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Catholic Spiritual Direction

How can I know the will of God in my life? – Part II of II

June 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, God's Will

Dear Father John, How can I know what the will of God is in my life? I have been suffering physically for almost a year. I have been praying for healing and others have been praying for me. How do I know if it is God’s will that I continue suffering? I don’t know whether to keep on praying for healing or to just accept this suffering as God’s will. I pray that I may know His will but so far can’t figure out what it is.

After covering the basic ideas regarding God’s will in our previous post, we can now answer your question specifically.

How Long Is Too Long?

Your first question, then, can be answered like this: You can know the will of God in your life through the commandments and the responsibilities of your calling (God’s indicative will), and through the circumstances outside of your control that God permits (God’s permissive will). The physical suffering you are facing is clearly a circumstance that seems out of your control; it would most likely fit into the category of God’s permissive will.

Your second question, though, is harder to answer. How long should you pray to be delivered from this suffering? A few reflections may help you have greater peace in this difficult dilemma.

Pray Freely

First, praying to be delivered from suffering is fine. It is one of the fruitful responses to suffering, because through that prayer we exercise our faith, hope, and love for God, along with the precious virtues of humility and perseverance. Jesus prayed for deliverance in Gethsemane. St Paul prayed to be delivered from the “thorn in his flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). But, this prayer of petition should always be offered with a condition: “Lord, let me be healed of this affliction, if it be your will.” We have to trust that if his answer to our prayer is “no” or “not yet,” that answer flows from his infinite love and wisdom, even if we don’t particularly like it.

Accepting God’s Current Answer

Second, as long as God has not healed you, either through a miracle or through the natural, prudent steps that you have taken (medical attention, for example), we know that he is still permitting your suffering. In that sense, it is his permissive will for you to continue bearing this cross. So, for now, this is part of God’s will for you.

I say “part” because God’s indicative will still applies. Even in the midst of our sufferings, we must strive to remember that by following the commandments and fulfilling the responsibilities of our state in life, we are glorifying God, building his Kingdom, and following Christ. We should try to avoid letting our crosses blind us to the integral picture of our Christian discipleship (which includes continued participation in the Sacraments, prayer, and loving others as God has loved us).

Learning to Live with Mystery

Third, on a very practical note, it is not always easy to know when to stop praying for a particular petition. In the Gospel, Jesus exhorts us to “pray continually and never lose heart” (Luke 18:1), and even tells us a couple of parables to illustrate the point (see Luke 18 and Luke 11). He also promises: “Ask and you shall receive” (Matthew 7:7). And yet, St. Paul had the experience of asking for the thorn in his flesh to be removed – repeatedly – and God did not give him what he asked for.

There is a mystery here. St Augustine explains that God sometimes refrains from giving us the specific thing we ask for, because he wants to give us something better; he wants to respond to a deeper desire from which the specific petition flows.

Learning from St. Paul and a Practical Tip

Perhaps in your case St. Paul’s example can be helpful. He kept asking for the thorn in his flesh to be removed, until he received this answer from God: “My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). With that answer, he no longer felt a need to ask for healing.

As long as you feel in your heart the desire to be healed of your affliction, continue to bring your petition to the Lord. But in order to avoid becoming obsessed with or confused by the painful situation and God’s mysterious response, perhaps it would be helpful to make your petition in the form of an established devotion. For example, you can make the Nine First Fridays devotion for this intention. Or you could do a novena to St. Pio Pietralcina or to Our Lady of Good Remedy during the first nine days of every month. By circumscribing your petition for healing within an established devotion of some kind, you can be at peace that you are doing your part (persevering and not losing heart), while not letting your struggle disturb or dominate all the other aspects of your Christian discipleship.

You can be assured that I will join my prayers to yours, that God’s will be done, and that you find the peace that comes from God’s embrace even as you share in the pain of his Cross.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", "Inside the Passion"--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation".

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  • Becky Ward

    Fr. John, YOU ROCK!!  :)

    This is splendid advice!!  Thank you!

  • JoFlemings

    LOVE THIS POST! Thanks Father (et al!) :O)

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  • Maria Fatima

    Thanks u Fr.John,4 years refugee life let me understand  what is  the will of God ?And Mystery  of God. I was lost many peoples in my life,it is so  much pain,sometime i thinks where is God?I have 4 times nearly die but i still alive,i always pray for die when i  was sick no food no money,than one day i dreamed heaven so peace there,i am not afaid of die any more,i was dream St.Padre Pio
    Who give me blessing n show me his hand ,God let me know he is around me though many way,now i understand why St.Theresa said pain is love from God,that make me more near to God. 

    • Carreondealba

      Dear Maria:
      Don’t lose hope. You’re obviously a VERY strong woman and God has a reason for everything even if we don’t understand it or like it. I send you all my love and prayers.

  • Tapinu33

    Faith is so much easier when you explain it!! Thank you so much Father. God Bless You and this site.

  • Christophermoran2000

    That was a complete response/answer – thank you. To whomever asked the question: Do you realize that by sharing your concerns, your suffering, your question, that you have added to the spiritual life of all who follow this correspondence (and beyond), including the one who answered your question? And, perhaps saved many souls in the process as a result? As I was reading part 2 of 2, I was reminded of St. Monica, and the many years she spent in prayer for the conversion of her son St. Augustine. At this point in my journey, prayer has become a communion, a duet of the soul with my God. For me it is more than wanting or needing, it is BEING with Him at that moment in time. I’m thinking of the “bennies” of getting older now and it makes me smile, thank God. My prayers now usually end or begin with “if it please My Lord.”
    I remember once hearing a country song about a man who fell madly inlove with a woman. All he wanted was her, and he prayed to God non stop for a long time that she would become his wife, and for a long time God’s answer was no. Then he met another woman, and his affections were redirected to her – and they were so perfectly matched that they got married, and he thanked God non stop from that point on that He said no to his prayers all that time.
    I am a strong believer in prayer, but have learned that prayer is incomplete without trust – so now I try to include trust each time I ask or need anything.  Truth be told, without Jesus or prayer, I could not have survived many tragedies in my life to date – including those ongoing. You are in my prayers, thank you for the opportunity to pray for someone other than myself. St. Pio and Our Lady of Good Remedy will be hearing from me as well, on your behalf. Chin up :)
    God Bless.

    • Kathy

      As the one who asked the question, my suffering which has gone on for 64 years keeps me from having a more complete relationship with God.  There are times when I cannot even pray anymore.  Yet, if as you say, my suffering contributed to the spiritual life of others, then I believe it is worth it.  I am just so tired.  Since I am having such a difficult time praying, I ask for everyone’s prayers that I embrace this suffering rather than to keep trying to run away from it and most importantly that from this suffering I finally can come to have peace with God and myself.  Thank you, Father John, for your most insightful words.

      • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

        Dear Friend – I am so very sorry for your suffering and grateful that Fr. John’s response was helpful. I have suffered a great deal as well but I would never seek to compare one person’s suffering to another. I wonder if your vision of a “complete” relationship with God rules out a vision that God is seeking to provide you. There is no doubt in my mind that you are seeking him. That as a given, are you seeking a relationship in a manner that he has not desired for you? This can be a very painful situation on top of all the other challenges of life. Some of the mystics have said that there are times when those who are suffering don’t realize that God is very near to them and working in and through them. May it be so with you and may he help you to see what he desires for you. Blessings and be assured you are in our prayers.

      • Ana

        Dear friend, I will be praying with you and for you. God bless you

      • http://twitter.com/hyldad Diane Duggan

        I will pray for you.  I know it is hard not to lose hope, but God is always with us.

      • Christophermoran2000

        I think the question that you raised, in and of itself, is profound, very important. The courage you found in posing that question publically, demonstrates a great affection for God, publically. I would assume that some who follow this discourse, are those descerning the possibility of religious life (those include me). Because you had the courage to pose this question, my thoughts go deeper into my own process of desernment. Now… I know that I don’t need a collar to do His Will, or to live a life that is more pleasing to Him. But don’t you see, that your courage has touched the lives of many people – this one for example. Your question made me think in terms of “desire,” i.e., this desire is indicative of something greater than myself. Not sure if you are familiar with St. John of the Cross, and his “Dark Night of the Soul,” but I have been through several dark nights, and although they can be frightening (at times), because I can find no security within them (including God at times) or in prayer for that matter, each time has brought me to a deeper level of faith. It’s as if the intensity of the darkness (of that moment) is relative to the brightness of God. I know now, that I am standing in the shadow of Jesus Christ Himself Who stands between God and myself during those times, hard to explain in words – but there’s my feeble attempt. It “feels” like God is distant, maybe even nonexistant, but nothing could be farther from the truth. God is VERY much present during those dark nights. And you, dear soul, if my faith, experience with truth and a Loving God who is LOVE and TRUTH itself means anything, I am certain your prayer will be answered. Your courage to pose this question has caused this soul to go deeper. Thank you. May the Love of God hear and answer your prayer, and with great speed. In Jesus Name. Have a blessed day.

