Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Unrest When We Have Decisions to Make" What to do?

"The last reason that we are going to examine and which frequently causes us to lose our sense of peace is lack of certitude, the troubling of conscience that is experienced when it is necessary to make a decision and we are not able to see clearly. We are afraid to make a mistake that may have disturbing consequences, we are afraid that it may not be the will of the Lord.

Situations of this type can be very painful and certain dilemmas truly agonizing. The general stance of abandonment and confidence of which we have spoken, this approach of putting everything into the hands of God which enables us to avoid "dramatizing" anything (even the consequences that our errors might engender!) will be particularly precious in these situations of incertitude.

We would like, however, to make a few useful remarks for conserving our interor peace when making decisions.

The first thing to say (and this is in complete harmony with what we have said up to this point) is that, when faced with an important decision, one of the errors to avoid is that of being excessively hurried or precipitous. A certain deliberation is often necessary in order to properly consider things and to allow our hearts to orient themselves peaceably and gently toward a good solution. Saint Vincent de Paul made decisions that were presented to him after mature reflection (and above all prayer!), in such a way that some people who were close to him found him too slow to decide. But, one judges a tree by it's fruit!

Before making a decision, it is necessary to do what is appropriate to see the situation clearly and not to decide precipitously or arbitrarily. We need to analyse the situation with its different aspects and to consider our motivations in order to decide with a pure heart and not in an effort to serve our personal interests. We need to pray for the light of the Holy Spirit and the grace to act in conformity with the will of God and, if necessary, to ask the advice of people who can enlighten us relative to this decision.

In this regard, we must know that everyone will encounter, above all in the spiritual life, certain situations where one would not have sufficient light, would be incapable of making a necessary discernment or of making a determination in peace, without recourse to a spiritual advisor. The Lord does not want us to be self-sufficient and, as part of His pedagogy, He permits that sometimes we find ourselves in the impossibility of finding enlightenment and peace by ourselves; we cannot receive them except through the intermediary of another person to whom we can open up. There is in this opening up of the heart relative to questions that we ask ourselves or dilemmas that we try to solve, a disposition of humility and trust which greatly pleases the Lord and frequently renders harmless the traps that the enemy sets there to decieve or trouble us. Regarding this interior peace, which is so precious and of which we have spoken so much, we know that at certain moments in our lives we cannot find it by ourselves without the help of someone to whome we can open our souls. Saint Alphonsus Liguori was an uparalleled director souls, but with regard to that which concerned his own spiritual life, he was very often incapable of orienting himself with out the aid of someone to whom he opened himself and toward whom he was obedient.

Having said that, it is important to know one thing. Whatever the precautions (prayer, reflection, advice) that one uses to obtain enlightenment before making a decision and in order to be sure of doing God's will (it's a duty to take these precautions, becuase we do not have the right, above all in domains of importance, to decide lightly), one will not always receive this light in a clear and unambiguous manner. Confronted with a specific situation, we ask ourselves (and we must always do this!): "What must I do? What is the Lord's will?" We will not always have a response!

When we make this effort at discernment and search for God's will, often the Lord speaks to us in diverse ways and makes us understand in a clear way how we must act. Then we can make our decision in peace.

But, it may happen that the Lord does not respond to us. And this is completely normal. Sometimes, He simply leaves us free and sometimes, for reasons of His own, He does not manifest Himself. It is good to know this, because if often happens that people, for fear of making a mistake, of not doing the will of God, seek at any price to have an answer. They increase their reflections, their prayers, they open the Bible ten times looking for a text in order to obtain the desired enlightenment. And all this is torubling and disquieting more than anything else. We do not see things more clearly for all that; we have a text, but we don't know how to interpret it.

When the Lord leaves us thus in incertitutde, we must quietly accept it. Rather than wanting to "force things" and torment ourselves unnecessarily because we do not have an evident response, we must follow the principle that Saint Faustina offers us:

When one does not know what is best, one must reflect, consider and take counsel, because one does not have the right to act in a incertitude of conscience. In incertitude (if the incertitude remains) one must tell oneself: whatever I do, it will be good, provided that I have the intention to do good. That which we consider good, God accepts and considers as good. Don't be chagrined if, after a certain time, you see that these things are not good. God looks at the intention with which we begin and He grants the reward according to this intention. It is a principle that we must follow.

