We hear it all the time in many situations: Seek God’s will. Thy will be done. Place God’s will over your own. Be obedient to God’s will in your life. Ask God to reveal His will for your life. The list goes on.
We know that we always ought to do God’s will in every situation, with the trust that His way is always the best way, bringing about the greatest good. We also know that when we don’t seek to do His will, we often find ourselves caught up in sin or on unfulfilling paths. Sometimes God’s will for you in a particular setting or in making a decision is very clear to you, leaving little doubt. Other times, God’s will for you is not so clear and you’re not quite sure what you ought to do.
Depending on the nature of the choice, you might experience many types of emotions, including confusion and anxiety. You might convince yourself you are following God’s will, only to realize later that it was your own will. Then, of course, there are the times when perhaps you know, or have a sense of His will, but you resist because of obstacles, like fear or a lack of faith and trust.
Wouldn’t life be so much easier if you could just know God’s will? Then you could carry it out faithfully and confidentially in all things while sparing yourself and others a bit of pain and suffering! Because God gave each of us the gift of free will out of love, He won’t tell you what to do in a booming voice at every turn. Instead, it’s up to you to seek His will out of love for Him and learn to listen to the quiet ways He speaks only to you.
So, how do we do that in a practical sense? There is a book called Pray, Decide and Don’t Worry, by Bobby and Jackie Angel with Fr. Mike Schmitz, in which they lay out a five-step process for discerning God’s will. Ideally, as you practice working through this process with each decision, you’ll become better at discernment. This will allow peace to grow in your life as you let God’s will be done. Now let’s examine the five steps, knowing that each one involves prayer.
Step 1: Seek
Fr. Mike reminds us that the first words that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John are “What do you seek?” (1:36). So, in step 1, you will explore what it is you are specifically seeking in the situation that you are discerning. This could apply to big decisions, like choosing a vocation or a career path, but it could also apply to smaller decisions like how to talk to a friend about a difficult topic. Here, you look within your heart to understand what outcome you are seeking. It could be joy, fulfillment, intimacy, growth in virtue, or any other number of things. It’s also in this step that you take into account the unique and special gifts and talents that God has given you to obtain whatever it is you seek. You’ll also consider your limitations and weaknesses. Since fear can also hold us back, this step will teach you how to address it in order to do what God is calling you to do. It requires self-refection, self-knowledge, and self-honesty.
Step 2: Search and Discern
In this step, you’ll go a little deeper, beyond seeking. Here, you’ll explore your emotions, motivations, and feelings. Are they leading you rightly, or in a disordered way? You’ll weigh the pros and cons of decisions and imagine the potential outcomes, noting whether they bring anxiety or peace. Depending on the situation, you will also have to consider how decisions may cause you, or others, to sin, which would definitely be a con. It is also very common to find yourself discerning between two very good options, which is where you ought to ask God for some clarity. Be aware that sometimes you may feel God’s presence and love during difficult situations, but other times, you may feel He is far away. This could affect your discernment process, so keep in mind that your decisions ought to draw you closer to Him, even when you can’t feel His love for you.
Step 3: Silence
This might be the hardest step for most people. This is the time where you’ll have to be quiet, so that you can hear God talking to you. This is easier said than done. With all our technology, activities, work, and busyness, we do not practice silence well and it’s no wonder we cannot hear God. A great place to go for this step is straight to Eucharistic Adoration, where you can sit with the Lord in silence and without distraction. Even if you’re not capable of doing that at the moment, you can still find quiet and invite God into that place in your heart where He speaks to you. In waiting to hear God’s voice it allows for us to limit impulsivity in our decisions, which can lead to less than desirable outcomes. If you cannot hear God yet, or you’re still uncertain, you will just continue to be silent until more clarity arises. It may take more time than you would prefer, but remember that God’s timing is always perfect.
Step 4: Sort
At this point, you will be close to figuring out where God’s will is taking you, but there will still be details to work through. For example, as Fr. Mike puts it, you may want to participate in an Ironman, but first, you will have to take many smaller steps in training to prepare for competing in such a grueling event. Even with these small decisions, if you practice virtue in all things, it will become habitual. Thus, while it may not seem like a situation requires smaller steps, you will have been taking them all along. This is also the step where you’ll need to identify and remove any obstacles that prevent you from doing what God wants for you. You’ll finally be able to conclude whether you are doing the will of God or not and then make changes, as the discernment process can often be fluid.
Step 5: Step Out
After all of that reflecting, thinking, discerning, and sorting, it’s time to live out God’s will fully and boldly! He gave you all your specific gifts and talents to carry out very particular missions – large and small – and in not doing His will, you squander those gifts. Here, you ought to replace your fear with trust, because He only wants the good for you and knows how you’ll best obtain it (even if you can’t see it).
Trust that He has properly prepared you for what He is asking of you. While you might not like it, the authors are quick to point out that carrying out God’s will is “not about you.” In other words, frst and foremost, everything you do ought to bring glory to God, and second, you ought to love and serve others. It is in putting God and others before yourself that you will find true fulfillment and peace in your heart. So, once you have discerned God’s will for you, step out in confidence and trust.
This week, identify something in your life that needs some discernment. Perhaps it is something that you have been struggling with for a while, or perhaps it’s a new situation. Work through these steps prayerfully and God will help. If possible, take it before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration.
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