      • Stephen

        I wish I could just hold you and weep with you–I love you in Christ,but more importantly,Jesus Christ holds you,and loves you with an everlasting love–believe this,and “be not afraid”.Here is a little paragraph from St.Alphonsus Ligouri:
        “You are not able to pray;that is,you cannot meditate.But can you not make acts of resignation to God?Now,what more delightful prayer could you offer,than to embrace with love this cross,which it has pleased God to send you?You will thereby imitate St.Vincent de Paul,who,when he was dangerously ill was satisfied with placing himself in the presence of God,and without forcing himself to apply to any particular point,made from time to time,acts of love,confidence,thanksgiving,and still oftener,of resignation,particularly when his pains increased.St.Francis de Sales said,that tribulations considered in themselves are frightful,but considered in relation to the will of God,are lovely and delightful.
        You cannot pray;but what better prayer than to cast your eyes from time to time on the crucifix,and to offer up the pains which you endure,in union with the immense sufferings of Jesus Christ on the cross?”

        From:The Love of our Lord Jesus Christ reduced to Practice;ch.XIV,4

  • Stephen

    St.Alphonsus Ligouri writes:
    “Let us be convinced that we cannot enjoy true peace of heart in this valley of tears,unless we suffer tribulations and crosses with patience,and the desire of pleasing God.Such is the alternative to which sin has reduced us.The state of the saints on earth is one of suffering and love;that of the saints in heaven is one of enjoyment and love.Father Paul Segneri,in order to encourage one of his penitents in suffering,advised him to write these words at the foot of his crucifix:This is the way to love.It is not even suffering,but the desire of suffering for the love of Jesus Christ,which really proves that we love Him.What can be more precious,said St.Teresa,than to have a certainty of pleasing God.But,alas! the greater part of mankind are terrified at the very name of crosses,humiliations,and sufferings.Nevertheless,we sometimes find souls who esteem it their greatest happiness to suffer for the sake of pleasing God,and who would almost be inconsolable,if they lived without sufferings in this world.The sight of Jesus crucified,said a pius person,makes the cross appear so lovely in my eyes,that I fancy I could not be happy without sufferings:the love of Jesus is recompense enough for all.What advice did the Savior give to him who desired to follow him?(Lk.IX,23) It was to take up and carry his cross.But we must take it up and carry it,not by compulsion,or with repugnance,but with humility,patience,and love.”
     From: The Love of Our Lord Jesus Christ reduced to Practice Ch.V,9

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  • Ana

    Thank you F. John, your explanations are beautiful and clear.

  • Christophermoran2000

    Thank you Fr. John. That about as complete as one could get on this subject. What you had to say was very clear. Thank you again.

  • Luis Marasigan

    Everything that happens is God’s Divine Will, be it good or evil otherwise He will not be almighty and omnipotent.   Therefore, He is in control of everything.  Satan can do only so much as God wills and permits.  He asked God’s permission to afflict Job and It was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus in the dessert to be tempted by Satan.  (So God willed that Jesus be tempted by Satan.)  Suffering is a condition for us to enter Heaven.  Acts 14:22: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”  Suffering is our purgatory on earth if we accept it.  Innocents suffering has a place in God’s redemptive plan.  We must be Christ like to get to Heaven not only in His virtues but also in His sufferings.  The more we suffer on earth, the more glorious we will be in Heaven.