Often we torment ourselves excessively regarding our decisions. As there is a false humilty, a false compassion, we can also say that, concerning our decisions, there is sometimes that which one could call a "false obedience" to God. We would like always to be absolutely certain of doing God's will in all of our choices and never to be mistaken. But there is, in this attitude, something that is not exactly right for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, this desire to know what God wants sometimes hides a difficulty in enduring a situation of incertitude. We want to be released from having to decide by ourselves. But, frequently, the will of the Lord is that we do decide for ourselves, even if we are not absolutely sure that this decision would be the best. In effect, in this capacity to decide in incertitude, in doing that which seems to us best without spending hours equivocating, there is an attitude of confidence and abandonment: "Lord, I have thought about it and prayed to know Your will. I do not see it clearly, but I am not going to trouble myself any further. I am not going to spend hours racking my brain. I am decidding such and such a thing because, all things carefully considered, it seems to me the best thing to do. And I leave everything in Your hands. I know well that, even if I am mistaken, You will not be displeased with me, for I have acted with good intentions. and if I have made a mistake, I know that You are able to draw good from this error. It will be for me a source of humilty and I will learn something from it!" And I remain at peace.

For another thing, we would love to be infallible, to never be wrong, but there is a lot of pride in this desire and there is also the fear of being judged by others. The one, on the contrary, who accepts peacefully the idea of being wrong from time to time and accepts that others know it manifests true humility and a true love of God.

On the other hand, let us not have a false idea of what God requires of us. God is our Father, good and compassionate, Who knows the shortcomings of His children, the limitations of our judgment. He asks of us goodwill, the right intentions, but in no way does He demand that we would be infallible and that all of our decisions would be perfect! And additionally, if all our decisions were perfect, this would, without doubt, do us more harm than good! We would quickly take ourselves for supermen.

To conclude, the Lord loves him more who knows how to decide for himself without equivocating, even when he is uncertain, and who abandons himself with confidence to God as to the consequences, rather than the one who torments his spirit unceasingly in an effort to know what God expects of him and who never decides. Because, there is, in the first attitude, more abandonment, confidence and therefore love, than in the second. God loves those who make their way with freedom of spirit and who don't "split hairs" too much over the details. Perfectionism doesn't have much to do with sanctity.

It is important also to know well how to distinguish those cases where it is necessary to take time to discern and to decide, when it is a matter of decisions, for example, that affect our entire lives and the opposite cases where it would be stupid and contrary to the will of God to take too much time and too many precautions before deciding, when there is not much difference between one choice and another. As Saint Francis de Sales said, "If it is normal to weigh gold ingots with care, when it comes to small coins it is enough to make a quick evaluation." The devil, who is always seeking to disturb us, makes us ask ourselves, even in making the smallest decision, whether it is truly the will of the Lord or not to do thus and who creates unease, scruples and remorse of conscience for things that really aren't worth the trouble.

We must have a constant and profound desire to obey God. But this desire will be truly in accord with the Holy Spirit if it is accompanied by peace, interior freedom, confidence and abandonment and not if it is a source of trouble which paralyzes the conscience and prevents one from deciding freely.

It is true that the Lord can permit moments where this desire to obey Him causes real torment. There is also the case of persons who are scrupulous by temperament; this is a very painful trial from which the Lord never totally delivers them in this life.

But, it is still true that normally we must strive to advance along our path in such a fashion, in internal freedom and peace. And to know, as we have just said, that the devil tries passionately to trouble us. He is crafty and uses the desire we have to do God's will to disturb us. One must not let him "take advantage" of us. When one is far from God, the adversary tempts him with evil: he attracts him to the bad things. But when one is close to God, loves Him, desires nothing but to please and obey Him, the devil, while he tempts him still with evil (this is easy to recognize), he tempts him even further by good. This means that he makes use of our desire to do good to trouble us. He does this by making us scrupulous, or by presenting us with a certain good that we must realize but which is beyone our present strength, or which is not what God asks of us - all to discourage us or to cause us to lose our peace. He wants to convince us that we are not doing enough or that what we are doing we are not really doing for the love of God, or that the Lord is not happy with us, etc. He would make us believe, for instance, that the Lord is asking such and such a sacrifice of us that we are incapable of doing, and this will trouble us greatly. It creates all sorts of scruples and worries in the conscience which we should purely and simply ignore, while throwing ourselves into the arms of God like small children. When we lose peace for reasons similar to those we just mentioned, let us tell ourselves that the devil must be involved. Let's try to regain our calm and, if we cannot do it by ourselves, we should open up to a spiritual person. The mere fact of speaking to another person will generally be enough to make our confusion disappear completely and to bring back our peace.

Regarding this spirit of freedom that should animate us in all our actions and decisions, let us conclude by listening to Saint Francis de Sales:

Keep your heart open and always in the hands of Divine Providence, whether great things or small, and obtain for your heart more and more the spirit of gentleness and tranquility. (Letter to Mme. De la Flechere, 13 may 1609) The word that I spoke to you so often was that you should not be too particular in the excercise of virtues, rather that you should pursue them briskly, openly, naively, in an old-fashioned way, with liberty, sincerity and grosso modo. It is because I fear the spirit of constraint and melancholy. It is my wish that you should have a large and open heart on the way to our Lord."

*Taken from Searching for and Maintaing Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Jacques Philippe, SJ, Pg. 69-78

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