A lesson about living God’s will

July 16, 2009 | 25 comments

A few days ago my husband and I were hanging out at my mom’s house, letting the kids run around in the front yard, when our Kidsave child Rita came outside to be with us. She’d been inside watching TV, and when she sat down outside I smiled and said it was good to see her. She was feeling especially shy that day, so she didn’t respond. No problem. I’ve known from the beginning that my job is to show Christ to her regardless of what I get in return, so I put my arm around her and asked her if she wanted anything to drink.

Before we’d left our house I’d seen a couple of the neighbor girls walk by and said hello to them. They were in the middle of chatting and barely looked up when I said hello but, again undeterred, I shouted “Good to see you!” Even though they just kind of grunted a response and walked on, I didn’t mind. God so obviously threw them in my path for a reason, I feel like every interaction with them is an opportunity to do his will by showing them unconditional love.

Back at my mom’s house I was headed inside to get Rita a glass of lemonade, trying to think of what snack she might enjoy, when a blur of color flashed in front of me, causing me to trip. I looked over my shoulder to see a six-year-old boy named Rodney who lives down the street from my mom running off, stumbling right into Rita because he wasn’t watching where he was going. I rolled my eyes and tried to think of a way to get him out of there.

Rodney comes from a good family and isn’t a bad kid, but he’s one of those boys who’s always up to mischief. He recently taught my three-year-old daughter the epithet “poopface, ” and encouraged my kids to play with one of the lawn decorations right after he had heard us tell them not to. Last week my son left my mom’s house gleefully making up songs with lyrics he learned from playing with Rodney in the front yard, something along the lines of “BUTT STUPID BUTT BUTT!” I haven’t yet felt like his behavior has been serious enough to ban him from coming over, but over the past few months I’d become so fed up with these antics that I’d inwardly groan whenever I saw him run into my mom’s yard to play with our kids. Eventually it got to the point that I was just openly irritated with him. Too annoyed to bother correcting him gently that day he tripped me as I was going inside to get the lemonade, I snapped “Just stop it!” and shut the door extra hard behind me. As I came back out he was coming in to use the restroom, pushing past me without asking if he could go inside, and I rolled my eyes and sighed audibly before handing Rita her lemonade with a big smile.

And then, the Holy Spirit hit me over the head with a cluebat.

I received a moment of clarity (which had to have been directly from the Holy Spirit since I was far too clueless to come up with it on my own) in which it suddenly occurred to me: “Maybe it’s about him.” In other words, this could very well be some kind of tow truck driver situation where the person whom I most need to serve right now is someone I’m ignoring because I’m so focused on some big picture of what I perceive God’s will to be.

Over and over again, when God calls me to do something challenging or out of character like extending hospitality to the neighbor girls or hosting a child through Kidsave, I end up pouring tons of spiritual energy into that particular situation, thinking about what the next move is going to be, speculating about what God’s plan is, wondering how I can better live his will in this situation, etc. My motives are mostly good, but the problem is that it’s too easy to start to think of God’s will as a detailed blueprint for one specific situation, to the extent that I sometimes fall into a vague feeling that God doesn’t really care what I do in any other areas of my life as long as I’m doing the right thing with the big project he called me to undertake. For example, maybe it was Rodney as much as anyone who needed a kind word that day when I was so focused on the neighbor girls and Rita, but he wasn’t part of God’s Will for Jen’s Life 2009 as I’d discerned it, so I ignored him.

With all the big discernment issues that have been going on lately, I’m really beginning to see the beautiful genius of what Therese of Lisieux called the “Little Way.” I think that what God is trying to teach me right now — that he’s been trying to teach me for a long time but I never seem to get because of my controlling, scheming nature — is that I need to stop thinking of “living God’s will” as some complicated set of long-term plans for specific endeavors, and start thinking of it as simply an immediate, constant act of selfless love.


  1. Anonymous

    Excellent. Simply excellent.

  2. Anonymous

    Well, that seems to be my thinking. I don't seem to have a complicated or grand gift so I try to take the ordinary things and be happy seeing and looking for God there. Etching out a time each day for a talk with God like 15-20 minutes is my weak point.

  3. Emily a.k.a. Smoochagator

    This is kind of along the lines of what I've felt before – "Yes, God, you want me to be kind and loving, but you can't possibly mean I have to be kind and loving to THIS GUY, too, right? I mean, he's awful!" Well, maybe it's the terribly annoying people that need an extra dose of kindness.

  4. Jane D.

    Hi I'm new to reading your blog but just have to let you know that it is fab! Your discerning spirit filled wisdom is just what i need to hear, thank you x.

  5. Anne Marie

    Big discernment issues you say. I realize an illusion to discernment isn’t necessarily an open door to ask the big question outright but gee, one can’t help but wonder bout the question of Rita’s forever family and the possibility that the little charm Rita chose is one of those signal graces God sends our way.

    Are you guys getting any of those “I can’t possibly imagine my life without this child in it”, coupled with “I can’t possibly imagine actually doing this” sorts of feelings?

