Living God’s will: what is God trying to tell me with this situation?

May 24, 2007 | 16 comments

So after thinking about what Steve G. wrote in response to my questions about how God’s will works, I decided to hit him with an example situation. I gave him a hypothetical scenario that is the type of thing that would leave me confused about whether this was God’s will, the devil’s work, or just human error.

I asked:

Lately I’ve been trying to discern whether I should homeschool. So let’s say I’m driving to a Catholic friend’s house to talk about homeschooling, and on the way there, my car breaks down. There are three ways I could approach this situation if I’m trying to do God’s will:

a) Look at it as God’s will that the car broke down — perhaps he’s trying to show me that homeschooling is not the right path for me or limit my contact with this particular friend;

b) Look at it as a spiritual attack — perhaps the devil is trying to prevent me from being around my Catholic friend and getting more info about homeschooling;

c) Look at it like it’s just a random event, the result of a human error back at the factory, that God had no direct hand in.

His response:

…You might be asking the wrong question.

Maybe the real question isn’t what does this mean to my homeschooling decision (maybe something, maybe nothing, how could we know?), but how can THIS incident (the car breaking down) serve God. How can we look to bring good from it?

Maybe, just maybe you really broke down because there is a tow truck driver who is a depressed and has been struggling with faith recently. He is going to come to get your car, and see your bumper sticker that has the name of your church on it, a rosary sitting on the seat, whatever, and he is going to give you an ever so subtle hint that he’s in desperate need of spiritual help. And if you are really looking for God’s will, really looking to see how you can serve and love him, how you can serve and love others, you’ll pick up on it, strike up a conversation, and a relationship might be born that will ultimately lead to this man finding faith. And if you are focused rather on your unrelated question about homeschooling, rather than what does THIS incident mean in and of itself, maybe you’ll miss the hint, miss the chance to help.

Or maybe, you are struggling with patience with the children of late, and what God REALLY wants for you to do in this incident is to take the annoyance and inconvenience of breaking down, and not be short with the wee ones even in that stressful circumstance, so you can grow in the virtues you’ll need when you are homeschooling them.

Obviously I am just pulling these possibilities out of thin air, but I hope you see what I am weakly attempting to get at. If we are really seeking to live moment to moment in God’s will, we won’t be asking what does THIS (car breaking down) mean in regards to THAT (homeschooling). That seems to me too much like trying to read tea leaves. Instead we will be asking what does this mean to my relationship with God and others RIGHT NOW.

So if I were in my best state of mind, my own specific response to the hypothetical you offered would be d) none of the above. My own reaction (again, this is speaking hypothetically as if I were a perfect Christian, which I obviously am not) would be to not really ponder what this meant to my homeschooling, or ‘where’ it came from. Rather to experience that particular moment looking for God in my children, in the tow truck driver, etc. and seeing how I could love and serve Him and them throughout the ordeal.

Then, I’d unhesitatingly reschedule my appointment with my friend. I’d continue reading, learning, and thinking about homeschooling using the gift of reason and intellect that God gave me to make the best decision I can. Likewise, if God wants me to limit my contact with that particular friend, I’ll do so based on my experience with my friend. Is my interaction with them producing good fruits for her and me? For our children? That kind of thing.

And finally, if I totally screw up and make the wrong decision on homeschooling or the friend, it will not be because I misread an unintelligible sign based on my car breaking down, but based on me giving my very best to inform myself and prudently taking into account the good of my spouse, my children and myself. And if I continue asking that ‘big’ question all the way along the line, well, I think that homeschool or not, that will serve them and me better.


  1. Darwin

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Or at least, it’s just a cigar as far as you’re concerned.

    The degree to which God wills things to happen a specific way as opposed to simply maintaining the existence of the world in which they do happen is one of those classic philosophical/theological questions that isn’t going to get resolved any time soon.

    However, in an every day sense, I don’t think one does well to continuously look for signs from God in everything that’s going on around you, especially cooincidences that are tangential to the question at hand.

    At the end of the day, God’s will for each of us is to “know love and server Him, and be happy with Him someday in heaven.” The rest is details of how you get there.

  2. marc

    Ya know, in the message at church last night, Pastor Mike pointed out that sometimes we’re just not going to find out “why”. He used the example from Job…for almost 40 chapters, Job’s friends babble on about why Job was in his situation, how he sinned, how he hadn’t sought God properly, etc. Finally, God Himself shows up and basically says:

    1. I’m God and I’m awesome beyond what you can know
    2. Your friends are all wrong

    He then restores Job to better than he had been…but Job NEVER has his questions answered directly.

    So sometimes we just need to know that God is God, that the judge of all the universe will do what is right.

  3. Emily

    I think Steve G. must be a wise man. That is a really helpful answer and I’m glad I read this post…because I’ll be thinking about how to do this in my own life now. Thanks, Steve! And thanks, Jen!

  4. Anonymous

    Great post. It yielded a fruitful discussion between my husband and me. Immediately what came to mind was, “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
    1. Avoid sin. See number 2.

    2. Use Prayer and the Catechism to help form your conscience. (Growth in virtue is one of the marks of a fruitful prayer life; even if you don’t feel like praying, it is possible to grow in virtue as a result of praying even when you aren’t in the mood).

    3. Once you have chosen to follow Him, know there are an endless number of ways God can form you. Heh. After all, you didn’t choose Him, He chose you!
    In the hypothetical case “how ought my children be educated?” there is no mandate to home school, parochial school, or public school (fyi: ccc 2225/2226). The question is: Each of these strategies has a different set of challenges in educating my child in the faith. Each set of challenges offers plenty of opportunities for you to be formed more perfectly in the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance (ccc 1805).

