Encountering a decision whether big or small can often bring about a great amount of anxiety. At times indecision can destroy inner peace and can even have a major crippling effect on one’s spiritual welfare as well as psychological progress. Procrastination is often caused by inability to make a decision for fear of failure. Perfectionists are known to be diagnostically the worst procrastinators simply because of the fear of making a mistake. These persons are experts at catastrophizing and often imagine the worst case scenarios. On the other hand, there are others who might be very impulsive and do things without a thought or a prayer beforehand. Such persons could even be viewed as being ruled by their passions.
Making a decision can truly be difficult.
Must it be done alone? Does our soul sing the ballad of “I did it my way” or is there a deep desire to do things according to the will of God? Do we want to completely abandon ourselves to God’s will? Or do we want His help only when it is convenient? Or are we so clever, modern, and wise that we can handle things just fine without any help whatsoever from the Divine? In the first step of making a decision, we might need to decide once and for all if we sincerely do want to follow God’s will. Some of us might do this unconsciously.
But most of us at some level truly do want God’s will for our lives but are afraid of what that might entail, especially if we believe it means giving up something or losing control. Giving into God’s direction for our life requires humility. Humility is not about being a doormat, but rather is about being aware of our place in relationship to God. In fact it is a very uplifting and liberating position to be humble. This involves the realization that we are created in the image and likeness of God and are uniquely and unconditionally loved by Him. In this respect He wills the utmost best for us. It is acknowledging that God is all good, all powerful, and all knowing. Let’s just get this straight: God doesn't cause the tragedies but rather He is here to help us get through them.
So then, once set on following God’s will how does one go about determining what it is?
First get in contact with God. How can we hear and receive from Him when we are truly out of touch? Obviously spending time in prayer is important. There are different types and approaches to prayer. The most effective prayer is the one that comes from a sincere and pure heart. Prayer can be done in one’s own home, in a car, or even in a closet. But it can also be done in a Church. If one wants to truly pray where Jesus is physically present, find a Catholic Church that offers adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. This is where a consecrated Host is placed in a monstrance on an altar. One can also pray to God present in the Tabernacle in the Catholic Church.
Participate in the Sacraments of the Church. This involves going to Mass and receiving the graces from the Sacraments such as Holy Communion. Also if one has not been to Confession in a while and is aware of any mortal sins, it is a good idea to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. These are great sources of strength for the journey and aid in the discernment process. This also frees the soul from any junk that might be obstructing the working of God’s grace.
Listen to God working in your heart and life. In addition to speaking to God, a person must also learn to listen, and to be open to God’s voice. Most of us wish for God to flash before us a billboard with the all the answers. But most likely the answers come in more subtle ways. Sometimes the message is sent through others and in the circumstances in our lives. A person must be in touch with their intuition and any tugs of the heart. This is especially true in determining one’s vocation. However, there is a danger in following one’s unbridled passions.
One must apply virtue when making a decision. St. Thomas of Aquinas defines virtue as the habit of doing good and that it is the “golden mean” between excess and defect. “The virtuous act is one that is neither excessive nor deficient. So for example courage is neither foolhardy nor cowardly, and temperance is neither total abstinence nor gluttony. Humility is neither arrogance nor subservience. Perseverance is neither obstinacy nor capitulation. One might understand this ‘golden mean’ as balancing our desires with reason ” (Bennett, A & L. The Emotions that God Gave You. 2011, pg 83). Discernment must be done with prudence and measured against God’s 10 Commandments.
Make sure the decision does not violate any of the 10 Commandments. A good way to determine if a decision is part of God’s will is to measure it against the 10 Commandments. For example if someone is contemplating having an abortion, putting it up against the 10 Commandments will inevitably reveal that such would not be according to God’s will because He would not have us violate His own laws. Also consulting with the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a great source of help.
Ask for help and respect those in authority. Seek out spiritual direction and/or counseling. God can often speak His message through others, especially those who have been given authority or put in a role of guidance over us. Asking for the assistance of the Blessed Virgin Mary by praying a rosary and looking to the examples in the lives of the Saints can also help. The lives of the Saints provide excellent templates in how to live holy lives and how to make decisions according to the will of God. St. Faustina once said, “When I do not know what to do, I question love, for love is the best counselor!” St. Augustine is known to have said, “Love and do whatever you want.”
What do I do if I am still clueless?
It is not uncommon that we do all of the right things in trying to seek out God’s will and we are still in the dark. For whatever reason we cannot seem to see God’s message clearly or God is simply silent. Rather than losing our internal peace, there is a solution according to Fr. Jacque Philippe:
“But it may happen that the Lord does not respond to us. And this is completely normal. Sometimes, He simply leaves us free and sometimes, for reasons of His own, He does not manifest Himself. It is good to know this, because it often happens that people for fear of making a mistake, of not doing the will of God, seek at any price to have an answer. They increase their reflections, their prayers, they open the Bible ten times looking for a text in order to obtain a desired enlightenment. And all this is troubling and disquieting more than anything else. When the Lord leaves us thus in incertitude, we must quietly accept it…In effect, this capacity to decide in incertitude, in doing that which seems to us best…there is an attitude of confidence and abandonment: ‘Lord, I have thought about it and prayed to know Your will. I do not see it clearly, but I am not going to trouble myself any further… I am deciding such and such a thing because , all things carefully considered, it seems to me the best thing to do. And I leave everything in Your hands. I know that , even if I have made a mistake, You will not be displeased with me, for I have acted with good intentions. And if I have made a mistake, I know that You are able to draw good from this error” (Searching for an Maintaining Peace, pp 72, 74).
Most of us know that sometimes the best laid plans can initially lead to some terrible disasters. But It is good to know that no matter what happens God can make something good out of even out of our worst case scenarios.