The dictionary definition of the word ‘indifferent’ is ‘lack of interest, concern, or sympathy.’ For example: “she shrugged, feigning indifference”. But this isn’t the kind of indifference I want to talk about. St Ignatius, the Spanish monk who began the Jesuits, developed many spiritual exercises, one of which was called ‘indifference.’
Let me tell you a simple story to illustrate. Years ago, while living in Scotland, we had moved into a new home with a high school located right next to our housing estate. When it came time for our daughter to move from her primary school to high school, it seemed obvious that it would be the easiest option for her to attend the high school right next door. We did pray about it, as there were other options, but those options involved driving her to school each day and picking her up. So, in going to prayer, we asked, ‘Lord what is the right school for her?’ In my mind, it was a straightforward decision. I am not sure I could have heard another answer from heaven at that point, other than ‘send her to the school next door.’
Ignatius would say that I had a bias and wasn’t in a place of indifference as I went to prayer as I preferred one option over the others. We face these kinds of decisions all the time in our leadership, personal and family lives. Many times, when we go to God in prayer, we are desiring a certain outcome and therefore aren’t open to whatever God would say to us! The challenge for us then, is to follow the example of Jesus as he prayed, ‘not my will but yours be done.’ Who would voluntarily choose to enter suffering and be crucified on a cross? I would have definitely been hoping for another option. In the garden that night, he prayed before his Father, and battled through to a place of indifference. ‘Father it’s your will that is priority here not mine. You see from a heavenly perspective and know what is best for me. You know the road that I must choose.’
So, what does St. Ignatius say about this word, ‘indifference’? He calls us, in his principle and foundation of the spiritual exercises, to be attentive to God but indifferent to everything else. He calls us to be indifferent to all created things and that we ought not to seek health rather than sickness, wealth rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long life rather than a short one.” Indifference to St. Ignatius means being detached enough from things, people, or experiences to be able either to take them up or to leave them aside, depending on whether they help us to “praise, reverence, and serve God”. In other words, it’s the capacity to let go of what doesn’t help me to love God or love others—while staying engaged with what does.
If you are like me, you have an opinion about everything and so when it comes to making a decision, you are usually conscious of the direction that you would like the decision to go. So, coming to a place of indifference is a huge challenge to us. How do we let go of our leaning, our desire, our passion to see something come about? How do we approach this situation or decision with an attitude of ‘Lord whatever you want me to do, I am totally open and ready to obey?’
When it comes to leadership teams and making decisions together, we can get ourselves into a stalemate, with opinions on both sides of the argument, if we don’t all come with the quality of indifference. I think just about every conflict that takes place, is due to different views and perspectives and those mindsets being black and white, solid or fixed. When these attitudes are present, we are not in a place of indifference, open to change our minds, open to letting the other party ‘win’ – it’s not a game but often that’s how we view it. We enter decision making wanting to win rather than being open to what the Lord wants for us.
I was with a leadership team a little while ago. They were discussing a situation where they thought someone had acted inappropriately and should be confronted for their poor communication and behaviour. We spoke for nearly 2 hours working through every element of the scenario. It seemed we were moving towards a clear answer and the main question was, ‘who will be the person to confront the individual?’ The leader of the meeting suggested we pray together. In the course of the next 15 minutes of prayer, something happened in the hearts of everyone in the team. We waited on the Lord, shared a few prayers and then shared back what each one felt. Everyone in the team shared the same surprising response – ‘we should step back from the situation, not do anything but pray and allow Jesus to cover it in his grace and mercy.’ Through coming to a place of indifference, their action after prayer was totally the opposite of what they were planning beforehand. Have you ever been in a prayer time like that? You probably have and what a wonderful thing it is to come in agreement with the Holy Spirit and with one another. Every time we come together for discernment of God’s will in decision making, there is a need for us to come to this place of indifference.
Two years ago, Rite and I came together with 3 of our team and 2 facilitators to pray about our future direction. We had been running a retreat centre for 10 years and it had been very fruitful. We both loved what we had been doing, loved the hosting of leaders from around the world, loved speaking, leading worship and felt the most fulfilled in our lives. My wife, Rite, although loving the ministry, had been feeling stressed with the schedule of seminars, the number of people coming through the centre, with the cooking, the cleaning and the lack of sense of home. I too was feeling stressed, having to carry the load of administration for the centre. Initially I didn’t even want to think or talk about possible implications of our situation, especially the possibility of closing the centre down. I asked the question, ‘Why close something down that is bringing so much fruit and life into people’s lives?’ It didn’t make sense. I told myself, ‘Isn’t part of our calling to lay our lives down for others, even if there is a great deal of sacrifice involved?’ It took me many months to come to a place of being willing to actually talk about the possibility of closure and then more months to come to a place of indifference – being open to whatever the Lord wanted.
The couple of days together with some of our team members in a time of discernment, changed my heart and made it clear to me the way forward. I had moved from not being open to consider closure, to knowing that this was what God was saying to us. It was hard to process the decision with the rest of the team, but they responded with much grace and understanding.
Looking back two years later we are so glad that we heard God clearly. We wonder now, what condition would we be in, if we hadn’t slowed down and taken time for the transition. It is wonderful now to experience a new anointing in pioneering LDC’s and b2b’s around the world, have more time for travel and leadership development opportunities and spend time with our grandkids! Discerning God’s will together has been such a blessing to us and something we wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
So, as you approach decisions that require discernment as a team, as a family or as an individual, stop and take time to come to a place of indifference, where you can really hear from the Lord clearly before jumping into action.
Until next month