How do you balance action and trust?

May 19, 2010 | 65 comments

One of the most frequent topics of discernment for me is how to balance trusting God with getting off the couch and using my own efforts to make things happen. Here’s a recent example that highlights the kinds of dilemmas I often have:

Mother’s Day Out ends this week, and I’ve been thinking about our plans for this summer. My husband and I have decided that it would be good to get a babysitter to help me out a few hours per week, especially since he expects to be pretty busy for the next few months and may need to work long hours.

I’ve put out some feelers out, but so far have few leads on babysitters who want to work the number of hours we can offer. I’ve been praying about it, and if I were to articulate the “response” I seem to be getting to my prayers, it would be something along the lines of, “Don’t worry about it. You’ll get what you need.”

For some people this would probably be a straightforward answer. They asked, God answered, the end.

But we’re talking about me here, so of course it’s more complicated than that. “What do you mean ‘Don’t worry about it?'” I keep thinking when I get that message. “How, specifically, do I respond to that message?”

There is a spectrum of possible responses. At one extreme there’s the option of trust in God to the exclusion of action, in which case I’d put no further effort (other than prayer) into this endeavor. I once heard the story of a man who had an orphanage that had just run out of food. He was praying about it and felt like God was telling him that it would be okay, so the man just set the table and had all the children wait with forks and knives in hand. And, sure enough, there was a knock at the door, and it was someone who’d spontaneously dropped by to bring boxes full of food.

The other extreme is based on the “God helps those who help themselves” view. This path would have me keep working and searching high and wide until I manage to smoke out a babysitter somewhere in the greater metropolitan area. I could pour large amounts of time into exhausting every imaginable resource to find someone. Obviously I should still trust in God, but I could say that I’m trusting in the sense that I have faith that God will bless my efforts.

And then there’s something in between: doing some work, but not putting all that much time or energy into the babysitter search.

What’s the right balance?

One of the reasons that I so frequently have these kind of debates is that I have an odd personality combination of being a type-A control freak with an intense lazy streak. So I could see myself using the “God helps those who help themselves” idea as an excuse to work too hard and try to control everything; or I could see myself looking to the heavens with my best saintly expression and saying “let’s just trust in God — if he doesn’t send a babysitter, it wasn’t meant to be” as an excuse to sit on the couch instead of taking needed action.

I know that there’s no one right answer here, but I’d love to hear how you handle situations like this in your life: How do you balance taking action with trusting God? Do you have any guidelines for how much effort is too much (or too little) in any given situation? If you have any example situations from your own lives, I’d love to hear about it!

65 Comments

  1. P

    I would say that the option you should always pick is, "Do what you can do" keeping in mind the very real distinction that exists between "do what you *can* do" and "do what you can *imagine* doing."

  2. Cathleen

    You pose an interesting question; one that I have been thinking a lot about lately as well. God is infinitely patient with us; I wonder why we get some impatient with Him.

    In my experience, when God works in my life without my specific intention/request, he is rather emphatic and often specific. (Moving to Europe 4 years ago and walking the Camino de Santiago last month are two examples of when I was really along for the ride). So when I ASK for something, or look for guidance, often I simply say "Okay Lord, you've got it from here. I trust that the answer will be made clear one way or another." And then I go about my normal routine. Often, the solution will appear before too long. I don't classify it as laziness…I prefer to think of it as trust.

    Sometimes that answer is definitley no (wow – I'm so glad I didn't do that!) or yes (wow – a friend in need could use the extra cash for a while so I hire her to babysit. Other times, when the answer does not materialize, I use my common sense and intuition and take the next step that seems right. If it's the wrong one, my gut will reveal it because I will feel anxiety and dread.

    That's just my experience, so take what you will and leave the rest.

    BTW, I love your writing. I've sent this link to dozens of friends. You touch the hearts of so many. Thank you!

  3. Dani

    I'm sorry if I can't quote the exact passage, or even who is in it as it is 1 in the morning and I went to a funeral today…but…

    There is this passage where these apostles, at that point just fishermen, go out and fish and they catch nothing after being out there for days. They come back to shore and Jesus tells them, after long days with no success, to go out and fish again. They do so and voila, they catch heap loads of fish.

    The thing is, it was everything simultaneously. There was listening and trusting in God through Jesus. And there was God incarnate telling them to go out based on nothing but blind faith.

    But the most important action is that they physically turned the boats around and physically cast the net. Yes, there was God telling them what to do. But they could have very easily have said "sure, but we need to rest, we will do it tomorrow". And in the absence of understanding, they could have believed but did nothing. To witness the miracle, they had to take action and do it themselves.

    So I think that part of true faith is one part listening, one part praying, one part believing and one part doing/taking action.

    I personally can't just sit there and wait for God to do it or give me some sign… because I think to myself "God is giving me the nudge to do something, and the lesson/message will shortly follow".

  4. Marie

    I cannot believe that you are writing on this topic. I have spent the past few years pondering the very thought, "How do you balance action and trust?" I often think that when I finally find a spiritual director its the first thing I will ask them. So what does your spiritual director say?

    For my part I grew up with a victim mentality. During my reversion back to Catholicism I realized that I was encumbered by fear and that led me to live very passively. So with my new walk with the Lord I became a woman of action! But along came this very topic of TRUST. When to let go and Let God?

    I don't have an answer so much as I simply try to be at peace in the midst of prudent action and ardent prayer.I know that everything comes from the hand of God. So I try to let things UNFOLD. So I continue with action and prayer but don't freak out.(easier said then done depending on the need)

    As far as baby sitters I have had the best blessings through the years. We use to live next to an bible college. The girls were the best! Do you have a college nearby? They have student employment offices that you can post help wanted ads.

    I would always pray to the Blessed mother and say these are you babies please pick out someone to help me care for them. I always knew she would have someone perfect picked out.

    Trust in the Lord's LOVE for you.

