This is written as a part of a series for the Ignatian Year on Ignatius’ Cannonball Experience and life transformation. See more at: https://beckyeldredge.com/author/jcoito/
With 650 miles of freeway and 22,000 miles of surface streets, Los Angeles County offers an almost unlimited number of roads to travel. I have been known to miss my exit or get on the onramp heading Eastbound when I want to go Westbound. I do not always plug my destination into the GPS. I somehow missed the fact that planned construction has condensed 6 lanes down to 1 lane on my intended route… there was probably a detour that was recommended. The road forks, not just once but countless times. There are an unlimited number of roads to travel, and countless ways for me to get lost in my own backyard. In discernment, the question is often: am I truly lost, or just moving at my own pace? Am I still on the way, but just taking a circuitous route to get there?
In his autobiography, St. Ignatius described a pivotal fork in the road on his own journey to Montserrat. After his “cannonball experience” and subsequent recuperation at the castle of Loyola, Ignatius had a disagreement with a Moor on some key points of faith (particularly around the Virgin Mary). Ignatius had to make the decision to either let the matter rest (and continue on his journey) or follow the man and seek vengeance in defence of Mary’s honor. Not sure what the right answer was, Ignatius allowed his donkey to make the choice for him. This was perhaps not his greatest moment… Thankfully, the donkey chose the path away from murder and violence, and towards the new life that Ignatius had already begun to imagine for himself.
Like coming up on an unexpected road closure, some discernments involve a massive recalculation. What would have happened if Ignatius had not been hit with the cannonball? The valiant soldier was probably content with his life. Without such a life-altering injury, he may never have spent time in deep discernment, nor had the courage to forge ahead on this different path. Some of my dear friends have had completely life-altering recalibrations in recent years: a cancelled engagement, leaving a religious order, an unexpected death of a loved one. Each transition involves grieving the loss of the life that was and seeking out alternate roads.
The “Faster” Route
Sometimes the recalibration our lives need is more subtle. Have you ever had the navigation alert pop up that says “faster route” has been identified? At least in Los Angeles, the vast majority of the time the route does not turn out to be faster. The “better” route involves me making a challenging left turn from a narrow alley across six lanes of traffic. The “faster route” leads me on a wild goose chase to shave mere minutes off of a ninety minute drive.
Particularly in times of difficulty or desolation, I can feel tempted to seek any route that looks better than the one I am on. If only I was not trying to work across so many time zones…if only my mom hadn’t broken her hand right after we all got vaccinated. If only our school had gone back in person full time instead of staying in a hybrid part-time mode. I keep looking for something external to fix the things that are bothering me. Something outside of me must be able to free up more time, streamline my life, get me faster to where I want to be. I am stuck in gridlock, desperate for a way out that is not coming.
When the mocking tone on the GPS tells me there is a better route, a faster route, most of the time I realize it is just an illusion of control. There is no faster route in LA. I take these alerts as a warning to settle down and prepare for the long haul…find a podcast to listen to, call a good friend to keep me company while I drive, enjoy the peace and quiet away from my kids.
The Slow Merge
Usually the impetus for change does not happen instantly. My husband often asks me, “if what you are doing is not working, why do you keep doing it?” Recently he has asked this question about my approach to our son’s distance learning during the pandemic and the purgatory that is cleaning the house up after three little kids. I express frustration with the results (or lack thereof), but without a better solution I stay stuck in my old routines.
Like Ignatius, something about my current way has ceased to give me life or energize me. I then need time (sometimes a long time) to ruminate about the dis-ease I am feeling. I move to the stage of trying to ignore the changes that are needed, because such a change is difficult, uncomfortable, scary or confusing. If I were Ignatius I would probably have spent a few extra days in bed reading, just so I did not have to force a decision yet. Finally, at some point the desire for change overpowers the desire for comfort and stability. After hanging out between two lanes for a while, I finally make the merge (much to the relief of everyone around me).
It may take a long time. I may need to reroute on numerous occasions. I might take multiple roads before finding the correct one. I may spend time in the slow lane, letting the more confident drivers pass me. As long as I keep my inner GPS oriented to God, I know I will get there someday. For now, I am just “recalculating route”…
Here are some other great resources on discernment from the Into the Deep team:
Discernment at Different Stages of Life by Vinita Hampton Wright
Listening for God When We’re Stuck by Becky Eldredge
For a guided prayer prompt on identifying your own cannonball experiences: