It’s not that I get anxious about things, it’s just that if I’m not up at midnight with a head full of doubts, trying to figure out God’s will is for me, I might actually do it.
So life, right? It just keeps happening (unless it doesn’t, I suppose). All these choices, and you have to make them. They start off small, as a child. Would you like a carrot or a cucumber? Would you like me to read you Go, Dog Go or Fox in Socks? Would you like to wear the pink shirt or the pink shirt with glitter? (Obviously it’s the one with glitter).
As we get older, the choices become significantly less binary, and significantly less structured. I could, being an adult who is also a grown up, wake up and say morning prayer, buy a ticket to New Zealand, join the French Foreign Legion, found a startup, watch Netflix, read an article, drink coffee, or innumerable other things. Even when things like “finances” and “responsibility” and “intended charity towards people forced to interact with me before noon” motivate my choices, there are just so many. And I’m not even considering the agony picking out clothes has become (pro tip: it’s no longer ever the shirt with glitter).
This doesn’t even begin to touch on the panic inducing question: but is it God’s will?
I mean, I know some ladies see a super handsome, super Catholic guy standing next to a rosebush at their church and just know St. Therese put it there years ago to tell them that God really wants them to discern their religious vocation to the Carmelites, but I have literally never experienced that.
As we make all these choices every. single. day., it becomes so easy to experience making wrong choices, bad choices, in sufficient sequence that, well, as Dante put it:
Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path
How hard it is to tell what it was like,
this wood of wilderness, savage and stubborn
(the thought of it bring back my old fears),
a bitter place!
Or, in more updated language*:
You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
Most of us have found ourselves at one time or another in that “dark wood,” that “most useless place” of waiting; such places are somewhat normal parts of life. And when we find ourselves in them, for many of us Catholics and Christians out there, the obvious way out of this tangle is to simply do God’s Will.
The thing is, yes, it is very true God loves us, God is a good Father, and God wants us to be happy with Him forever in Heaven. But, sometimes, we really suck at figuring out, well, everything about that except how to say the words. Remember the whole “Adam, Eve, Garden, Snake, Fruit, Fall” thing?
I think because of sin which confused us as to the specifics of what we want, and because we have bodies and want immediate things like a seventh helping of chocolate cake instead of to practice the less immediate and more immaterial virtue of moderating our desires, most of us have made the wrong decision a time or two. And after recovering from the food coma of seven helpings of chocolate cake, we know that messing up on what is actually the right thing to do can be painful. For those of you who are over 21, maybe try reading “helpings of chocolate cake” as “margaritas,” if you don’t believe me on this.
We make mistakes, and we know, at least in some way that those mistakes can have painful consequences in our life. So, with many, if not all, of the choices we make seek to minimize messing up our lives. A wrong turn could make you a few minutes late, and while annoying, is not the end of the world. However, other decisions, like drinking and driving, might end your world, or that of someone else.
When it comes to vocation, whether taken in the “state of life” sense or in the “what the heck am I doing with my life?” sense, one way a lot of good Catholic people out there can hinder authentic discernment is by being, pardon the pun, hell-bent on figuring out with absolute assurance what God’s will is for their lives.
Meet a cute girl at Theology on Tap? Well she said “dang it,” and Mary would never say that, so it couldn’t possibly be God’s will.
Meet a great guy at a wedding? Well, he wasn’t carrying a rose, and you know that your devotion to St. Therese precludes dating a man who doesn’t come bearing roses, so this isn’t God’s will at all.**
God doesn’t strike you down with a flash of light to tell you what do with your life, like He did with St. Paul? Well then how else are you ever possibly supposed to figure out what He wants from you?
*This is NOT a translation of Dante, this is from Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go!
** This train of thought, though exaggerated, can be an undercurrent for men and women alike. And while yes, we all know those couples (Hi, Chrissy and George!) who have received such a sign, I think it’s important to remember that the Bachelor and Bachelorette stars also hand out roses. So there’s that.