  5. Dawn

    IMHO the in between approach is the correct one. You put your intentions out in the appropriate "circles" and make a reasonable amount of effort along with your prayer. Then you trust that God will provide according to his will … in HIS time. This is always the difficult part for me. Patience is a constant work in progress. And accepting if God isn't giving what I had in mind. This whole humility and acceptance thing can also be a challenge. Yeaaaa, I'm still working toward that sainthood thing! : )

    Good luck with the search and trust. I will add you to my prayers, as well.

    Dawn

  6. Kathleen@so much to say, so little time

    Life in the middle path is so much harder than picking an extreme and riding the current. I can't give you an answer, I'm afraid, but I can offer you the encouragement of continuing to discern. Keep up the good fight!

  7. Kristen

    I can't give you much advice about the spiritual aspect of your situation, but I can give you advice about finding a babysitter.

    We live in Waco (90 miles north of Austin) and my husband teaches child development at Baylor University. We have three young boys. We have found the university to be a great source of sitters. There are lots of young women who'd like a small job on the side but cannot commit to "real employment" because of their academic schedules. We have found the school of education and the child development majors to be a rich source of girls who love to spend time with our kids. We always ask for references (and check them) and lean toward students who have already had to undergo background checks because of their university-related work in schools and childcare centers. You could also contact the university Catholic center (http://www.utcatholic.org/) and see if they know of a student who would be interested. Lastly, I will ask my husband if one of his students is living in Austin this summer and might be able to help you out.

    The problem with this approach is that you generally have to be flexible in your schedule to work around a student's class schedule and often you can only hang onto a particular student for a year or so before she gets too busy with school, gets engaged, starts graduate school, etc. All in all our experience has been good, however.

    Good luck!

  8. Sara

    I would note that "God helps those who help themselves" is not scripture . . . it's a Ben Franklin quote. And Franklin wasn't even Christian–he was Deist.

    Still, when Nehemiah knew that his enemies were trying to stop their wall building efforts, he prayed AND posted guards on the wall.

    The thing is, God doesn't have much use for our control freakishness. We far too often use it to try to pursue what OUR goals are. Our attempts to control things and make things happen as a result of our own efforts don't tend to align us, ultimately, with God's agenda–which we are powerless to accomplish on our own.

    That said, as far as babysitting goes, I'd say, do as much as seems reasonable, that you can manage without neglecting all the other things that you have to do that are more important. And if your efforts start making you stressed, or angry, etc., that's a pretty good sign you're trying to control too much and not really trusting God enough.

  9. Monica

    Jen, it sounds to me like you are wondering if you should trust the answer your prayer seems to be getting, which is that it will all work out. And that you feel a twinge of betrayal, that you are not trusting that answer if/when you take action. But the other comments about "both" are right. And you are not being a control freak if you let go of the outcome. Taking action does not mean controlling the situation, and you only get that label if you try against all indications to force your will on the situation and then fall apart if things don't go your way.

    But you did take action: you wrote this post. Sometimes, taking action means doing something else. And as long as you feel like there is something else you COULD be doing to make this happen, then go ahead and do that thing, trusting that if God wants your efforts to be successful, they will be.

  10. tootie

    I've wondered the exact same thing many times. I will keep reading the comments!

  11. Abigail

    Our action part in God's plan is EASY, PRUDENT and DOABLE. For example, you pray hard for a Babysitter. Someone next to you at Church mentions their daughter has just finished the Red Cross Babysitter Course. Your action part in God's plan,is to ask for her daughter's name and number.

    You don't run everywhere asking everyone for a babysitter reference.

    Also, accept NO as an answer to a prayer request!

    For example, I've been stressed looking for a super modest maternity bathing suit for this Spring. (We've got lots of divorced guys in our apartment complex who got me a little creeped out last summer.) After six weeks of looking and I've still found nothing. How can God not want a Catholic mother to look modest at the pool?

    So now I'm thinking a) God wants my husband to take over swim duty solo for our kids this summer or plan b) find the most modest maternity bathing suit I can at Target and then head home whenever the creepy divorced guys visit the pool.

    Neither action plan is "lazy." Instead, both show trust in God and diligence in trying to live out the virtue of Modesty in this increasingly crazy world.

  12. Barefoot Momma

    I tell the Holy Spirit to give me a shove into action when needed 😉 Then it's a matter of trusting that I'll recognize that shove *g*

    As far as help, I know my teens absolutely love being mommy helpers for mommas with littles. They sorely miss having babies and toddlers to hold. Perhaps your local TORCH group might be a source?

  13. Bonnie

    My husband and I usually live by responding, "Okay, God. We think You want us to do this so we're gonna pursue it and trust You to close or open doors as You see fit."

  14. Will Duquette

    FWIW, St. Augustine said to pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you. So I'd say, do your "due diligence" in looking, as you've been doing, and expect God to provide what you need.

  15. Robyn B. @Leave the Lights On

    I just read all the comments and you got some great answers. I thought Dani's answer was really great: you trust in God WHILE you take action.

    I've struggled with excessive anxiety at times in my life. (In fact, my most recent blog post is about National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week.) Counseling and relaxation exercises helped, but what helped the most was when I finally took to heart the words of the prayer from Mass: "protect us from all anxiety." I now pray it regularly: "Keep me safe from sin and protect me from all anxiety!" It lets me relax and not worry, trusting in God, while still taking action. The action I typically take is less frantic (and less thorough) than it would be without trusting God, but I don't just neglect it and expect what I need to walk through the door (though it has, at times). I guess what I'm saying is, I do my part, keeping in mind my duty in serving God by serving my family, while trusting God to do his part—since I know my part alone is not sufficient.

    It's like Noah and the ark, I guess. Noah's a great example of trusting God. He was a wine-maker and knew nothing about carpentry or boats. Yet when God told him to build a GIGANTIC boat out of wood, he did it. He did his part while trusting God.

