A while back, I went to a local Marriage on Tap talk about discernment, and the couple who presented gave a very important point that I would like to share with you now. The couple said, “Even when I was going through the motions with Mass and prayers, God was in the motions to bring me where I am today.” I believe this small piece of advice hold a very beautiful and essential point of understanding for our faith journey.
I have seen too many people simply give up because they do not feel God‘s presence or see the results that they look for in prayer. I have seen people quit going to Mass because “I don’t get anything out of it!” or “I’m too busy with life and things that are more important… It isn’t like I don’t believe in God!” Furthermore, I have also heard many people said that they do not go to confessions anymore because “I’ll just sin again!” or “I don’t feel comfortable letting people know of my failures!” Even though these excuses seem very reasonable and appealing at times, I believe they are simply excuses. I believe too many people look at the life of faith as a choice among many, relationship with God is simply one as among many other options. For them, belief or faith is just a simple cognitive understanding or intellectual recognition of a higher being out there who is somewhat in control, who could be a spiritual “insurance policy” when bad things happen, uncertainties arise, or to have someone to blame or be liable when things go wrong. I believe this minimal understanding of faith downplays and makes everything minimalistic in standard and practice. When the relationship with God is not important, anything and everything could simply be an excuse to do other things that are more practical, appealing, or important. The Almighty and anything spiritually-related can be deterred or delayed until everything else fails.
As human beings, it is harder to ask for perseverance and faithfulness when there is no more sentimental or objective appeal. Yet, perhaps it is important that we do not give up when we do not feel like doing something. Even when there are appealing options to walk away, it is important to find a reason to stay faithful and abide with the Lord. We could go through the motions, but do not give up! We could feel like we are not getting anything out of our life of faith, yet do not stop because His grace can still work in and through us, beyond the sentimental comprehension or objective understanding, to bring us where we need to be in the long run. If we continue to trust and walk with Him, clear and focused on what is necessary, especially what is taught and laid out by His commandments, in accordance with virtues and a clear conscience, we still walk with Him and He with us even though we cannot feel His presence or see the end goal in sight.
The saints have taught us to stay firm and steadfast in prayer in times of doubt and despair. What the Lord has revealed through the Sacred Scripture, Holy Tradition, and the lives of the saints are all clear and sure guideposts when we are uncertain and surrounded by the fog of doubt, temptation, or despair. We might not see clearly as in the day, understand why we need to continue or where it going to lead us, yet these guideposts reveal to us what God had done in the past and for His faithful, just as He will continue to do so for us. He knows and continues to lead us toward our final goal with His loving grace even though we cannot see it at times! As a matter of fact, this “end” is not a what or where, it is a who! God is our end, and to spend life with Him for eternity is the ultimate price, joy, happiness, and goal for all of us. Therefore, we should not give up when we feel like we are going through the motions, we are actually in motion with Him as He providentially guides us through the ups and downs of life.
Second, it is important to have a “hard head and a soft heart” so you and I can actually discern, listen, think, and properly moved by what is going on instead of a “soft head and a hard heart” that go all over but cannot truly listen to what God has to say. What do I mean by that? A “hard head” means that we need to not be afraid to look at things logically and prudentially when there are many competing goods presenting themselves to us at the moment. In other words, we need to have our heads attached to our shoulders to properly think things through without going all over the place. It would be good to write down the pros and cons of our choices, logically do a process of elimination of the choices that are unreasonable or unwise for the moment. Once we have a better idea or more concrete understanding of the few choices that are available, look to see whether they fit the bigger picture, revelation, and plan of what God has revealed to us in our own lives, in prayers, with our conscience, or with the teachings of the Church. Do not be afraid of the different factors and elements in place as well, for they could affect or shed light on our decision-making choices… and that is why patient discernment is very important! Next, look to see if the timing is right. Often times, choices and things in our lives always look appealing at first, but the time is not right. These matters can be slowly and prudentially discern with time and clear objective truths. A “soft heart” is important so we can be moved by what God has to say in prayer and in time. Too many times, we allow ourselves to be over the place, unreasonably chasing after apparent and immediate appealing things, make rash decisions, and too impatient for Him to tell us what is needed at the moment. Therefore, take time to truly listen, pray, discern, and seek what is truly good, proper, and right with time and in the light of God‘s will for us.
Do not be afraid to continue to walk in the midst of doubts and in the fog of uncertainties. Wisdom cannot be learned through reading a book or by acquiring more information, it has to be learned through the experiential trials of life. We make mistakes, yet we can learn much from our mistakes as well! We can learn how to avoid them for the future, as well as to be observant of the helpful signs as well as the red flags. Therefore, do not be afraid to continue to walk with the Lord even when it feels like there are better choices and things to do. Let us not be scared to abide with Him and be faithful to Him even when we feel like we are just going through the motions. He will never abandon us and will always guide us if we listen to Him! Will we be perfect at first with discernment and prayer? Of course not! However, we can learn, grow, and mature in our faith with, in, and through all things. Let us not be afraid for He is always with us.