"The finger of God is here"

July 11, 2007 | Prayer | 5 comments

As I’ve mentioned before (here, here and here), a big topic of interest for me lately has been how to accurately discern God’s will. It’s easy if the choice is between something clearly good and something clearly evil, but what if you’re trying to decide between two paths that both seem pretty good (or, perhaps, that both seem pretty bad)?

Once again, I learned so much about this subject from Fr. Walter Ciszek’s must-read book He Leadeth Me. I keep it here on my desk to review occasionally, and today I came across some passages that I think are some of the best discussions of discerning God’s will that I’ve come across. I thought I’d share in case others might find it as helpful as I did.

Fr. Ciszek talks about an agonizing decision he had to make back in 1940’s Poland: he felt like God was calling him to enter Russia to minister to its increasingly oppressed people, yet the folks at his parish desperately needed him to stay as they were in a horrible time of crisis since the Nazis had just taken over their town. What should he do? How on earth could he get more certainty that God wanted him to undertake this dangerous Russian mission, especially when it seemed like an illogical move since there were so many good reasons for him to stay with his people in Poland?

He gave the matter careful, intellectual thought and decided to stay in Poland. Though his heart told him differently, reason told him that there were too many needs in Poland for him to leave. He writes of this turn of events:

I felt no peace, no joy, no ease of heart at having finally resolved my problem. Prayer became difficult, almost impossible. I felt my faith was weakened, that I had come to this decision by listening to the voice of reason rather than by listening to the voice of God…Most important was the loss of that deep interior sense of peace…that strong spirit of faith in God’s involvement which, up to now, had been such an integral part of all my spirituality.

He decided to revisit his decision. This time, rather than evaluate the situation based on reason alone, he approached it in a different way:

I prayed that I might be totally open to God’s providence, that I would trust only in him, that like Abraham I would be prepared to follow his call no matter where it might lead, without thoughts of self or doubts or reasons of my own. I wanted to be totally open to God’s will, to hear his voice, and to leave self out of it. That was my prayer for guidance.

Not surprisingly, his prayer led him to Russia. Though he couldn’t have defended his decision with a bulleted “pro’s vs. con’s” list of logical points showing that the pro’s of going outweighed the con’s, he knew that it was God’s will. And here’s how he knew:

Immediately there came flooding back that sense of peace, that feeling of joy, that confidence in the simple and direct faith expressed in trusting God alone…I experienced what I had heard before from spiritual directors or read in spiritual books but never fully understood: that God’s will can be discerned by the fruits of the spirit it brings, that peace of the soul and joy of heart are two such signs, provided they follow upon total commitment and openness to God alone and are not founded on the self’s desires. The validity of a call can be tested…by the movements of the soul that accompany it. […]

There are movements of the soul, deeper than words can describe and yet more powerful than any reason, which can give a man to know beyond question or arguing or doubt that “digitus Dei est hic” (“the finger of God is here”).

I have found these thoughts to be immensely helpful as I seek God’s will in both big and small matters. Just thought I’d share in case others might enjoy it as well.

5 Comments

  1. beez

    It’s summed up in a line at the end of the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (please, those of you who think I am a satanic demon from the eleventh circle of h311 don’t flood Jen with spam):

    “We have reached the point where we must choose between doing what is easy and doing what is right.”

    Every moment of every day we face this choice. Opting to trust the God will never, never abandon you if you follow him makes doing what is right a source of peace, but it rarely makes it easy.

  2. Anonymous

    Jen,

    This is your first introduction to God’s great gift to the Church via St. Ignagtius of Loyola – the Spritual Exercises. For futher study I highly recommend the following book – Spiritual Consolation: An Ignatian Guide for the Greater Discernment of Spirit, by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, O.M.V. (Crossroads).

    It answers the $64 question – How do I know that I’m not talking to myself when I pray? Answer – God speaks in the heart.

    Fr. Dan Andrews

  3. Anonymous

    Jen, thanks for another great post. “He Leadeth Me” is an amazing book. Based on your recommendation, we are reading it for our summer Catholic book club. I love it!

    Thanks for the book suggestion, Fr. Dan. I wrote it down and will buy it.
    Potamiaena

  4. Mahsheed

    Jenifer,

    This is a beautiful reflection and I really needed the reminder.

    Thanks so much.

    Mahsheed

  5. Amy Jane (Untangling Tales)

    Makes me think of 2 ideas– one my mother’s conversation suggested, and one from a story my father told.

    Mom said once something that made me ask:

    How often, when we are “seeking God’s will” for what we should do, where we should go, do we consider we may already be right where he wants us?

    ///
    I heard my dad tell my Grandmother a story about a *really hard* first assignment as a youth pastor.

    Everything from the “interview” to the first interaction with the youth was *awful* and as young adults fresh out of Christian college he and mom said, ‘this is so hard is has to be God’s will.”

    I never heard to end of that story, but he made clear that difficulty should not be the main determiner of God’s will.

    This test of “ultimate peace” is what I’ve relied on several times, and it’s always marvelous.

    It’s just when you start throwing in others and their expectations that it becomes more challenging for a compulsive explainer like me.

    I have to decide in advance what and how much to say. That helps, at least.

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