    How do you apply that to your specific situation? That's a harder question. I have no training in spiritual direction. But if I were to take a stab at it, I'd say… first trust God that your situation this summer will work out. Let go of the worry. Let God be the "boss" while you are the servant. Then do your part as a servant: calling people, asking around, whatever you need to do to find a sitter. (Maybe a pre-teen or teen?) I think maybe trusting God is ultimately about roles… God's role is the boss, or manager, or (most apt analogy) king, while our role is the underling, or subordinate, or (most apt analogy) servant.

    Good luck! (Not that I believe in luck… but it's a nice thing to say. Hey, what would be the Catholic version of "good luck"?)

  16. Tienne

    Jen, this post resonates with me so strongly! God has been saying the EXACT SAME thing to me "Don't worry, it's in My hands," and it drives me crazy. It's like, okay, don't worry…now what? I struggle with this precise problem.

    For me, it's come down to my attitude. When God says "Don't worry," I try to take that literally. He's telling me not to stress out and get all bent out of shape about this decision. It's not so much about whether I keep working on the problem or not, but that I work on it with the understanding that it's not all up to me.

    Also, I've found sometimes He says this to me when I'm looking to Him for a specific answer. With the homeschooling, for instance, I wanted Him to come back with a great reason we should continue that would convince my husband and my whole family that homeschooling was the best option. I kept crying out "What can I do to prevent my son being sent to school?" and the answer was, "Lighten up. Stop worrying. This is My work." And that's when I realized I could achieve part of my schooling goals by sending my son to our Parish school, while also being open to my husband's concerns about his academic progress. I couldn't get there until I let go of what I wanted God to say to me and started listening to His call.

    I think Dawn said it best when she counseled an in between approach. Take SOME action, and then wait on God's time. Thanks for this great post!

  17. Anonymous

    Well I don't really see "God helps those who help themselves" or "let's just trust in God.." as excuses for action or lack thereof. I just don't think of it that way and I don't think God intended for those pathways to be thought of as excuses. Both are legitamate ways of going about various situations and both can be used simutaneously. For example, in your situation maybe God felt that a babysitter would help you so He led you and your husband to decide on finding one. So, call up local colleges, ask friends if their sitters are available of if their sitters have friends who are available, put a post up in your church, etc. Think of all the places that you would feel comfortable picking up a babysitter from, and if none appear from there then just leave it alone for awhile. If it doesn't feel right for you to search intensely for a babysitter then don't do it. We have to trust God, but we also need to trust ourselves. God allows for our bodies and minds to tell us things for a reason. Delays always serve a purpose and they are always for your highest and best interest. One day, in hindsight, you will see why or how the delay worked out for the best. Do what you feel comfortable with and leave the rest up to God.
    "Slow down and everything you are chasing will catch you."

  18. Carolyn

    Jen,
    I don't really know what I"m talking about here, but here's a thought that occurred to me while reading this post. Perhaps, while God may give this same type of "don't worry about it, it will work out" answer to different people, He gives it in a different way to each person. Knowing the nature of the person in your first example, perhaps He gave that answer knowing that it would be interpreted by that individual to really do nothing else but trust in God. Perhaps God could give that same response to a totally different person, and knowing their nature, would know that they would still see it in a need to make every effort, trusting that God would lead them in their efforts to where they need to be or what they need to find, such as in your second example.

    Being new to Catholicism (and really, to Christianity in general), I could be totally off the mark here! I guess I'm just thinking, maybe God gives you this message knowing your unique nature and how you will interpret your role or responsibility in it. Do you have a gut feeling about how much action or inaction you should take to resolve this issue?

    I realize that this doesn't really give you any kind of concrete direction. God is on your side and I do believe it will all work out somehow!

  19. Anonymous

    Ohmyword, Jennifer. I have this issue and that phrase, "God helps those who help themselves", was said so many times by my Mom as I was growing up that it just gets me a gnawing in my stomach when I hear it. I, too, struggle with this same thing and you even bringing up the same phrase really drives it home how badly I struggle. You said it sister. I am commenting with no suggestions but I need them too. Please talk about this again. And again. And maybe even again.

  20. Christine

    Make Yahweh your joy and he will give you your heart's desires. Commit your destiny to Yahweh, be confident in him and he will act. Ps 37 4-5

    I've found that if I really do this the Lord usually does act – even on the silly small desires of my heart if they are in accord with His will.

    I may put a few feelers out for something like a ministry I'm interested in or chatting with a few people if I need a babysitter, and what I need/want shows up in good time.

    If I'm getting stressed about something it usually shows that I am doing too much and not trusting enough. Each time there's been a big thing in my life (jobs, roommates, where to live, moving with a new baby)- when I'm in tears and I let it go – God takes care of it. He would have taken care of it anyway, I just didn't wait patiently long enough. There's another saying that usually fits for me:
    God's rarely early, but He's never late!

    Actually I've been looking for a babysitter too for a month or so, and then God placed 2 in my life on Saturday – when we ran into one of my daughter's teachers at Mass and her teenage daughters were admiring the baby. I wasn't expecting it at all.

  21. TIFFANY

    Thanks for posting this today. I've been struggling with the same question lately. God has asked us to move our family back to our hometown. We are set to move on July 1-our lease will be up then as will my husband's current job here in this town. So far, we have not found a place to live nor has my husband had an offer for a new job. We're trusting that God has the perfect place for us there and the perfect job for my husband, but wondering how much we should be doing to try to find them. So far, I don't feel like He is pushing us in any direction, so we are waiting. It's hard to do nothing though…

  22. S

    This idea of trust vs. action is something that's been very close to my heart for the last couple of years. Having gone through the incredibly slow and very painful process of fertility testing for the last two years, and at every single corner getting a dead end, my husband and I have been asking ourselves at every dead end…what do we DO now? Are all these dead ends "signs"? The testing hasn't been exhausted but my spirit surely has been! Having hit a similar dead end in adoption as well, we have stopped DOING, and have decided to actively wait upon the Lord.

