LLM. I was probably surfing around, indulging in the greener grass of studying and practicing international law. Only after discovering that LLM did the possibility of further studies become something more than a velleity.

Then I went to Taizé, figured out the previous 12 months in one week, and decided to decide.

But the working world has a way of being distracting. And I probably had more stuff that I needed to sort out about my relationship with God and about discernment. So I did not formalise any discernment process.

In the end, it took another intense burst of angst to spur me to fix a structure and a time-frame (i.e. the Lenten Discernment) to this otherwise interminable discernment.

The Lenten Discernment

I have captured my Lenten Discernment in my previous posts titled ‘One’ to ‘Six’ respectively. Consider those 6 posts as my Notes of Evidence.

In One, I stated the 4 Options I would discern between.

In Six, I stated my preliminary decision: I chose Option 1A. I now confirm the decision, and set out the grounds thereof.1 2

Rules of Discernment

The First Principle and Foundation

St Ignatius’ Rules of Discernment are not controversial (though perhaps not widely known and less widely applied). For this post, it suffices to set out St Ignatius’ First Principle and Foundation in full, of which the other 22 Rules are subordinate to:

The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.

All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.

It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end.

To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.

Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created. [emphasis added]”3

It follows then that the end goal of discernment is “not professional success, romantic fulfillment, or self-actualization”4; the end goal is “to continue to go deeper and deeper into our relationship with God”5, and “our decisions are means to reach that end.”6

The Probable Call Test

But God never really assures us certainty.7 At best, we have imperfect knowledge of God’s will for us. In any event, if we were completely certain, we would not need to trust in God.

I accept, then, that what I should apply in my discernment is the Probable Call Testwhere would I be more reasonably certain of finding God?

The Issues

In light of the aforesaid, the following issues arise:

(1) Does local practice bring me closer or further away from God (i.e. Option 1 vs Option 2)? (“Issue 1“)

(2) If the answer to (1) is ‘further’, whether I am more reasonably certain of finding God in Option 1A or Option 1B? (“Issue 2“)

Applying the Probable Call Test: Five Key Factors

In applying the Probable Call Test to the two issues, the following principles7A are germane:

(1) God speaks to us directly through our experiences8 and our emotions;9

(2) God points us in a direction consistent with our deepest desires ;10

(3) What we do affects who we are and who we become;

(4) We should yearn and live ad majorem Dei gloriam (“AMDG“);

(5) God speaks to us through the doors that He opens or closes in our present lives.

Accordingly, the Five Key Factors that I should consider are:

(1) Experiences & Emotions: How does what I am doing impact my prayer life? What consolation or desolation do I experience when I pray about my Options?

(2) Desires: What desires have God placed in my heart? What Option is more consonant with these desires?

(3) Who I want to be: Who is God calling me to be? Who do I want to be? Is what I am doing taking me nearer or further away from that person?

(4) Magis: In which Option can I give the most glory to God? In which Option can I best use the gifts God has given to me? What am I doing with my life of privilege?

(5) Opportunities: What is God presenting to me in my life right now?

Nota bene: I am well aware of the pitfall of being too self-centred in discernment. But the fundamental Ignatian assumption remains: God speaks to us through our interior lives. In other words, I cannot dismiss how personal the factors above are to me, because God is a personal God. But what I can do is to purify my discernment by constantly reminding myself that God, and not His consolation, is the end point. In this regard, I also cannot expect the decisions that I have discerned to “answer all [my] questions, solve all [my] problems, or satisfy all [my] desires”; though that should not stop me from striving to live life “abundantly”, a life which Jesus promises in John 10:10.

Issue 1

I can confidently dispose of Issue 1. Let me take the Five Key Factors in turn.

(1) Experiences & Emotions: In Four, I had highlighted 3 out of 4 of the Pros / Reasons of Option 1 as principal considerations. On top of that, One to Six (and in fact my blogposts since starting practice) are replete with sketches of lifelessness. So I have little doubt that Option 1 is jarring to my spiritual life, and results in desolation. This predominantly explains why I have no qualms about leaving as soon as convenient, even before I know where I will be going next. Save where charity demands, I do not wish to spend any more of my life than I already have in something that draws me away from God.

(2) Desires: In a post about ILP, I wrote that it was strange that “I have come to chafe and to resent so much what I once thought I wanted more than anything else in the world.” On hindsight, perhaps ILP was an omen of what I would feel in practice; there is some deja vu here. To be fair, despite being excited to begin work, I don’t think my desire was as strong as that in ILP. In any event, wanting to do real work is likely a function of the ‘J’ in my INFJ, rather than any specific calling to be a lawyer.

I have since realised that any inclination to the courtroom is attributable to pride, prestige, (natural) progression, and/or pressure, rather than any true consonance with my personality. I will elaborate on my desires in Issue 2 below; for now, I list three reasons why practice is inconsistent with who I am. First, I avoid conflict if possible; I rather compromise than insist on rights and on being right. Second, I don’t care about money, which is the always the ultimate goal in commercial litigation. Third, the barrage of files, the morass of deadlines, and the staggered nature of litigation combine to preclude me from immersing myself into any client’s narrative. In short, I cannot feel for my client. 

(3) Who I want to be: Apparently, I’m too trusting, and I’m too nice. And I don’t really think I want to change that. (But as I commented in Four, this fear receives less weight because of the sterling counter-examples of practitioners whom I respect and admire.)