    If the question is entirely too forward feel free to delete. 🙂

  6. ellen

    You are so on the mark on this one..so often people get so confused and think by going to church and following rules they've got things covered and what they really need to do is be more tolerant and extend love instead of judgment..

  7. newguy40

    God Bless you for your efforts.

    Perhaps this is small consolation for you, but you were able to recognize this opportunity in time for correction. And, sharing the lesson with your readers.

    How many of us have our "road to Emmaus" moment and never recognize Jesus has been with us. I know I have been so focused on my own troubles that I have often looked back on similar moments much later after the fact and regretted my lost opportunity to serve.

    Thanks again for the gentle reminders… 🙂

  8. marie

    But, also maybe God's will to help a runaway boy is to have you snap sternly at him as he trips you up, no?
    I've had the nicest little neighborhood kids walk into my house, open my refrigerator and start rooting through for snacks. While I find the familiarity endearing, I am shocked both by their ignorance of basic manners and by how they seem to treat me so thoroughly as a peer. There is no clue at all that an adult should be addressed differently than your five year old buddy. I think having one adult in this little boy's sphere that gives him knowledge he has been formerly deprived of would be an act of mercy. . . .

  9. Amanda The Unpublished

    Wow, what a great lesson. It got me thinking about my own life. I'm guilty of deciding what I'll do for God while ignoring opportunities to do something good that are right in front of me because they don't fit into my plan or they aren't in my comfort zone.

  10. Alicia

    I'm having a "moment of clarity" too, after reading your post. Thank you so much!
    Kind regards from Uruguay

  11. Karen

    When I was a young child, my family had two rowdy, slightly older children as neighbors. They often came to play in our yard, because we had a swing set but also (I believe) because my parents were present and available. Did I learn a few indelicate words from our neighbors before my parents might have preferred? Yes. But what has stuck with me to this day is my parent's spirit of hospitality toward these children in need who had nothing to offer back. As a young adult looking back, what affected me forever was my parents' example, not my neighbors' influence. Your children will learn and benefit from watching you offer God's unconditional love to those your family encounters!

  12. MaryLouise

    did you search out Rodney and give him one of your smiles and a hug?

    Given the course of events, doing that would have been a great witness for Rita.

    Keep growing, keep glowing, and sharing God's light.

  13. Anonymous

    Beautiful! I could take a lesson from you!


  14. Marian

    Hmm. Good one.

  15. Anne Marie

    Woops. That would be allusion rather than illusion. That’s what I get for sending without proofing!

  16. Elena

    Catherine Doherty's the duty of the moment is essentially the same thing and oh so wise.

  17. Thomas

    I truly love how you search for God's true will in all your life's situations. It really is inspiring, I keep coming back here everyday to read because your posts are so insightful and true. Thank you!

    God Bless,


  18. MamaT

    I liked this a lot.

    Sometimes in my hectic and jumbled life–one that doesn't seem to have some giant overarching "purpose with a capital P"–I think my job is simply to "do the next thing."

    Look up. Look around. Love the next one.

    One of the books I read this year/last year was "The Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To". If you pray for God to use you, he will send trainloads of people (seemingly) to your door, one right after the other, for you to help. Some only with a smile. Some with material help. Some with a lifetime of love.

    It certainly works that way in MY life.

  19. Roxane B. Salonen

    Jennifer, I have to admit something to you. In the beginning of your post describing this little boy, I couldn't help but think of my own little "dear" who has learned a lot of inappropriate things from his older siblings and has now tainted the neighborhood with his poop talk and other shenanigans. He is child number five, born with a chip on his shoulder, and I think many might misunderstand him. This is not to say naughty behavior needs to be tolerated. I am grateful for the time my nice neighbor sent him home because he would not play by the rules, but I also know it was partly because he was feeling jealous of his brother and her son. The neighbors might see one side of him, but I see another in quieter moments here at home. And I think that's the side God sees most vividly, too. So, truly, this post touched me in a very personal way, and I am so grateful for people like you who, even if not initially, are trying to get it — that compassion thing. We all need work on it, me included. Thanks…

  20. Sara

    I think we see God's will best through what He does in US, not our circumstances. His will is that each and every one of us becomes the unique, stunning, beautiful person we have each been created to be. Every interaction is an oppotunity to be formed and guided by God if we are open to Him. In the end, none of the things we do will matter if we can't step into eternity and simply love God and be loved by Him.

  21. That Married Couple

    Beautiful and insightful, and thanks for the backlink to your tow truck conversation – it's great!

  22. Catherine

    This post was very touching. My oldest son is usually the Rodney at playdates. He has Asperger's and ADHD and has taught all his siblings how to use poop and pee as swear words. Thanks for reaching out to him. 🙂

  23. NC Sue

    Your post causes me to reexamine my own actions differently. And I don't necessarily like what I see, even though I needed this lesson desperately.
    Thank you.

  24. monica_divineoffice.org

    Great post, again, you seem very sincere in all your posts, a bit tough with yourself at times but we all empathize. God bless!

    Liturgy of the Hours

  25. Stephanie

    I have similar neighborhood children like Rodney so I can relate to your frustration. How often do I do these same things? More than I'd like to admit. Thanks for this insightful post! It has got me thinking for sure!

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