    I have come across a talk by a Fr. Henry Nouwen called the "Spirituality of Waiting" which has brought me through some seriously hard times – and it relates not only to the bigger things in life, but to anything else we worry about. Fr. Nouwen lovingly talks about how all the figures in the NT were waiting figures: Mary, Zechariah, Anna, Simeon, Elizabeth – and all were fulfilled not necessarily by what their actions. He asks, "Can you stay with this pain, live in the moment, and trust that something is being born here that will give you healing?" You have no idea how those words have been seared into my brain. He goes on to say that we all have concrete wishes that we think we know what we want/need, but that those wishes limit God. True patience and OPEN-ended hope in God relies on HIS Promise to each of us, not on my wishes. Trust that this moment is the foundation of God's promise to you.

    There is no pat formula for balancing action and trust. But I believe your expectations have everything to do with God's action. For my husband and I, we are waiting expectantly for the Lord's Word, either to tell us what to do next, or to remain as we are. I'm not "sitting on my laurels" as it were, I'm practically vibrating with expectation just like a little kid in front of the Christmas tree filled with wrapped presents. I'm not "doing" anything per say, but I'm not sure if that's what matters to the Lord right now.

    SG

  23. weavermom

    LOVE the 1st comment – great insight! I will definitely think of this distinction often now. 🙂

    I struggle with this as well.

    I have actually had this exact dilemma. I have a home business and some weeks I just need some help! I find it hard to find someone that I can afford during normal school hours!!

    I would continue to let others know what you would like to have this summer and trust that God will bring the right person. He has already let you know that He will!

    I think He is letting you know that you do not have to lay awake at night worrying about what will happen if you don't find someone – because He either will bring the right person, show the way to the right person, or show you how to make it without anyone. You can rest in that which means you don't have to worry and you don't have to go crazy thinking of every single way that you could possibly find someone.

    Trust is so hard sometimes!!

  24. Anne Marie

    I usually run down obvious leads in any given situation that we may feel we are being called to by God, such as our current discernment process of home schooling next year, or as we did with discernment of the call we felt to adopt.

    Sometimes I will run into complete dead ends and scratch my head wondering if perhaps I wasn’t getting the inspiration I thought I was getting, as we did for many years in the adoption process, in which case I sit down and join you on the sofa while awaiting further inspiration.

    Sometimes a theme will emerge such as a leaning toward a classical education model and then a confirming shove in the overall direction of home schooling will come along, for instance in the situation wherein six of my son’s class mates ganged up and pounced on him as the boys were returning from recess a few weeks ago. Yea, I don’t think he’s going back to that school next year.

  25. Christina

    I'm SO glad I'm not the only one who worries about this! I actually talked to my spiritual director about this a couple years ago and he just looked at me like I was crazy.

    Since then the only thing I've come up with is to have a balanced schedule (prayer, work, sleep, exercise, charity, etc) and if I don't get everything done then I wasn't meant to get it done. If I have the ability to take a nap then I need to take a nap. If I have the ability to work long hours, then I'm supposed to.

    If I'm stressed or upset, and God's peace is not with me, then I'm doing something wrong and I take it to prayer.

    Yet, I OFTEN feel like I'm too far on the lazy side (perhaps cause I have no husband or kids and always feel lazy when I look at my schedule next to a married woman's schedule).

  26. nuntym

    Jennifer, first of all I am very thankful for your wonderful blog. It has been a source of strength for me many times when my faith was wavering, and now I hope I can return the favor, if only for a little, by trying to answer your question here.

    My answer unfortunately is kinda long, so I will post it in two parts.

    First off, is it really to trust in God to "sit down on the couch and wait for God to do something?" I have read your blog extensively (I think…I mean there are many many entries! ^___^), and what I have noticed is that, numerous times, the greatest way for God to show His Glory in and through you is for Him to act THROUGH and IN your ACTIONS! I mean, just look at your "MOST POPULAR POSTS." You converted to Catholicism because of your studying it and also considering your acts and thoughts and experiences while you were an atheist. If you did not have those experiences, acts, and thoughts because you were "sitting on the couch," could you have converted? If you did not post your hypothetical question could you have your realization of the "tow truck driver?" Could you have met your little friends if you just ignored their ringing of your doorbell? Goodness, could this blog have started if your doubts killed it before it started? And so on.

    Second, read the accounts of holy people in the Bible, and also of the Saints. You will see that, although yes there are times where they waited and were guided by signs and wonders, most of the time they just worked hard, and the Lord just guided those works for His own glory. The prime example is Jesus Christ. Did he not live a fruitful 30 years as a carpenter and loving son of Mary before going through His ministry? During His ministry, were not the majority of the people He met and talked and cured were people he met along the way, wherever He was traveling?

    Third, just be honest with yourself. Is it easier to "wait for something to happen" or to DO something? To be honest, for myself it is easier to wait, because at least I do not have the option of failing. In my life, it is much more trusting to God to act because I can fail. When I do not act, it is easier to blame God when something fails. But, when I act with trust, I leave it to God whether it will be successful or not.

    In other words, to act is most often the greatest form of trust in God; not to act is, most of the time, a form of cowardice. And we know what happens to cowards (Rev 21:8). That's why Jesus said that those who wait and ask for a sign for them to believe and act, instead of opening their eyes and LOOKING at the signs given by God all around them NOW which DOES tell them what to believe and do, is an "an evil and adulterous generation" (Matthew 16:1-4; compare Jesus' answer to St. John the Baptist's disciples in Matthew 11:1-6). That is also why Jesus is so fond of curing blind people: it is a way of saying through actions that He will cure our own spiritual blindness, as long as we trust Him. The problem is, people want to be blind so they have an excuse for not doing anything.