[Added as marked in blue on 9 Apr] There is a deeper reflection on this factor. As I mentioned in Four, I can clearly envision myself at the end of Option 2A. I can envision myself walking forward on this road, growing in competence and confidence. In these 15 months, I have already improved my skills so much; I know I can learn so much more. I also mentioned in Two that cross-examination came naturally to me. I confirmed this again at the recent Litigation Conference, when I volunteered / was volunteered to cross-examine in a practice session. I thought that went quite well. 

So I would be a good lawyer. I might even be great. I see the esteemed senior lawyers in talks and panels, and I think to myself: they have done their time, put in their hours, and this is where they are. I could be one of these people in 10 years. 

And thus, perhaps what is most painful about Option 1 is knowing what I am giving up. But I have to give it up. I am not willing to pay the costs to my spiritual life of getting to the end of Option 2A. And more burningly, there is the call to magis.

(4) Magis: In God’s dreams for me, I am drawn to something more than being a great litigator.

And save that I am actually using my law degree purposefully, there is really little in work that I glorify God for. Even in the limited victories that I have had (see e.g. Two), there is little sense of the more that characterises AMDG, or of the participation in something beyond myself.

(5) Opportunities: If I had been anywhere else apart from CLLC (see the pros of Option 2A in Four), I would have taken much less time and had  much less difficulty rejecting Option 2. But I have waited long enough, and I trust that God had his plans in bringing me through my Boss’ tutelage.

In light of the above, I have concluded (quite confidently and peacefully, or more legalesetically, beyond a reasonable doubt) that local practice brings me further away from God. I now address Issue 2.

Issue 2

Although I have framed Issue 2 as a binary choice, it is in essence a more open-ended question: where is God next calling me to? In that regard, there may be options that I have not yet considered. To add to the uncertainty, I might not get a place in what I apply for. And I will only go off next year, so that leaves months for new considerations to arise.

But subject to such unforeseeable circumstances, I can still apply the Probable Call Test to decide between Option 1A and 1B (being the two options that I have been the most drawn to in this material time).

(1) Experiences & Emotions: Tracking my consolation throughout Lent confirms what I should have known (and what friends could have told me) earlier: I am a people person.11 From seeing A in his isolation (see Four) to sharing with the Shining Man (see Five, among other posts) to being troubled about C (see Two), engaging deeply and directly with another person feels like coming home.12

But this is only a general direction. So it is apposite that I now turn to examine my desires, the confluence of which provides a more specific destination.

(2) Desires: Some people just know what their single talent  or passion is, and they converge towards it right from the start. Then there are people who don’t know what their single talent or passion is. The Activity I did (as set out in Three) helps such people to figure it out.

And then there are people whose talents or passions are not singular.

In Four, I summarised the results of the Activity. It is a mixed bag. So I am bereft of convergence’s comfort – so many paths still remain lit up by my desires.

That being said, the Activity did predispose me towards Option 1A, for two reasons:

(a) Transitional Justice is more interdisciplinary (cutting across law, sociology, art, investigation, psychology, government, etc) than Teaching;

(b) I can check off more more terms in the Mesa Moments table (see Four), including all the terms in the Yes section. In Transitional Justice, governmental and legal systems will be built, opportunies for beauty will arise in memorialisations, and victims will carry with them poignant innocence.

(3) Who I want to be: Being sensitive to the suffering of others, being alive to the deep struggles in the world, being aware of my privilege, living more simply, appreciating more of humanity – these are some of the areas I hope to grow in as a person by choosing Option 1A.

(4) Magis: As I had alluded to in Five, this factor is decisive. Between Option 1A and 1B, only the former can fulfill my childhood dreams of being different. Only the former validates and maximises the privilege of my law degree.

(5) Opportunities: As if stumbling upon the Geneva Academy was not enough, they have just started their Master in Transitional Justice program this year. In short, the stars aligned, and the door opened.

All that is left to do is to walk through the porta fidei.


As I wrote in Five, I don’t know if Option 1A will pass the True Calling Test. I don’t know if other options will arise before I apply. I don’t know what other jobs will present itself after I graduate. I am beset at all sides by uncertainty.

And (I don’t know if this is what holy indifference means) I am totally ok with that.

In the final analysis, Option 1A is currently the best expression of God’s dreams for me. And until another door presents itself, I’ll step onto this road, and see where it goes.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

1. The irony that I am explaining my decision to leave (local) practice in this format is not lost on me.

2. The mystery of discernment is that one is witness, advocate, judge, and jury all at the same time.

3. “Ignatian Spirituality”, retrieved from here on 3 April 2016.

4. J. Michael Sparough, S.J., Jim Manney, and Tim Hipskind, S.J., What’s Your Decision, (Chicago, Loyola Press: 2010) [hereinafter “What’s Your Decision“], at p.44.

5. Ibid, at p.151.

6. Ibid, at p.44.

7. Ibid, at p.143.

7A. To avoid verbiage, I have taken most of these principles as self-evident; I have only cited some references where convenient and/or appropriate.Ibid, at p.143.

8. Ibid, at pp.39-40.

9. Ibid, at p.7.

10. Ibid, at p.10. See also Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life, (Nashville, W Publishing Group: 2005).

11. Just in case anyone thinks otherwise (shame on you for being obtuse), liking people does not mean I am sociable. My bio says it all.

12. See What’s Your Decisionsupra note 4, at p.62 – “Consolation feels like coming home. Desolation feels like having lost our way home.”


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About Mel

I dreamt I was a whale.