Ignatian indifference

Ignatian indifference is not an easy concept – it is the capacity to hold the desire for something along with a sense of freedom with respect to the same thing. When I am trying to explain indifference, I usually use the example of sitting in the Loyola Hall chapel the night before I was going to be interviewed for a job there. As I sat talking to God, I recognised that I wanted this job more than anything I had ever wanted in my life before – this was the dream that I had thought I would be working towards for at least another decade suddenly within my grasp. As I sat and talked to God about my desire for the job, I began to notice that even with the intensity of desire, that God and I would be okay if I didn’t get the job. Of course I would have been disappointed, but I was willing to let God be God in the process. On that night, I really was able to see that I might not get the job, but that had nothing to do with my giftedness as a spiritual director, or my sense of call to that ministry. In other words, that failure to get the job would not have been a personal failure.

I believe that the experience of that kind of indifference or freedom is grace. It is not a state I can will myself into and it is usually temporary. Nonetheless it is vitally important because it allows for the healthy separation between success in particular venture and my relationship with God. Even if we consciously avoid the prosperity gospel messages which suggest that material wealth is indicative of a right relationship with God, it is easy to fall for the more subtle message that success is somehow predicated upon or linked to the quality of my relationship with God. So failure becomes very difficult, because not only do I have to deal with the reality of failure, but it has a major impact on the very place I would turn for solace – prayer. It also allows for the separation between success and my image of myself. It is a place of real humility, knowing my own giftedness and the capacity to avoid taking the rejection or failure personally.

Ignatian indifference then, is not about a lack of passion. But it is opens the space to let God be God. It reminds me that however much I may think I know what is good for me, I don’t see the full picture. It also allows for the reality that we live in a broken world, and many circumstances require the cooperation of people, anyone of whom (including me) may be focusing on shoring up our own egos rather than focusing on the greater glory of God.

The more I explore and teach Ignatian spirituality the more I recognise the real genius of Ignatius. I am ever grateful for those who opened this door for me.

15 thoughts on “Ignatian indifference

  1. I always think “reversible” (as in the thermodynamic sense) when I think about indifference (in the Ignatian sense). Poised, ready to move either way at a breath…

  2. Thank you for a great description.
    I too feel infinitely grateful for having been introduced to Ignatius. It is a gift that keeps giving.
    For me Ignatian indifference is telling Godde what I really want and ask for the grace to accept what comes. And then, Godde surprises me so much with giving more than what I had asked for…

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  8. Thanks for this introduction to the concept. I’m more familiar with the Carmelite term “detachment,” which seems similar, and Benedict’s Rule 72, of “preferring nothing to Christ,” which is perhaps more austere.

    At any rate, thank you for giving me another way to prayerfully allow God to be in charge of outcomes. Blessings on your spiritual path.

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