Almost 300 years ago, a saint and Doctor of the Church sat down and penned a 32-page booklet (merely six pages when printed out at home) that would – whether he knew it or not – fundamentally transform the lives of those who read it.
In this short text titled “Uniformity with God’s Will,” St. Alphonsus Ligouri succinctly and brilliantly explains the complex theological truth regarding the Divine Will of God for each of us, how it may look in our lives, and the necessity of our response and ultimately desire to unite our wills, to the will of God.
More importantly, however, he introduces us to the reality that everything that happens to us, really and indeed everything, is either willed or permitted by God. The knowledge of that truth becomes the catalyst for radical change in the lives of those who recognize and begin to orient their lives towards accepting what crosses may come their way. In this act of acceptance and recognition, our wills are moved to unite with the Will of God, and thus, we find extraordinary peace – no matter the circumstance.
The newest edition of this powerful work, Finding Peace in the Storm, By Dan Burke, breaks open and more deeply reveals the soul-medicine that St. Alphonsus is attempting to give us through deeply insightful commentary and some improvement from the original translation, taking this seemingly complex topic and presenting it in a way that we can apply it today.
Nevertheless, this reality is not an easy one to swallow. Many hear and outright reject this truth, refusing to contemplate that something we deem as awful, or even those instances and occurrences that are objectively bad, are permitted to occur by God. While the rejection is understandable, it reveals an impoverished view of God’s love and His desires for us – since even in the trials, His love abounds.
The Problem of Avoiding the Will of God
Rather than attempting to explain the good of uniting our wills to the Divine Will of God, since St. Alphonsus already does so with great measure, I think it would be helpful to view this question from a different angle. What happens when we avoid the will of God?
It is an undeniable truth that you and I were designed for a purpose. God had and has a plan for each of us that was put into place before we were conceived, an individual and unique calling written onto our hearts from the moment of our creation. Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The early Church knew this well, as we can see in Romans 12:4-8 “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
These examples lead us to the first problem of avoiding the Will of God. Each of those listed gifts has two distinct purposes – to serve one another and to serve God. The body is not complete without all of its members. Can it function without a finger, hand, foot, or arm? Sure. In humility, we recognize that God does not need us – but we also acknowledge that He desires that we cooperate and participate in His divine plan. How much more fruitful and effective could the body be if all of its members were living in the fullness of who they are called to be? In this case, avoiding the will of God, in a broad sense, puts the burden on our brothers and sisters to “pick up the slack” in furthering the kingdom. We do a disservice to all when we worry about only fulfilling our own will. How many more saints would we have? How many more miracles would we see? How many more people would be saved, and for those most in need, how many more served?
Overarching principles aside, let’s make it personal. Unless you have been given some divine gift, every person reading this has some circumstance or instance in their lives that resulted in immense pain and/or suffering. Loss of a loved one, family strife, financial difficulty, struggles in faith, persecution, the list is endless. While St. Alphonsus makes it clear that God never wills the sin of someone or desires to see His sons and daughters suffering, He will permit things to happen for a greater purpose. In these moments of hardship, those who focus on the harm and what they desire to occur or not occur become blinded to the reality that there is something else going on and often miss the opportunities in these moments that God is presenting us. So, instead of seeing a gift and a light at the end of the tunnel, they wallow deeper into sorrow, thus rejecting the gift God is attempting to present them and opening a doorway for the enemy to latch onto wounds that God desires to heal.
As an example, I had a very good and holy woman message me recently. She had recently lost a dear friend and felt a strong pull on her heart to pray for this friend. As soon as she started praying, all sorts of negative experiences began. Each an attempt to distract and harm. At one point, she spoke to the friend’s spouse, and amid the conversation, a deep wound was brought to the surface. “Without going into needless detail, some of the conversation dredged up hurt on my part. A hurt that was pretty deep. It was even bothering me today. Also, a feeling of having been abandoned by her (when she was alive).” But because she is in tune with the movements of God, she recognized this was something more – a realization that those who neglect to unite their will with God’s Will tend to miss. “I can feel this tugging at me as though to make me waver in my resolve to pray for her. As I write this, it sounds like a “normal” happening, but I just know for sure it’s something more.” Because her heart was open, I could offer that these moments of pain, though hard for us and used by the enemy to drive us into misery and despair, are permitted by God so that He can bring about more profound healing. In her “yes” to God’s will, she can pray even more intently for this friend.
Consider that she may be the only one praying for them. Then, consider how many things we can miss when focusing on the pain, hardship, and suffering. This is the choice to follow the will of God vs. our own, and in following His will, we will find immense peace, as my friend did, and even more beautifully, serve those around us, bringing about the Kingdom of God.
Finally, remember this promise: Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The choice is simple: accept the crosses or be crushed by them. By accepting, we emulate Christ and can find tremendous peace in any storm.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.