So life, right? It just keeps happening and is filled with so many choices you have to make. These choices start off small, as a child. Would you like to wear the pink shirt or the pink shirt with glitter? (Obviously it’s the one with glitter). As we get older, the choices become significantly less structured. From a career path, to what to buy at a coffee shop, our adult lives are bombarded by decisions. I’m not even considering the agony picking out clothes has become (pro tip: it’s no longer ever the shirt with glitter).
I mean, I know some ladies see a super handsome, Catholic guy standing next to a rosebush at their church and just know St. Therese put it there years ago to tell them that God really wants them to discern their religious vocation to the Carmelites, but I have literally never experienced that.
We make choices every. single. day and sometimes we can make the wrong or bad choice. This is all part of life, we are human. We make mistakes, and we know, at least in some way, that those mistakes can have painful consequences in our life. So, with many, if not all, of the choices we make seek to minimize the disorder in our lives. A wrong turn could make you a few minutes late, and while annoying, is not the end of the world. However, other decisions, like drinking and driving, might end your world, or that of someone else.
When it comes to vocation, whether taken in the “state of life” sense or in the “what the heck am I doing with my life?”, we wait for signs or validation. Sometimes we may not get the answer we’re looking for. God (usually) doesn’t strike you down with a flash of light to tell you what do with your life (like He did with St. Paul). Well then, you wonder, how else are you ever possibly supposed to figure out what He wants from you?
I’ve had many conversations where I have literally no clue what to do with my life. But, I’ve been in that “complaining, anxious, spiral-freak out, lost dark place” enough that I’ve also started figuring some things out and listening to the things being said around me in those moments. From this, I’ve managed to come up with a couple principles that have helped this whole “figuring out God’s will” thing come to make more sense.
This one falls under “heard around me,” thanks to John Hall. While we were catching up, and I expressed my worries of what I wanted to do with my life. John shared his usual wisdom and suggested that I consider pursuing hobbies that I enjoyed instead of wasting my time doing things I didn’t even like doing. This makes a surprising amount of sense. If you don’t want to do something that causes you grief or anxiety, then you shouldn’t give weight to it.
As St. Alphonsus Liguori said, “God wills only our good; God loves us more than anybody else can or does love us.”
So, I’m an idealist. I love nothing more than an unrealistic possibility. Once, I ran a half-marathon, and at mile eight, I was regretting it. I wished that I had run the mile before trying a marathon. It was around mile eight that I started wishing I had even just run ten miles before trying this out. I was in so much pain at the end of it. My intent was to power through, because in my head, I never fully considered the criteria behind “actually running it”
At times, we do this when discerning God’s will. For example, say you are married and have a few kids and you experience a reversion to your faith. You decide that you now want to dedicate your life to the Lord and strive for sanctity. Though you can still strive for holiness and dedicate your life to the Lord, it would be imprudent to leave your family behind to join the priesthood or cloister.
I’ve learned to establish my own internal and external limitations. It’s freeing to realize that there actually are limits in your life, and that maybe God put them there for a reason. I’ve become less anxious because of my limitations!
This one comes from another friend named John (like half your friends aren’t Mary or John or Matthew?), when we were recently talking about how I could know what God wanted for me in the next year or so. I was in fact doing the “dwell-spiral-panic tango”, and he finally asked “Well, is this kind of thinking bringing you closer to God or not?” If you are anxiously ruminating over something that is not going to bring you closer to God, then don’t do it.
Many of you are probably wondering how I know this, right? Well, thankfully, God is a good Father, and the Holy Spirit inspired all sorts of helpful tips in Sacred Scriptures. As St. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” If you are doing your best to grow in your love for God and neighbor, and you see something making you grow deeper in that love, bearing those fruits of the Holy Spirit, then it’s probably something you should keep doing.
However, if you are trying your best to grow deeper with God (and this is where a spiritual director can be super helpful) and find that this job/activity/friendship/relationship is still leading you to the works of the flesh (such as immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, choosing sides, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like, as Saint Paul says), then maybe you might want to reconsider, and instead, follow the path that will lead you back to God.
Here’s the thing: God isn’t “messing with us” or trying to make it super difficult for us to see His will, He only wants what is best for each one of us!
Remember, The Father sent the Son because He wanted to give us a heart to know God. He wants us to be His Church so that He can really be our Father. He sent His only Son to die on the Cross to redeem us so that we could love Him with our whole hearts. How awesome is that?
NO! He wants us to know that He truly does love us. He wants us to trust that His will for us, whether it is for just the immediate future or the seriously long term future, becomes manifest through prayer in our everyday life.
And yes, sometimes you will get a rose. Sometimes God will come in a flash of lightning and say “go preach my name to the nations.” However, for most of us, God’s plan will be revealed to us by far more ordinary means. Extraordinary things happen to ordinary people in ordinary times!
Marina (Olson) Brungardt has an M.A. in theology from Ave Maria University and is working on a Ph.D. in Politics from Hillsdale College. When not blogging, she is also a high school teacher, a doctoral student, a wife, and a (soon-to-be) mother. She lives in Chile with her husband and together research topics including cosmology, Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy, physics, and other things involving a lot of math. Check out her blog “Eating Peaches” at www.patheos.com/blogs/eatingpeaches