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Yes, but one caution from the first chapter of James, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” We need to be careful ascribing evil or the effects of evil to God. The post clarifies the distinction very well between God indicative will and his permissive will. We really shouldn’t try to boil this down to succintly less we lose critical distinctions that then seem to place God in the position of imposing evil. Pax

  • Arkocobbaha

    The problem of evil/suffering baffles not only you but al believers. Remember Job and Christ’s own agony in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father if it is possible let this cup come pass from me. Not my will but Thy will be done”. I thank Father for having explained the situation fully to you. Keep the faith up. I will also add my prayers to yours and Fellow Members of the Household of Faith so that “the Glory of God” may be revealed>
    Fr Albert

  • Stephen

    Here is a link,admittedly,on a different subject,but,as you will see,it is the foundation from which this teaching of “surrender”is built.
    http://www.franciscan-sfo.org/ap/hu/ha1-1.htm

  • Kathy

    Thank you all for your encouragement and your prayers for me.  I am still no closer to a solution.  Sometimes, as in my case, such intense suffering sort of “blinds the mind” and makes thinking and discernment impossible.  Due to my financial and physical problems, finding a spiritual director is also impossible for me.  I just don’t know how to go it alone, as I cannot trust my thinking and judgment anymore.  I am at the point right now where I don’t understand anything I read, not even the Bible.  I need help from someone, but that has been denied me.  However, I still will never stop loving God even though I don’t understand Him and probably never will. Again, my heartfelt thanks to all of you for your love and concern for me.

    • Becky Ward

      Kathy,

      You are not alone!

      One of the most important things we learn from the Saints and other spiritual masters of the Church is this: It is precisely when we feel most alone and abandoned on our spiritual journey that God is the closest to us!

      Think of Jesus on the cross.  He was confused and felt abandoned too.  He does understand, and He has given us His promise that He will be with us, even until the end of time.

      I believe that the knowledge you have of not being able to trust your thinking and judgment may actually be a gift, and that the Lord is guiding you to place all your trust in Him.  I went through a period of time like this when I didn’t even know if I should pray at all because I didn’t know what God’s will was….and maybe I was praying for something that was not in the best interest of the souls involved.  Our minds (and the devil) present many ideas to confuse us, Trust in God’s love for you.

      Finally, we will never be able to fully understand God.  He is infinite; we are finite. But He does love us more than we can comprehend, and He grants us the grace to know Him, He wants us to know Him! and know about Him so that little-by-little we ARE able to understand Him to some degree.  Each little insight is a delightful gift that encourages us to keep going!  :)

      Sending angels with hugs!

    • Guest

      My Dear Kathy, believe this with all your heart and soul.  Right now, in this deep suffering and pain, Jesus is carrying you because you cannot walk along Him.  When the time comes, and you are strong enough, He will put you down, and you will both merrily march together and you will find peace of mind you never imagined. God loves you with such a strong, personal and determined way, with an intensity which only God can because His Mercy is Eternal. He is using your sufferings to save very, very many souls.  Becky 313 will agree with me.  You are on the path of Saint. Faustina.  Walk By Faith and forget Walking by Sight. Angels are accompanying you, too, that is why you still love God in spite your agonies.  And the Saints in Heaven are praying for you.

  • Guest

    Thank you, Fr. John.  Your explanation and the views of the respondents have enriched and encouraged very many of us who are struggling with long-term suffering. May God bless the person who posted this question. I pray the Post has brought comfort and revealed Christ to her who is always closely united to those who are suffering.

  • Schinmd

    If you feel that you cannot pray or understand God’s Will in your predicament, I would just turn the whole problem over to Jesus and let Him figure it out.  Except each day as it comes, knowing that He knows exactly how you feel and try to think that your pain and it’s outcome you have given over to Him and even when you cannot see Him, He is extremely close to you.  “Jesus, I trust in You”.  You will know that you have given the outcome to Him and you can rest more peacefully when you know that He is in control,  Not an easy thing to do but worth it. I will now say a prayer for your relief.

    • Kathy

      Thank you so much for your advice.  I was going to start a novena to Our Lady of Good Comfort today, but because of my predicament, I really don’t feel I can make it the whole 9 days.  I do think, however, I can manage a short prayer such as “Jesus, I hand over my problem to You.  I trust in Your Mercy to help me.”  I hope that is all right.  I don’t even know how to pray anymore, but I will try this.  If I write it down, I think I will be able to read and pray it every day.  Thank you for your prayers.

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