    4. This at once makes the stakes higher and lower. It lowers the stakes in that you and your children can love God, love each other and love learning in any of the settings given above. It raises the stakes in that no matter what decision you make, you cannot forfeit your responsibility to form yourself and your children in character and the Faith.

    5. “Pray like it all depends on God and Work like it all depends on you.” (citation needed)

    Lecture Mode: Off


  5. Peter

    I loved this post, but I wonder if there isn’t a fourth option somewhere between “God ordains this because …” and “This is a random event.”

    The fourth option I spoke of might go along these lines.

    4. “OK, the car broke down, possibly due to its age, general wear and tear or perhaps due to some neglect on my part. The lesson is to take better care of my car, and also, to give thanks to God that I even HAVE a car to begin with!

    Oh, and I should pray that I am not so consumed with the ‘poor me’ reaction to an inconvenient situation that I miss the opportunity to shar God’s truth and love with the tow truck guy.

    How do I know it’s God’s will to share him with the tow truck guy? The same way the Good Samaritan knew it was God’s will to tend to the wounds of the man left for dead.

    Because he desperately needs it.

  6. Tienne

    This is why I love this blog. Every time you post, it’s something that’s directly related to an issue I’m struggling with. I firmly believe God is using your blog to teach me how to be a better Catholic, more knowledgeable about my faith and more trusting in God’s presence and power in my life.

    Thanks, Jen. You’re saying exactly what I need to hear. I hope my spiritual journey takes me to a place where I can one day understand my faith well enough to defend it with the kind of wisdom and eloquence that Steve can.

  7. 4andcounting

    This has been a great discussion.

  8. Jay

    Seeking God’s will in someone’s life is to keep His Commandments, this is the base.

  9. Martin

    I always agree with the advice SteveG gives you. He’s on the mark and usually all that I can add to his comments is “DITTO”.

    I can’t offer advice one way or the other on homeschooling itself. We sent/send our children to our parish school and diocesan High School and have been happy with that decision.

  10. Sarah

    What a timeless question and a beautifully eloquent reply. Thank you both!

  11. SteveK

    Very good response SteveG. 🙂

    Here’s how I see it. God commands us to love him and love people. This is God’s will for our lives. The details of how this gets carried out, for the most part, don’t really matter.

    I don’t read tea leaves very well so I rarely find myself asking “what is God trying to tell me in this situation”. God has already told me everything I need to know, and the good news is it applies to every situation.

  12. SteveG

    I am thrilled (as I am sure Jen is) that folks found this helpful.

    Thanks Jen for posting it. Thanks All for the kind words.

  13. Amber

    What a great discussion, thanks for posting it on the blog so we could all benefit from it.

    The one thing I wanted to add is that in your example I think you fall prey to the common human fallacy of it is all about me and about what is particularly on my mind at the moment. I think SteveG addressed that in discussing how your example could instead be something to help out the tow truck driver – or maybe it could be a reminder to all those who drive past to get some scheduled maintenance done or who knows!

    I think we can drive ourselves crazy by trying to figure out what each little event in our lives could be telling us about X. I think it could also lead us to a rather superstitious outlook, which obviously isn’t healthy for our spiritual growth!

    Anyways, great topic and great thoughts from your wonderful commenters, thank you!

  14. Melora

    Wow! Thank you for posting this. Steve G.’s advice seems excellent, and is what I needed to hear now.
    I often wonder when people say that God has led them to do various things what it is that they have that I don’t. I pray and try to understand what God wants me to do, but I don’t get that sort of clear directive from God, the sort that says “You should homeschool,” or “You should quit your job.” I do homeschool, and I did quit a good job in the town I had lived in for nearly forty years and moved the whole family to NC so I could continue to homeschool (the good job was taking up too much of my time), and I have no idea whether it was what God wanted me to do. A priest once said that God doesn’t give us a huge spot light that shows us a clear road through our lives, but, rather, a lantern that lights where we Are, and we just move forward in faith, one step at a time. It made sense when he said it, anyway.

  15. Jay

    I was surfing and ran into this post … I really don’t know when this story was posted and I really enjoyed all of the comments. As I live my life following Christ, poorly and failing miserably I might add. I understand this of His will.

    Of course, in order for God to impose His will on us, He needs absolutely nothing from us. However, I do believe that Christ revealed the model for us to immolate.

    I have been happily married for many years and many times I know what my wife is going to say or do before she says or does it. How much more can this be with the Lord? To follow the Lord is to live in a comfortable relationship with him. After all we are the bride.

    My youngest son had this thing when he started to eat, walk and poop on his own that he wanted to stick his fork in the wall plug, I can only guess that it was because we would plug legitimate objects there. Nevertheless, every time he would try do it, we would stop him and tell him “No”. One day he was quiet and we caught him just as the fork was about to ground into the socket and terrified and upset, I smacked his hand and said “No” very firmly, of course my son began to cry.

    My simple analogy is this: imagine God as an adult father and imagine you and me as a two year old toddler.

    God’s knows best and if we keep a close relationship with Him, not just prayer, but a relationship in your heart. He will guide you towards His will and your joy, after all, God loves us and he repays obedience, trust and faith with joy. And believe me, if you follow Him and he wants you to homeschool and you pray earnestly for His will and His Glory in your choice, He will make it obvious. He has in my life and he will in yours.

  16. Betty

    My husband has been having an affair with a very much younger woman but
    for some reason I haven’t been able to put him away. It seems my heart just won’t let him go. My question is could God want us to still be together for some purpose? It has been 3 years now and I just can’t seem to find an answer here. My heart breaks every day over this. Can anyone help me with an answer?

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