Indifference: The Choice of a Well-Functioning Spirit

Several years ago, I made the decision to observe the season of Lent, which was something I had not really done since I left the Liturgical church I grew up in. I chose the practice of fasting, which is not particularly novel since most people observe Lent through fasting… but why re-invent the wheel.  My decision was to not eat anything sweet, but I did give myself grace as many of my family’s birthdays fall within the Lenten season. Also, I need for you to understand: this was an intentional choice of mine. I did not have to fast; I wanted to experience this practice.

It turned out to be an incredibly worthy practice for me. I found I could skip the sweets and be fully satisfied. I learned that I did not even desire the birthday cake! I discovered that my vow to practice fasting became more important for me to uphold than to break it

What I had experienced was more than fasting, I was given a glimpse of indifference.

Indifference is a term used in Ignatian Spirituality. Ignatius of Loyola was a priest from the 16th century, who established the Society of Jesuits within the Catholic tradition. He coined the term “indifference” to describe what was at the heart of our relationship with God. Sometimes the word “detachment” is used, but in our culture perhaps “acceptance” gives a better understanding.  Indifference is a state of being in which we desire God more than anything else. We make decisions based on what brings us closer to God, and what doesn’t. It’s a place where we can choose to accept whatever comes into our path and be satisfied.

Indifference within this sphere does not mean a lack of preferences or apathy, rather it describes a greater desire to serve God despite our inclinations. We let go of anything that gets in the way of loving God.

I think there are several places in the Bible where this seems to be demonstrated:

  • Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet, while Martha is busy being a good hostess.
  • Joseph choice not to sin against God, rather than have sex with Potiphar’s wife. Something in the Egyptian culture of the time which would not have been out of place or frowned upon.
  • Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but Your will be done.”

You may ask: What does this have to do with my spirit?

Well, my spirit is weary. The last few months or so have been difficult. There have been numerous disappointments, a constant drip of worry, and a general, overall feeling of insecurity.

And I don’t think I am alone in this. I have encountered many, recently, who have weary spirits. There seems to be a sense of overwhelming challenge in our lives. While our struggles may be individual, we are fighting to hold on to our trust in God and remain faithful.

Dallas Willard describes the spirit “as unbodily, personal power.” The spirit can also be referred to as our “heart” or “will.” It is at the core of who we are, and the other parts of our personhood (body and soul) function best when the spirit, or our heart, is functioning well.

It seems to be that indifference is the key to a well-functioning heart/will/spirit.

Paul touches on this idea of indifference in Philippians:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:11-13 NIV

Notice Paul says he has “learned” which says to me indifference is not automatic, but an intentional choice of our will/spirit.  He also says that indifference is achieved in God’s strength. We cannot do this on our own, but through the choice of practice, we rely on God to help us come to a place of acceptance in our circumstances.

I think Indifference in our situations is a way of letting go and saying, “Whatever you want God, I will trust you in the place I am.” It becomes a place of freedom which takes the burdens and puts them on God, who has promised to carry our burdens.

Again, when I look at the stories of people in the Bible, I see:

  • Mary risked the ire of her sister and social stigma when she sat at the feet of Jesus. Jesus was pleased by her actions and gave Martha a verbal putdown.
  • Joseph may have been tempted to have sex with Potiphar’s wife. He was a young man and she was likely a beautiful, willing woman, but he refused. The consequences for his refusal was imprisonment, yet he knew that “the Lord was with him.” And eventually he gained freedom, and great power to accomplish God’s purposes.
  • Jesus gave his consent to God’s will, but that didn’t change the circumstances. He would still go to the cross, but it was through acceptance of what had been decided long ago. And His consent means everything to us.

I realize this is not easy. I’m certainly not making light of the difficulty of our circumstances. Nor am I saying I have achieved this. But as Paul learned, often through hardship, I believe we can learn also. We are not alone in this. God may not change the circumstances, but he has promised us the ability to choose indifference. He has promised us “peace without understanding” and that He “will be this us.”

He is delighted when we choose Him and His ways over anything else. Isn’t that what we truly desire?

Grace & Such strives to advance Christian growth among women. While we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we also recognize human interpretations are imperfect. Grace & Such encourages our readers to open their Bibles, pray for wisdom and study for themselves what the Word says. For more about who we are, please visit the About Us page.
Rebecca Montie Preston
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Rebecca Montie Preston

Becky is a Spiritual Director from southeastern Pennsylvania.Her other roles include wife, mother of two, and grandmother of six.She has her MA from Biblical Theological Seminary, and studied at Renovare Institute for Spiritual Formation and Kairos School for Spiritual Direction.
Rebecca Montie Preston
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4 thoughts on “Indifference: The Choice of a Well-Functioning Spirit

  1. Diane Karchner

    “God may not change the circumstances, but he has promised us the ability to choose indifference.” Your writing certainly redefines the word indifference, which i always saw as apathy to something. I think the key that you taught is powerful – it is choosing what to be indifferent, or even apathetic, to anything but God. Really interesting twist on my thinking! Thanks.

    Reply

  2. Sarah Robinson

    You’ve made a good case for fasting and for putting our burdens on the Lord, who is able to do exceedingly more than we can imagine. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

  3. Gretchen Hanna

    Thank you for your words, Becky. Praying for your weary spirit right now. I’ve been in the midst of a pruning year, as well. These times do tend to make me draw inward and realize that I need to rely more fully on God and less upon my own will and desires. If the result yielded is my indifference, then I’m all for it.

    Reply

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