When we treat other persons for who they are more than for what they can do for us, we grow closer in friendship, and usually receive even more of what they do for us than if we relate with them as sources for meeting our wants and needs. Likewise, the more we use “who” rather than “what” in our thoughts and considerations about God, the more we will have experiences of support, care and concern as well as spiritual consolation and inspirations.
We may have learned by now the significant advantages of thinking, imagining and praying more about who we are and who we want to become as persons rather than what we might hope to do and what we might become in terms of a job-description or recipients of a title. Over time, we receive identifiers for what we do, such as parents, teachers and the whole range of named positions from a beginner service person to an executive. But none of the ways we have for describing what we do are able to fully convey the most important aspect of our humanity: our qualities as persons. No titles, names or identifiers can confer on us the essential components of the kind of person we are and are continuing to become as a consequence of our choices and of God’s.
All the decisions we make, whether with little consideration or with careful reflection, add to or subtract from the woman or man we aspire to be. In choosing not to react to an unkind word with one of our own, we might not see any visible positive consequences, but we have grown in a least one important quality of life that has now become more habitual than before. When we recognize the unmistakable signs of disapproval within us for a negative remark we make about someone, by choosing to identify that behavior as not matching who we want to be, we also grow as a person of integrity.
We recognize in ourselves the difference between choosing to do what we believe is right no matter what others might think, or opting for whatever we imagine will win others’ approval. The former, even if we experience some apparent loss, leaves our sense of self-worth not only intact, but strengthened and encouraged, because the behavior fits us a unique person. But if we take the mode of acceding to what apparently gains esteem, we are left with a “dry taste” in our hearts, a sign of the inauthenticity that denigrates our dignity as a person.
We cannot prevent thoughts and impulses that incline us to please others even at some cost to our sense of self-approval. And we are always learning, both about ourselves and about the positive and negative influences that others have upon us. But one utterly dependable source of guidance for growing into the kind of person who can choose ever more readily the better options that leave us deeply, peacefully satisfied, is God. The surest way to growth as a person is to ask God to clarify in our minds and hearts the right way for us to proceed in our decisions. If the matter to be decided has consequences affecting us and/or others, we will be guided, inspired or assisted in the use of our faculties to recognize what is better or less good. But if we ask God, who loves us and everyone else completely, we are not seeking advice that we might accept or reject, but answers that are appropriate for us and therefore to be followed.
Life is about who we are and who God is, not what.
Father Randy Roche, SJ, Director of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality, has an M.A. in Theology from Santa Clara University, and an M.S. in Counseling from San Diego State. He has served as LMU Director of Campus Ministry, Rector of the Jesuit Community at Jesuit High School in Sacramento, Director of Studies and Spiritual Director at the Jesuit Novitiate, and as Pastor, Superior, and Director of Diocesan Campus Ministry at the Newman Center in Honolulu.
Throughout his years of ministry, he has continuously deepened his own experience of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, while also acting as a guide in the Exercises for lay people and religious. Not surprisingly, his specialty is Ignatian spirituality as a tool for discernment in decision-making.