Over the phone, a friend said she had a problem she was unable to solve and that she was resigned to live with it. She didn’t know what to do, she said. So, I offered her a bit of advice.
“Listen to what God is trying to tell you,” I said.
“I’ve never been able to discern what God is trying to tell me,” she replied.
Many times, I’ve been given advice that seemed trite. And, to be honest, I found it annoying. Like, I just recounted in detail my complicated issue and the response was some optimistically simplistic platitude that seemed like a total cop-out.
So, when presented with the opportunity, I did the same thing to this person. While my intention was to give her a way to solve her problem, I handed her another impossible-seeming challenge.
How exactly is one supposed to listen to God? Is He going to pop out of a cloud with specific instructions for managing a crazy family or fixing a broken water heater?
He certainly could. He’s God. He can deliver His message however He likes. The problem is that sometimes we just prefer not to hear it.
Everything According to My Plan
When I worked in the world, I woke up every day in my office and made a list, and then proceeded to do whatever I wrote on it. My list-making followed a general strategy based on the priority of the work and the level of importance of the people who needed it.
If you were the Vice President of Strategic This-or-That, your request was going on the top of the list, with additional requests ranked by title until I eventually got to my own projects. Which was approximately never.
In my life outside of work, my list-making included planning for work, doing those projects I never had time to accomplish in the office, going to the office and answering email. I told myself, and everyone else, that I LOVED my job. God, on the other hand, absolutely did not love it and really wanted me to understand that I was doing the wrong thing in my life.
On some level, I was aware that my job was awful but it’s hard to admit that the thing that totally controls your entire life is terrible because then you would have to acknowledge the ugly truth and do something about it. So, these are the things we prefer not to hear God telling us because it’s easier to continue than to change.
Other times, we in the world do not ask for direction before we embark upon some plan of our own making. We just assume that we’re good and soldier on because we really want to do whatever it is, so we don’t stop to consider if we should be doing it in the first place or we assume that only we know the best plan for our lives and don’t ever consider reflecting on what else there might be for us out there. This is also where we prefer not to hear God because we might be forced to consider doing something other than what we want.
God has a plan for each of our lives, however, because He created us to fill a specific purpose in His universe. When we forget to ask Him what we should be doing in advance of the day-to-day activity of life, we only seek His help when something goes wrong with our plan.
When I left the world to live an interior life, I abandoned all those plans I made to bend my life to God’s Will but first, I needed to learn to listen to what He was telling me in order to live for Him alone.
Listening to God required that I do nothing other than asking God for direction in my life. The challenge initially was that I didn’t always want to do what God asked of me and sometimes what He was telling me to do just didn’t seem to make any sense at the time. This is where the person in the world might choose to just ignore the direction from God because it doesn’t seem to fit in with the established perception of what’s going on in life.
Conforming your life to God’s Will means renouncing your free will to accept whatever direction He gives you. While completely giving up on your self might mean that you have to change the entire course of your life, in my experience it’s easier to take what God gives you than to take what He doesn’t want you to have and then try to make that work outright.
Listen to the Voice From Heaven
In Manual for Interior Souls, Fr. Jean Nicolas Grou explains “we are quite sure, by an interior voice, that God desires some particular thing of us…” He describes intuition, the knowledge that something is true without having proof, that helps us know that God has a particular direction for us in a particular matter.
First, we have to seek out this interior voice (Jeremiah 29:13), then seek an escape from the busyness of the world to understand it (Romans 12:2) and finally, do what it urges, no matter what we think of the whole thing (Luke 6:46).
In The Paraclete: A Manual of Instruction and Devotion, Fr. Marianus Fiege, O.M. Cap., includes Special Exercises in Honor of God the Holy Ghost. The Seven Invocations of the Holy Ghost request His guidance and His gifts to aid in the discernment of God’s designs. It also includes practices for each day of the week that correspond to the gifts of the Holy Ghost and help us to correspond to God’s Will. Practicing these spiritual aspirations helps us gain an understanding of how the Spirit communicates with us.
Since my life is centered on the contemplation of God, many of my experiences hearing God have been in my soul and in receiving God’s grace. He communicates to me in dreams, in light, in measures and in order. I can also feel His presence sensibly. Finally, He communicates with me through the experience of joy. All of these allow me to develop an impression of God’s desire of me and help me in my silent prayer and worship to get closer to Divine union with God.
In The Practice of Christian and Religious Perfection V. I, Fr. Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J. says, “One of the greatest benefits enjoyed by the faithful is a confidence in God and an assurance that nothing can happen to them.” My life, while not free of struggle, is free of stress and anxiety. I am confident that all aspects of my life will work out according to a greater plan in the time God designates. In other words, by taking my self out of the picture, there’s less chance I’ll mess everything up.
Truth: The Armor of Light
When the truth about ourselves is counter to the essential goodness of God, it’s easier to live in the dark than to acknowledge our own evil. Persisting in ignorance protects us from reality and helps us maintain our manufactured perception of ourselves. Refusing to see ourselves for who we really are, however, renders us deaf to God and extinguishes the Spirit within us.
As we obstinately continue on our own path, ignoring the frequently obvious problems we create in our lives, God sometimes speaks to us through other people. These people come to us and shine a light into our darkness, forcing us to acknowledge what we’re trying to hide from our own consciousness. Because of their grace, they are able to get through to us and we finally acknowledge the ugliness of our sin, able to leave it behind.
On the first Sunday of Advent, St. Paul told the Romans to wake up and begin a new life. Sometimes, we get lucky and someone like St. Paul appears in our lives to tell us we’re living in darkness and, for whatever reason, we hear it at last. We finally wake up with the courage to start over.
As we prepare for Christmas, we have the particular opportunity to acknowledge all the hidden ugliness that we try to deny. We only have to stop pretending we can’t see the truth. By leaving the darkness, we can protect our souls from the damage done by persisting in sin. We can begin a new day by putting on Christ.
Fiege, O.M. Cap. Fr. Marianus, The Paraclete: A Manual of Instruction and Devotion. TAN Books, 1899.
Grou, Fr. Jean Nicolas, Manual for Interior Souls: A Collection of Unpublished Writings. Wentworth Press, unpublished work.
Rodriguez, S.J. Fr. Alphonsus, The Practice of Christian and Religious Perfection Vol. I. St. Athanasius Press, 1882.