    (To be continued…)

  27. nuntym

    (continued from above…)

    Now, how can we start trusting more in God? Well, I can give you some of the ways I try to do it (note the operative word: try ^___^). I would suggest the Devotion to the Divine Mercy. Oh of course there are the external manifestations of the devotion: the prayers, the chaplet, the special days. You can find them here:

    http://thedivinemercy.org/

    But the more important part of it is the internal devotions; the spiritual devotions. And it is as simple (though not as easy, I assure you) as ABC:

    Ask for Mercy
    Be Merciful
    Completely Trust in Jesus' Mercy

    "Ask for Mercy" is to pray: pray unceasingly! Even short ejaculatory prayers such as "Jesus, King of Mercy, I trust in You!" while working are very helpful, and indeed indispensable. Of course longer prayers are very good and well, and, if you have the time, God does expect you to do so, but as I paraphrase St Louis de Montfort, you do not need to do many and long prayers, just pray the prayers appropriate to your state in life very well.

    "Be Merciful" is to work hard, but always not for yourself solely, but so that you can give God's mercy to others for His delight and glory. You will find that, once this is your disposition, even your leisure times will be very good, because you have leisure not to amuse yourself, but because you can love all the more after, and even during, your rest.

    "Completely Trust in God" is the hardest. It means to leave to God what is the outcome of what you have done. In this regard, let us remember what Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: "We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful."

    I however am a very visual person, and when I ever need to remember this, I picture myself in a rowboat. I am rowing towards Heaven: my oars are "Prayer" and "Hard Work". I am guided by the stars in the sky and the sun (the signs God gives each one of us, if only we just open our eyes and trust Him). It is hard to look towards my back, but in front of me is Mary my Queen and Mother, holding the rudder and giving me food and drink, and behind me is Jesus Christ, standing in front and calming the waves.

  28. TXMom2B

    To take this situation even further, I think about some people I know who do not believe in birth control, but they do not believe in NFP, either. Instead, they have as many children as God sends them without limit trusting that God won't send them more than He will provide for. So far, these families I know have, in fact, been provided for. However, as Catholics we believe in responsible parenthood, that there are times to discern family size set limits until a situation is resolved (like financial crisis, health issues, etc.). To me, it calls for a balance–having enough faith to not try to avoid pregnancy if the family can most likely support another child, but still actively discerning God's will about timing if the family has concerns.

    As for short-term, non-life-changing decisions, like the search for a summer sitter, I think that you'll go as far as God prompts you to work. You'll come to a point where either you just stop bothering or you'll want a sitter enough to keep looking. I think that, the more minor a situation is, the more God uses our emotions and wants to tell us his will. For the big stuff, I think he wants us to call in all our mental and emotional resources to discern.

    No matter what, though, I think as Catholics we are called to action one way or the other, to actively discern His will.

  29. Mama Bean

    "odd personality combination of being a type-A control freak with an intense lazy streak"

    i thought i was the only one!!
    lol

    i have no wise or pithy answer to the balance question, though. mostly i read this and thought, 'hey, i wonder that, too!!!"

  30. Debbie

    "odd personality combination of being a type-A control freak with an intense lazy streak"

    That is so me! It doesn't sound so terrible the way you put it!

    Many years ago when bemoaning to someone about our indecision about whether or not to adopt, someone told me "God can't steer you in the right direction if you're not in motion."

    Love your writing!

  31. nuntym

    I realized upon reading my own comments, Jennifer, that maybe I have not answered your question adequately, so let me clarify: it is a false dichotomy to separate work from non-action. They are actually both the same: they are acts of the will. Both involve deciding to do an action (remember: STOPPING or NOT DOING SOMETHING are both actions still) AND not doing all the other possible actions. Going to the office now limits you from going to the church now as much as doing nothing but sitting on the couch and watch TV now, as stopping in the middle of your travel to church and turning around now.

    And therefore, both doing nothing AND action are part of "Be Merciful/Hard Work" oar in the analogy I gave. Both must be done guided by the signs of God around you, in tandem with the other oar of "Ask for Mercy/Prayer," through the resources given by God to you, whose consequences must be entrusted fully to God.

    Now, how is doing nothing done "hard" and well? Do not worry, put your full trust in God. The signs of God point to you that you must do nothing; therefore, do nothing "hard" by making a reminder to yourself to look into your task later, then forget about that task, do something else or relax, until the signs of God again say that you have to do something about it again.

  32. ericakeithley

    You've gotten lots of fabulous comments here about trust and action. My only concrete suggestion is that you might ask some "grandma" ladies from church if they might be interested in sitting for you. I know it might feel awkward, but I've found that they are some of the most wonderful sitters, and that they usually get a lot of joy out of spending time with little ones. Ladies from the church's altar society or choir or perpetual adoration (or any other group that you've participated with) might be perfect for you!

  33. Ann

    I wish i had time to read all the comments, they are interesting so far.

    I love this post, i too am a controlling lazy type A perfectionist procrastinator. I just read somewhere (was it your blog??) to focus on what you CAN do instead of what you WANT to do. I have been trying to "decrease my expectations proportionate to an increase in my discipline".

    So, maybe you are attached to an image of what your help will look like or what have you, and would 'take credit' for it rather than give God the credit, as I often do.

    And, this prayer I have memorized is great, I think it is St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

    "Fortify me with the grace of you Holy Spirit so that I may be free from all needless anxiety, solicitude and worry. Give your peace to my soul so that I may desire always that which is most pleasing and acceptable to you so that your will may be my will. Amen"

  34. Anonymous

    A definitive biography of St. Ignatius said that the famous Ignatian quote is actually this:
    "Pray as if everything depended on you and work as if everything depended on God."
    Not the reverse as often stated.
    I agree.
    What do you think?

  35. maggie

    Um, yeah, that is totally me. Gah.

