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.
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