How do I know this is God's Plan?
A new and wonderful friend of mine wrote me an email looking for resources that talk about understanding God's plan. In short, discernment. She wrote, "people often say "x,y, and z happened and it all worked out because it was God's plan."
The first thing I recommend is going to seem like the weakest answer but it's also the simplest and yet most difficult: prayer. I recommend developing a relationship with the Holy Spirit. In 2003, I met a woman named Babsie Bleasdell (may she rest in peace) who gave me three prayers and told me to say them every day of my life and if I would that I'd have peace and the Holy Spirit would guide my path. Second, I recommend praying with the Scriptures using the method of Lectio Divina.
The master of discernment is of course St. Ignatius of Loyola. If you're too intimidated at this point to read the Spiritual Exercises I highly recommend the podcasts (he's got books too!) of Fr. Timothy Gallagher based on St. Ignatius of Loyola's Rules of discernment. I've listened to all of them on iTunes and they are well worth it. I created a discernment handout based on his podcast series to help me (and my students) discern in prayer.
I also love the short book by Fr. Michael Scanlon What Does God Want: A Practical Guide for Making Decisions. And yeah, I created another handout based on this book.
Recently, Father Mike Schmitz released a short video clip: 4 Helpful Rules for Discernment.
I like it because it's practical and easy to remember:
Rule 1: Does it violate God's commandments? If the answer is yes, it's not God's plan. You can't discern sin. If the answer is no, proceed to the next step.
Rule 2: Is this possibility a reality? e.g. if you didn't get the job, well, there's your answer.
Rule 3: Is this a wise door? (Pray about it and remember "The heart is the truth detector."-Fr. Carron)
Rule 4: Do I desire it? Do I really want this? God works through our desires.
Rule 4 is tough because it demands we engage our freedom. I try to escape this difficulty by calling my mother. She always says I call her when I really don't desire the opportunity I'm calling her about. Discernment is hard work and a lot of the time I just want someone else to tell me what to do.
In the drama of discernment, it's comforting to remember I'm not ultimately in charge and even if I make a mistake God works things out for the good and redirects my path (Romans 8:28). He also loves my freedom so much that He died for it knowing I would abuse it.
Here's how I pray sometimes in front of big decisions:
God, help. (Some days, it's the best I can do.)