    At this point in my life I am leaning more towards Doing Nothing. I'm also Type A/Super Lazy, so I feel guilty about it, but the reason for it is:

    My husband took his first week-long business trip the same week we were doing nine thousand things with the sale of our house, plus trying to find a rental. I was absolutely convinced that if I didn't spend that entire week pounding the pavement for a rental, we wouldn't find one. I was resenting my husband, mad at the world, totally thinking our family would be homeless unless I busted my ass that week.

    I found lots of houses (TERRIBLE houses) but one decent house. I made a 2nd appointment to see it on Saturday, the day my husband came home. Then, on Saturday, we went to see four new houses that popped up on Craigslist, all of them fantastic, one of them perfect. IT JUST HAPPENED. WITHOUT ME. I KNOW.

    I felt like God was saying, "Um, could you please, you know, work on your attitude and let me take care of the scary stuff? Hmm? Thanks." So yeah. Trying to work on that.

  36. Anonymous

    Jen, I once heard a preacher say that we are the Body of Christ. While I've heard this often to explain our unity with mankind and with God, he meant it more literally. God is spirit so here on earth we are his body. He uses our arms to reach out to others, our mouths to speak his words, our feet to move in a particular direction. So trusting in God does not mean inaction, but asking God to direct our actions. "Make us an instrument of your peace."

  37. Kathy - Chicago

    What an interesting topic – something I struggle with as well. If I really want something (like a good babysitter or entrance into a school for one of my kids) and there's no obvious reason why I shouldn't want it, I work as hard as I can to make it happen and then let it go. A combo approach I guess. I gage how much I should work at something by how much I want it and how much it is on my mind. I often ask that God remove an idea from me if it is not in His plan.

    Have you tried sittercity.com?

  38. Jennifer

    "type-A control freak with an intense lazy streak" … glad to meet another one! 🙂

    Go with the flow Jen .. pursue avenues that come to your mind and when you've exhausted everything you can think of .. just let it go. Letting go is HARD but quite often when you do, an opportunity will open up quite unexpectedly.

    The type A personality will allow you to try everything .. the lazy part of you will help you to let it go. BUT .. if you've tried everything and really let it go and no opportunities arise .. just accept it .. you were going down the wrong path.

    When you're going with the flow things work out .. don't fight it!

    Jennifer

  39. Anna

    My two cents:

    You haven't gotten any sense from God telling you to put energy into finding a babysitter; you've gotten a sense from God telling you to stop worrying about it. Trust that if or when God wants you to speak up or take action to find a babysitter, it will be clear enough to you at that time (not before) that that is his will. In the meantime, focus on the things you know he DOES want you to be doing now.

  40. Fieryhalo

    Growing up, did you ever ask your dad to do something for you and his response was just "sure"? He didn't move right away but you had faith that when he said he'd do it, he would. Just based on that, if you were one of those sweet, grateful children (the kind of child a parent would want to do things for) you'd say, "You're the best!! Thanks Dad!!!" And, maybe a few hours later, "Hey Dad, I really appreciate you taking care of me. What would I do without you? I love you so much." Talk about a way to melt a dad.

    God is the perfect dad and loves to take care of his kids (aka. you :). He's got your best interest at heart and is completely trustworthy. We're human, so it's hard to let things go; but once you've asked the Lord for anything, I guarantee the best thing you can do is just start thanking him. 🙂 Praise is the opposite of worry and it's worth every minute.

    Your children are your number one disciples so that babysitter thing is really important; God knows that. He cares more about your children than you do (hard to imagine but true). Keep the feelers out but I hope you'll just start thanking your dad for taking care of you and your precious treasures.

    You are deeply loved, my friend.

  41. Jen N.

    I love how you describe yourself as a "type-A control freak with an intense lazy streak." I find I am the same way, and it just kills me sometimes! It feels good to know there are others with this strange personality trait. I wish you all the best with your search for a sitter!!

  42. G

    Jen,
    What God says He means. Trust in NOT an inactive state, it takes alot of concentration & energy. That's what God is always trying to develop in us bc without it we will never get to heaven (cf: unless you become as little children etc.)
    So just take your hands off it and, every time the situation comes to mind, just "remind" God that you're trusting & waiting on Him. No matter what the outcome of the babysitter situation, you'll find by the end of summer you've grown in freedom!

  43. Anonymous

    "God helps those who help themselves" is not biblical at all. There is no such verse or teaching in the Bible. As children of God we should be dependent on Him. He wants us to take from Him, He is willing to give. Seek His guidance. You have done so, and He has answered you. Now, relax and rest. Your work is to seek God and then do what He asks of you and rest. He is working at all times, behind the scenes, ahead of you at the scene. Our work is to enter His rest. Do check out http://www.josephprince.org We are at the dispensation of Grace and through Faith we can receive what the Lord has for us. Blessings. 🙂

  44. MariaLaura

    A better quote for those who dislike the "God helps those who help themselves" might be "Do your best and God will take care of the rest". Do whatever you can without worrying too much about it: talk to people you know about your need and maybe someone will know someone who will be able to help you.

  45. Amy

    My was just reading over my shoulder and saw the graphic you posted. I'm not sure why you chose that graphic (maybe you already know this), but he said he was watching a show called Top Gear. A woman on the show was the woman who designed that sign and others in England. She said that that sign is the one she would like the chance to redo because she gets a lot of teasing about it. It is supposed to mean, "Men at work" but more people call it, "Man struggling with umbrella." I thought that was pretty funny.

  46. Gregaria

    I don't know if someone's already said this, but St. Augustine (I believe) said, "Work as though everything depended on you. Pray as though everything depended on God."

