The Craft of Good Expectations for Spiritual Exercises
1. Focus on the present exercise.
I focus on what is sought in the exercise before me rather than reading ahead or considering any other exercises. Each exercise, day and week has its own particular order and dynamic. It is very important to stay in the place given in the exercise and not be drawn anywhere else [Spiritual Exercises 11].
2. Expect to communicate directly with God.
As strongly stated by Ignatius, it is “much better that my Creator and Lord communicates directly with me, inflaming me in his love and praise, and disposing me toward the way in which I will be better able to serve him in the future” [Spiritual Exercises 15].
3. Expect freedom in your Spiritual Conversation Guide.
The Spiritual Conversation Guide is not to sway or encourage me toward any choice or preference but to leave my Creator and Lord to deal directly with me [Spiritual Exercises 15].
4. Be open with your Giver of the FSE.
A faithful account of my prayer experience is useful not only for myself but also for the Giver of my FSE. With my Listening Book, I ask where was I moved? What happened? Have I received what I desired? Detail here is very important. This is shared with my Giver [Spiritual Exercises 17].
5. Apply the exercises to your disposition.
I apply the timetable of the retreat to my disposition and temperament, making more or less exercises if helpful. Similarly, I may adapt them to my age and health, making an exercise a little shorter or in several parts over a number of days. Some days, I may have the energy to pray a little longer or repeat the exercise [Spiritual Exercises 18, 72, 129, 133, 209].
6. Choose the right retreat.
I choose the First Spiritual Exercise retreat likely to give me the most help. I match my desires with the desires sought in a particular retreat. There is absolutely no profit to be gained from doing a retreat that does not meet my desires or disposition at the present time [Spiritual Exercises 18].
7. Reject unrealistic expectations.
There is nothing in the First Spiritual Exercises, either of content or process, that I cannot do. I do not need particular education, great intelligence, or perfect health. The First Spiritual Exercises are for everyone. The only thing I need is the generosity to take the practical steps and the faith to open myself to the God who loves me (Spiritual Exercises 18).
8. Be genuine and committed.
Making a retreat is not about being driven; it is more about surrender. While each retreat has four weeks of daily prayer and Sunday Eucharist, there is no deadline inherent in them. My life will have its own rhythms; I need to find the balance between making a real sacrifice and commitment and doing what is sustainable for these four special weeks of the year (Spiritual Exercises 18).
9. Complete all the steps.
The First Spiritual Exercises have a deliberate order and progressive dynamic. I need to be faithful, to trust the order and leave out no steps—even if they seem obvious. Each exercise seeks, not only to bring me to God, but to have me do so habitually (Spiritual Exercises 18–20).
10. When to stop.
If a retreat is draining me and leaving me overly fatigued, then I should stop—it is likely I am trying to make a retreat that is not suitable for me, or not suitable at this time. I am a free, responsible adult; I can choose another time to make my retreat, or try a different retreat, or seek advice from a spiritual conversation guide or director . Or I may choose to make a few exercises that really do attract and help. This may be all I need to do at this time (Spiritual Exercises 18).