Dear Father John, I have been grappling a lot lately with spiritual progress, and I think what it boils down to is trust. The whole idea of believing God is with me throughout my day, and even more so, the idea (or need) to turn everything over to Him… But what does that actually look like? How do you get there? I still have to go through the steps/tasks of life as a wife, mother, and other things… What exactly does the giving up of your troubles and the turning over your life to Him look like PRACTICALLY? I want more than anything for His will to be done in my life… this pure wanting is such an answered prayer, but my greatest prayer right now is to be able to hear His voice and know what His will is. So, my struggle is a bit two fold… On the one hand, I think it comes back to my weak faith (getting stronger all the time, but…) and also, the ability to discern and to hear Him. Do you have any advice for me?
Part II: Growing in Trust
Part I of this series gave us a chance to reflect on the reasons why trust, confidence in God, is at the heart of the spiritual life. Now onto the more practical issues. Every Christian has two basic sectors in life: our contemplative sector, and our conquering sector.
The contemplative sector touches our interior life, our prayer life, our constant interior journey to discover and experience more and more deeply this boundless love, goodness, and trustworthiness of God. You have had a great jump start in this area since your search began – God has been guiding you along and moving you pretty quickly! So, in this sector, you simply need to keep moving. Keep praying, receiving the sacraments, going on retreats, doing spiritual reading… It’s very helpful in this regards to have some specific prayer commitments, and to have regular spiritual direction to receive guidance in prayer. Specifying these commitments is a great topic for spiritual direction. God’s will for you in this sector is to keep moving forward on the path that he has already led you to.
The conquering sector touches our exterior life, our mission of making a difference in the world, of imaging to those around us the very goodness of God that Christ reveals to us. This has to do with living the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit in your everyday life: honesty, purity, patience, generosity, service, forgiveness, responsibility, faithfulness, courage, self-denial… It’s about being the kind of wife, mother, friend, etc. that Christ wants you to be. It’s about following the commandments, and most especially the one that sums up all the other ones: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). This can also overflow into activities directly dedicated to spreading the faith (we call this “apostolate”) – like starting a Bible study or organizing pilgrimages, etc… Eighty-five percent of the time, God’s will for you in this active sector is really, really obvious: he wants you to fulfill your responsibilities as a wife and mother, as a friend and parishioner, with sincerity, love, joy… Doing that really is doing his will. Think about the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Joseph during all those years when Jesus was growing up – and Jesus himself! They lived a very “normal” life from the world’s perspective, and that’s how they glorified God and grew in their friendship with him; God worked in hidden ways through their non-dramatic daily obedience, just as he makes crops grow little by little, in hidden ways, day after day.
The other 15% of the time we have doubts about what God wants of us. This may be regarding big life decisions (where to life, what job to take, who to marry, what to do with a problem child, how to deal with an elderly parent who can no longer take care of themselves…), or it may be regarding individual, personal decisions: Should I go on my parish’s pilgrimage to Rome?… In these cases, we have to exercise the virtue of “prudence.” By prudence, we ask God for light, then we reflect calmly about the pros and cons of the different options, then we get good advice from people we trust, and we wait for the decision to become clear, listening to our hearts.
As regards this conquering sector, it is very helpful to grow in self-knowledge through is called a program of life. You may want to consider doing a Spiritual Exercises retreat, during which retreatants develop programs of life. This is important because we sometimes get stuck in developing our trust in God because there are blocks in our emotional or intellectual lives that we don’t identify – experiences from our past that have left their mark, usually. Spiritual direction and a program of life are excellent tools to identify and gradually remove these hidden blocks.
Frustration Doesn’t Come from God
In your question, I detected some frustration, and maybe even impatience. Your desire to grow closer to God is so strong! This is a grace from God, and I am so glad you are grateful for it! But watch out – frustration and impatience don’t usually come from the Holy Spirit. You see, the spiritual life, our friendship with Christ, isn’t something that we ever finish. We can never check off “trust in God” from our to-do list. It is a journey that lasts our whole life long – and it is full of incredibly beautiful discoveries (and some painful ones too). God is rehabilitating our trust, little by little. When he’s done, he takes us home. He is the doctor of our souls, and healing always takes time. He is our personal trainer, and he knows what we need and when we need it, but we don’t always like taking the necessary time to allow his grace to produce results in our lives! So when you feel that frustration or impatience, ask yourself if, objectively speaking, there is more that God wants you to be doing. If you are making a decent effort (that’s all God needs from us) on both these fronts – contemplative sector and conquering sector – then rest assured that you are moving forward on this wonderful pilgrim path through earth to Heaven, and that God is pleased and excited to have you by his side!
Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC, ThD