  47. Cheryl

    I am in a similar situation in regard to this summer and trust. As a leader on a summer program for 18-30 year olds, we took a risk and decided to make it bilingual, seeking to have young French folks alongside the English participants we have always had.
    The only problem is, this sort of 3-week training program in cross-cultural ministry isn't in peoples' experience in France. They already have their plans, their networks, their summer habits. And we don't know many in this age bracket. We have been sending out so many feelers to all kinds of Christian groups, hoping against hope to have at least one or two Western Europeans join us… Recently, a friend who works with students responded to my information email with this sentence : "God will send those He wants on the team."
    So, I ask, "Does this mean I just sit back and quit recruiting?" I don't think so. We just extend the deadline and keep getting the word out whenever and however we can…
    (btw, if you know of a young person who might be interested, there's room for more Americans too! Visit http://www.alongside.org for more info!)

  48. Nichole

    I didn't read all the comments so maybe someone already said this but I think it's more about your mindset rather than knowing actually what to DO. I'm going through a similar situation in that I am faced with a dilemma that requires an abundance of faith that God will work something out for my husband and I but on the other hand, if I don't attempt to make an effort myself, nothing may happen. (The situation involves moving to a new city next week where have no house to move to but the job starts and we have to be there regardless.) So my focus has been on not stressing and truly relying on God to take care of us. I'm doing what I can but to a certain extent, there's only so much one can do, especially if things really don't seem to be working out. In your case, you aren't having luck finding a babysitter but rather than stressing out, you should work on having a peace about the situation because you know that God will take care of you regardless of the outcome (whether you end up finding a babysitter or not). I don't think you need to run yourself ragged searching high and low for that person that will fill your need but I think doing what you can, searching out people where you know are good places to look and then let God do the rest. If He wants you to have a babysitter to help out, then He will provide one in His time. And my motto these days is "I know I have A plan, but I don't have THE plan." So what I THINK I need, may not be God KNOWS that I need.

  49. Gina

    That was George Mueller — the man with the orphanage, I mean. His writings have been a huge help to me in learning to trust God.

  50. Anonymous

    Great post – I'm not sure anyone has mentioned this, but my m.o. has become "do your homework and then let God to the rest."

    Of course the problem for those of us who are both type-As and lazy [though, btw I'm beginning to realize that the laziness is a mask for perfectionism – as in, if can't keep my house perfectly clean/ write the perfect article, etc., I shouldn't bother at all] is trying to figure out how much homework to do. In this case, how much hunting/calling/ research do you do on babysitters?

    My type-A but non-perfectionist fiance has been a huge help in pointing out that I should do what is reasonable. In this case, is it reasonable to spend only an hour per day looking for a sitter? Then dedicate one hour. Maybe it is only reasonable to make 3 phone calls a day. Then make 3 phone calls and be done with it for that day. Don't stay up late searching online if you're going to be sleep-deprived the next day (and in turn unable to be present to husband, children, etc.). For me, talking with someone who knows me (and is type-A but not a fellow perfectionist) helps me figure out what is reasonable for me.

    I should add that it is easier said than done, but very freeing when I actually do it! When I do what is reasonable, I find myself living more as an integrated individual: someone who has time for things like eating dinner and talking with friends, instead of someone who is "too busy".

    This reminds me of a post you once wrote on being balanced, but realizing that that means you can't do everything. (Sometimes balance looks like a messy house.) I'd use the same approach to this – trust God completely, then act in a reasonable manner. Sometimes that might look like doing less than you'd like, sometimes more. It will depend on the individual circumstance.

  51. Heidi

    How do I handle situations where I have to just trust in God? Answer: not very well. I constantly pray (probably in an annoying fashion) over the decision even after it has been made, but that does help so long as I don't get too obsessive. 🙂 I also take heart in what I call "signs". I'm always looking for signs that we are on the right track. There was a placard on the desk of the IRS agent who was auditing my husband and me that read "if God brings you to it, He will bring you thru it." I took that as a sign to, as they say, let go and let God. Sometimes the sign is meeting someone with the name of a patron saint (or coming across it somehow). It helps me, a naturally angsty person.

  52. Gabrielle LeBlanc

    A missionary friend took it upon herself to raise the necessary funds to meet their increased rent. She asked her parents to stop sending care packages & send a specified amount of cash, monthly, instead. They declined. Shortly thereafter, a friend who categorically REFUSED to fund missionaries told her that God had instructed her to support her financially. She wanted to write monthly checks & just needed to know the amount!
    Another missionary friend was scheduled to leave for the mission field with $12,000 missing from their needed support. Church friends said they were crazy, they'd never make it. 2 weeks later the money was in & they made their flight.
    I had 5 kids in quick succession. I was in dire need of cheap child care. I let people know about my need & then I waited. My mom thought I should do more. She especially wanted me to worry, as she was worrying. I refused to. God provided me with good, cheap, child care. He always pulls through.
    The more you see how God provides IN SPITE of your efforts, the more you'll be able to trust in His providence. Do whatever is put in front of you, whatever is reasonable to accomplish the goal, & then wait and RELAX. And if you're so lucky to have Him TELL you you'll get what you want, BELIEVE HIM!

  53. Anonymous

    You have already received so much good advice, I can add nothing there. However, I can get you a concrete example from my own life.

    In my pre-children days, I was discerning whether or not I should pursue my masters in theology. I felt like God was calling me to do this but wasn't 100% satisfied with the local Catholic university. Yet I proceeded down this route because I didn't see another option. I had just finished applying and completing on the necessary paperwork for the local university when a friend of my father's, who knew I had a BA in theology already, sent him a flyer for a new graduate program in theology being offered in my hometown. I decided to attend the info session but knew in my heart this wouldn't work out unless it was close to my home and the classes worked around my full time job. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the classes were offered over the weekends (I worked during the week) and would be held at my own parish! God definitely made it clear which way I should go!

    So my only advice is you are doing the right things, and hang in there, He will make His will apparent!

