How do I know God's will for me?

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Image: Today Father Paul Boudreau (left) ministers to the people of Beaumont, California, sometimes arriving at parish events on his restored antique racing motorcycle. Before he became a priest, Father Paul Boudreau followed other dreams, all of which led him to God. He followed his bliss into motocross racing (second from right) and the world of motocross journalism (second from left). Prayer and church involvement ultimately brought Paul Boudreau to the altar of ordination.He greets his mother (right) at his first Mass.

ONE OF THESE DAYS they're going to develop a technology that will answer the question, "What is God's will for me?" Wouldn't that be great? Imagine your cell phone going off and there's "Will of God" in the caller ID window. Or maybe a text message or an IM. Isn't there a blog or chat room somewhere called "God's Will"? Can we find a will of God video on YouTube?

God knows we're looking everywhere. Finding the will of God is really important for those of us who love the Lord and want to live our lives according to God's purpose for us. "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:35). That's the people we want to be.

But without an email from "jchrist@willofgodforme.div" we're left to our own devices. Looking over our resources, however, we find a great deal that will help us.

We have the Bible, the Word of God that "was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope"(Romans 15:4). We have the teaching of the church, the tradition of wisdom handed down through the ages that tells us, "By prayer we can discern ‘what is the will of God’ and obtain the endurance to do it" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2826). And we have our own personal history that we can look back on and see the will of God being done in our lives. Now, can you beat that?

God's will in the Bible

Saint Paul writes in Ephesians 1:9 that God "has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ." Well, that's pretty cool. In other words, we already know the will of God. It is spoken somewhere deep within us, in the hidden part of our hearts where God is known and encountered. It is where God's love is generated in us, in our strongest desires, where we go in prayer, where we know what is good and right for us.

When I was a young man, a whole lot younger than I am now, I wanted so badly to serve God in my life. But I really didn't know how to do it. I remember spending hours in prayer, yearning for God, wanting so much to know God's will for me. I begged and pleaded with God to show me the way. All I got was silence. I didn't know at the time that silence was the voice of God speaking more deeply in me than my ears could hear.

But from those long nights crying out to God, a direction came in my life. I wanted billboards saying, "Walk this way," but instead I got subtle urgings. An opportunity arose here, a door opened there, something I read interested me, a conversation with a friend piqued my curiosity. Little by little I was encouraged in small ways to become what God was calling me to be. The results often surprised me and sometimes alarmed me, but always I was fulfilled and satisfied by where God was leading me.

God's will in the church

When we invest ourselves fully in the life of the church, through prayer, through studying the Bible, through participating in devotions, and especially through the celebration of the Eucharist, we are constantly being formed in the will of God through faith.

But faith isn't enough, for "faith apart from works is barren" (James 2:20). We need to practice our faith. When we are encouraged to do something good or are tempted to do something bad; when our thoughts, words, and deeds are challenged to fulfill what is right, those are the opportunities we have to follow the will of God. "Do not be conformed to this world," says Saint Paul in Romans 12:2, "but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

When I was searching for my vocation in Christ, I didn't belong to a church. I read the Bible and thought a lot about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but I really didn't have a community of faith. Nor did I practice my faith in worship. I felt a little adrift and couldn't quite get my mind on a clear direction. But when I started going back to church, the vision of my life began to clarify. " ‘If any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.’ Such is the power of the Church's prayer in the name of her Lord, above all in the Eucharist" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2827).

God's will in our personal history

It really is a challenge to see God's will for our future. But looking back on our lives, it's not hard to see God working through everything we experience, the good and the bad.

We think sometimes that God only sticks around for the good things we do, and the evidence of God's blessing is our success. But that's not true. God is always with us, through the crooked ways and the straight, the successes and the failures. Saint Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12 about the burden of his human weaknesses, and then concludes in verse 10 that he is content with his weakness for the sake of Christ, because "whenever I am weak, then I am strong."

It is Christ who bears the cross of our human weaknesses, and carries the burden of our mistakes, suffering and dying for our sins. Yet he rises again to continue the journey with us. So that now "all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Being a priest is my second career. My first career, my profession for 10 years before I entered seminary and got ordained, was racing motorcycles. Was this God's will for me? Well, I certainly didn't consult with God when I decided to go motocross racing. But looking back, I believe it became God's will for me. It was where I learned the joy of life and the thrill of the extreme. I was just following my happiness, seeking to fulfill the desire of my heart. It led me to God.

It says in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that people have a "natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it" (no. 1718). That's pretty cool, too. It means the good desires in your heart and mine are from God. They're put there to guide us to God, where they can be fulfilled. You want to know God's will for you? Look in your heart. What is your true desire? Follow that desire; do what you love.

That can mean a lot of things. Do you want to go to medical school? Do it. You want to be a teacher? Do it. You want to be a figure skater? Do it. You want learn Chinese? Do it. You want to join the army? Do it. You want to become a priest or religious sister or brother? Do it. Doing your heart’s desire while keeping close to God in prayer and while staying connected to the church will lead you to God, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

One of the hardest parts about doing God's will is that you sometimes have to go against the will of the ones you love, like your parents or your friends. Even the best parents have agendas for their children. My parents wanted me to become a professional in some field, but I can assure you, it wasn't motocross. And when I informed my friends that I was going to become a priest, they thought I was crazy. But I believed that it was God's will for me, and I did it. And believe me, I couldn't be happier.

Father Paul Boudreau is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut, and coauthor with Alice Camille of The Forgiveness Book from ACTA Publications.




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