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Listening for God's Call
by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur
On a recent Sunday, Deacon Wayne Biernat at Holy Name Parish in Springfield was giving a homily on vocations to a group of children at the children's mass. To illustrate the idea of a call from God, he had prearranged to have someone dial his cell phone at that precise moment so that he could tell the children it was God on the other end. He literally received a "call from God." It was a wonderful homily that clearly showed that God does speak to us in our lives, although not often in such a direct manner.
The idea of vocation is a powerful one - a call from God to pursue a certain way of life. We tend to think of it solely in terms of the religious life, a person who hears God's call and renounces the world to give him or herself over completely to the work of the Lord. Such a life is surely a vocation, and one worth embracing and encouraging, even in the midst of such difficult times for our Church. Less often we think of a vocation to marriage or to the single life. Consider the implications of embracing that perspective, however. How powerful it is to say, "God has called me to be a wife, mother, or single woman. I have been chosen! This is the framework in which I can best serve God at this point in my life." One's work can also be considered a vocation. God calls us to use the talents He gave us in such a way that the fruits of our labor are a fitting gift back to Him.
There are many times in our lives that a direct approach such as that illustrated by Deacon Wayne would be most welcome. I know that I for one would greatly appreciate a telephone call or email from God letting me know that I am on the right path, or which path to take when several stretch out before me. Unfortunately, God does not seem to want to take advantage of the modern technology at our disposal. This does not mean, however, that He is not speaking. It just means that we need to listen a bit harder.
God speaks to us through many ways. We have His word in the scriptures. While it is certainly not always possible to find a corresponding directive in scripture when we need to make a decision, the Bible does provide a blueprint for how to live. Decisions made that are in keeping with the message of scripture will be on solid footing.
God can also use the voices of others in our lives to guide our path. Family, friends, and even strangers can sometimes provide an insight into our soul that we might not have otherwise obtained. For example, someone might acknowledge or praise us for a talent that we had never given much thought to. Such a talent might become the basis for a new career path. God may also use circumstances to help shape our lives. Whether we get married or not often depends on whether the right man crosses our path. The birth of a child or an unexpected layoff may force us to reassess our career goals. Opportunity may knock and invite us to move to a new location. A serious illness or the death of a loved one may cause us to reevaluate our priorities in life.
God also speaks to us within our own hearts. As we align ourselves into living our lives for God, the will of God for our lives becomes clearer. According to Dallas Willard in In Search of Guidance: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (Regal Books, 1984), "The voice of God speaking in our souls also hears in it a characteristic spirit. It is a spirit of exalted peacefulness and confidence, or joy, of sweet reasonableness, and of will for the good." However, Willard cautions, "any voice which promises total exemption from suffering and failure is most certainly not God's word." God does not guarantee us a trouble-free existence. Willard also maintains that God does not expect us to surrender our free will. "In general, it is the will of God that we ourselves should have a great part in determining our path through life. This does not mean that He is not with us. God both develops and tests us our character by leaving us to decide. He calls us to responsible citizenship in his kingdom by - in effect or reality - saying as often as possible: My will for you is for you to decide on your own." It is certainly possible to live within the will of God without a definite directive from the Almighty.
So, how then do we attune ourselves to listen for God's voice in our hearts? According to Debra K. Farrington in Hearing with the Heart: A Gentle Guide to Discerning God's Will for your Life (Jossey-Boss, 2003) we must "learn to be as equally present to God as God is to us." We need to "live with God at the center of our lives." It is a task we cannot hope to complete in this lifetime. Such an orientation requires prayer and study and a concerted effort to see and hear God in our lives. It can also be helpful to have a spiritual director or a spiritual community "to help us stay focused on God."
Listening for God's call is a task that requires courage. Farrington states that "to be willing to ask for and receive the gift of new sight and new ways of hearing requires courage to change and to trust in finding one's own way on a new path." We like to be in control of our lives. While God does not ask us to give up our free will, He may ask us to surrender our will to His. Such a surrender can indeed be frightening. There may also be impediments to following God's call and a difficult path ahead. However, according to Farrington, "The results of following God's desires in the long run, should be those listed in Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Those are qualities well worth hoping for.
Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur is editor of The Spiritual Woman Newsletter
and author of "Letters to Mary from a Young Mother" (iUniverse, 2004)