  54. Jessica

    What a great question. I try and balance action with trust by increasing my faith in God. Trusting in God is what makes my action seem effortless. When I'm really in tune with God and trusting in Him, it feels as though He does all the hard work for me. And when I'm not trusting God, even the simplest task feels overwhelmingly difficult. It zaps the energy out of me. It's like my signal that I'm off balance and need to increase my faith again. Thanks for posting this question! It really made me think about faith!

  55. Laurie

    In determining the balance between waiting and working, I'd go back to the foundational proposal. Why do you need a babysitter? Have you thoroughly prayed through the need to make sure a babysitter is required in order for you to be thoroughly equipped to do the work God is calling you to? Or is your need for a babysitter because you're trying to do things that He hasn't called you to do and you're running out of hours? Pray through all of the factors that are encouraging the need for a sitter and if each can be independently checked off as a sincere obedience as a disciple, then it's time to trust that the sitter will be provided… even if He takes the opportunity to stretch your faith a bit by making you wait to know the details. I so often find out that what I think is the main issue isn't really the main issue – it's just the convenient and comfortable one to have on the table for discussion.

  56. Amy Danielle

    The man you were referring to (in the orphanage scenario) was George Mueller. His autobiography is amazing. 🙂

  57. Anonymous

    The only thing that I can think to tell you off the top of my head is that when I thought to volunteer my time to OASIS a part of Catholic Charites. When I found out it was working with and helping senior citizens, I thought "Oh no, I can't work with senior citizens." "They are too cantankerous and set in their ways." Well, I felt a little later on that desire from God to work with the elderly. He placed it upon my heart. This desire most definitely didn't come from me. I had experiences with living with my elderly in-laws and they weren't always easy to live with. I know I wasn't either. The point is God changed my mind and heart about this. I went today to the interview to find out how I can help them. I haven't begun yet, but will soon and I know if God wants me to do this, He will give the grace and probably even the love in my heart for these terrific seniors and I will do the job He calls me to do. It's a peace I have. I hope that helps. Plus, if I am blessed enough to get to this time in my life, this age, I would want the love and respect that God calls me to give them now.

  58. Carrien

    I wonder if I've ever thought about it in these terms. I'm the the mindset that my best efforts and choices are in need of redemption anyway. I do my best to faithfully do the work that I've been given to do, to do what I can and am able. And I pray that God will provide what is needed, that he will redeem and bless my efforts and that he will orchestrate things for the best. For me it's a both/and type of situation, not either/or.

  59. beth@redandhoney

    Hi! I've never commented here before I don't think… but I have you on my google reader, and do enjoy your writing. I don't really have any wisdom to offer, but I just had to say… you and I must have the EXACT same personality type… I too am a controlling type-A with an intense lazy streak. Just out of curiosity, do you know your Myers-Briggs type? I'm an INTP, and have never met anyone with the same type (that I know of). Anyway… thanks for writing, God bless you!

  60. Mary Elizabeth

    Jen, My sister, Susan Curtice, has been looking for some part time work this summer. She has tons of experience watching children (my four kids 4 and under by herself!) and is a student at UNT but home (Leander/Cedar Park) for the summer. I would be happy to send you her contact info if you email me. (I know we are strangers but we have been a part of the St. Thomas More Parish for over 20 years and I am sure we would have lots of mutual friends who could refer her) Maybe she could help?

    Mary Elizabeth

  61. Anonymous

    At least this is just a babysitting dilemma for you… I have this problem with spouse searching! 🙂 How much should I get out there and get disappointed with not finding? Lately, I have been wanting to be like Ruth and just find Boaz in a field somewhere.

  62. Anonymous

    This question and the comments are nearly making me cry. I have struggled with this question for so long — I'm trying so hard just to follow the path God has put before me, and I keep failing. And I keep asking myself, did I not try hard enough? Did I not listen well enough? Did I try to go off in some direction other than what God said? Did He call me to come and I didn't listen?

    I'm a SAHM, and I struggle with ADD, an anxiety disorder, a bit of a lazy streak, some general incompetence as far as having NO CLUE what I am doing, and some behavior problems with my kids that have basically resulted from me making so many mistakes. For the last seven years I have been praying thus:

    "God, you gave me this house to take care of and these kids, and I don't know what to do! What do you want me to do — all day, every day — how do I make this work? Please help me actually do it! Please help me not give up again! Please help me not get angry and wreck everything again! And please answer me LOUDLY, because apparently I'm pretty hard of hearing and I keep missing the answer!"

    And then I try to listen for the answer. I listen to my husband. I listen to other Godly people. I read the Bible. I accept advice. I seek counseling (including therapy and even medication). I make a plan. I do my best. And then I fail. Over and over and over. My husband is impressed if I go a whole month without completely falling apart.

    I keep asking, am I doing too much? Am I doing too little? Am I failing because I am trying to do it too much on my own? I can't exactly get up every morning and sit in a chair and wait for God to send an angel to tell me explicitly that He'd like me to wash the dishes first, and read a story to the kids after. But apparently trying to just do my job and expecting God will give me the strength to do it is wrong, too. Maybe I just suck at discerning what He wants me to do. I have no idea.

  63. Susanne

    This is for the mom above who is having trouble managing her household… she posted anonymously, so I couldn't email her directly.

    I don't have a spiritual answer for her, but the practical thing that really changed my life in this regard is http://www.flylady.net/. This gal teaches you how to use baby steps to get a household routine in order, and is a very sweet Christian lady with some wonderful insights.

  64. Anonymous

    A man was in dire trouble and needed something great to happen to be able to feed his family. He prayed 'God, I need help, let me win Lotto, please'. That week, he eagerly watched the results, but he didn't win. The next week, he prayed again 'Please God, my family is hungery, please help me by letting me win Lotto, please!'. Again, nothing. The following week he prayed again 'Please God, I'll do anything you ask. I just need a small win, please help me win anything in the Lotto!'. And the reply came 'I'm trying son. But you have to help me out. Buy a lotto ticket!'.

    And that's all I have to say about that.
    Ann.

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