Teach me the way I should go, for to Thee I lift up my soul.
“Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless, not my will, by Thine, be done.”
An exciting new unit of study and reflection is coming in two weeks! For these next two weeks, outside of weekends and feast days, I’m reaching into the “Prayer Team Mail Bag” to address questions that some of you have sent to me in the last few months. If you ever want to submit a question, please free to do so.
The question posed to me was this: How can we be sure that our chosen career path is God’s plan for us? How can you tell the difference between God’s plans for your life and your own plans?
This is a complex question—what is God’s will? This covers everything from a basic decision, (i.e. should I buy this house?) to big life decisions like should I marry this person, or should I be doing this particular job? Here are a few thoughts:
God has called everyone to do something specific with their lives. Some people answer that call. Others do something else. They know what their calling is but they chose another path, perhaps because it is more lucrative. God has given each person certain skills to assist them in their call. Speaking personally, I believe that God called me to be a priest. And He’s blessed me with skills that help answer this call. If I wasn’t a priest, my skills line up with a career as a high school principal, or guidance counselor or psychologist. My skills do not line up with being a doctor or an architect. If I specifically tried to be a doctor or an architect, it would be very difficult, if not impossible for me. It would be like when Jesus said to Saul in Acts “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.” In other words, why would I hurt myself kicking against a path that would clearly not be my path?
I believe that God’s will is usually (but not always) easy to discern. Discerning His will is made possible through prayer, when we pray for wisdom and discernment. It helps when we are quiet and still and open to His voice. The right decisions usually come easy—if a person has to think too much, it is probably the wrong decision. The right decisions usually bring us peace—if you are tearing your hair out about something, it is probably the wrong decision. And the right decisions are oftentimes easily executed. If you are trying too hard to get a square peg in a round hole, it is probably the wrong decision.
When I’m not sure what to do, I often pray the words of Psalm 143, “Teach me the way I should go, for to Thee I lift up my soul.” (143:8) That Psalm will be our prayer today. It is my staple when I’m not sure what to do.
The other verse used for today’s reflection comes from the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, before His passion. He didn’t want to do something but He ultimately submitted to the will of God and put His trust in the Lord. This is the prayer that comes to mind when God seems to be willing something that is not our will, or is not comfortable to us. Many of us have been passed over for job opportunities. And sometimes, a setback like this actually is a good thing. (obviously, sometimes it isn’t) Years ago, I had an opportunity to go to another parish. It looked like everything was lining up for this move. I was excited about it. And then it didn’t happen. Years later, I’m glad it didn’t happen, that I still serve where I serve. I remember at the time that this decision was up in the air, I was praying to God, “not my will, but Thy will be done.” It was a hard prayer, but I really meant it. When I was initially rejected from the job, I, of course, felt a little bad about it. Honestly, it took a while to get over the sting not just of not getting something I wanted, but the fact that I was actually unwanted by someone for this position. Years later, I can look back with thankfulness that I didn’t get the job and also with some sense of joy that even at that time, I was leaving my future in God’s hands, to serve according to His will.
It is really hard to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and pray “Thy will be done” when we have a will of our own. It’s sometimes hard to hear God’s voice when the voice of our own desires is very loud. This is why it is important to listen for God’s voice and God’s call. I can say for certain that I felt a call to be a priest in my childhood. I even tried to run away from it but it never left. Even today, there are times I want to stop, but that call continues, so I trudge along some days (and thankfully on many days I run with joy).
For the times when I’m really unsure, like it’s a 50-50 do I do something or not, I ask God simply to make the choice an obvious one. I literally ask God to “roll out the red carpet or have the door slam shut on me.” Because if the door is open a crack, I will think and I won’t know what to do. So, sometimes the prayer is “Lord, please make it obvious for me because I truly don’t know what to do.”
When thinking about God’s call for your life, or even for a smaller decision, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is this decision coming easily to me?
2. Does this decision bring me peace?
Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my supplications! In Thy faithfulness answer me in Thy righteousness! Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for no man living is righteous before Thee. For the enemy has pursued me; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore, my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled. I remember the days of old, I meditate on all that Thou hast done; I muse on what Thy hands have wrought. I stretch out my hands to Thee; my soul thirsts for Thee like a parched land. Make haste to answer me, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not Thy face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the Pit. Let me hear in the morning of thy steadfast love, for in Thee I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to Thee I lift up my soul. Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies! I have fled to Thee for refuge! Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God! Let Thy good spirit lead me on a level path! For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life! In Thy righteousness bring me out of trouble! And in Thy steadfast love cut off my enemies, and destroy all my adversaries, for I am Thy servant. Psalm 143
Don’t make your decisions alone. Take them to God and allow His voice to be part of your decision-making process.