Philippa picked up where my article left off – on the importance of not storing up your treasures here on earth but in Heaven, our ultimate destiny.
She addressed an important issue that I didn’t specifically touch on, but is highly relevant to the whole debate; namely not getting caught up in the narrative of “marriage will solve all my problems”, something young men and women (myself included) are prone to.
It’s possible that most young Catholic men and women aren’t married yet because God is very merciful. He knows they have serious things to deal with before they get married.
This could be anything from your porn addiction and mental health problems to your inability to balance a budget or do your own laundry. Seeking the Kingdom first might involve facing these challenges, rather than pursuing a future spouse like the last snow leopard.
I can attest to the truth of this. It wasn’t until I began seeing a psychologist a few years ago for issues relating to stress and anxiety that I was made aware of the vast number of problems I had to wrestle with, including my own perspective on many things.
As desperately as I wanted to get married in my 20s, I see now that I was far too apt to look at love and marriage through rose-coloured glasses. One thing I was blind to was a near-obsession with events or circumstances meaning something else. A guy I was interested in would say something I’d long thought privately, but never heard anyone say, so that must mean something! I was thinking about so-and-so and at that very moment he texted me – that must mean something!
I was never quite clear on what that “something” was, though of course my hope was that it meant he was the one!
In my mind, it was God who was behind all these apparent-coincidences. For surely He must know what I was thinking! Indeed He did, but the conclusions drawn from those circumstances were entirely my own. However, by ascribing “God’s will” to these things, I convinced myself it really was God’s will that I end up with this or that person, and that each little circumstance was a nudge from Him telling me so.
Not surprisingly, I came in for a few rude awakenings later on which caused me a great deal of anguish and suffering.
Philippa addresses delusions such as these:
At the risk of puncturing some illusions: Catholic marriage is two sets of people’s problems, not one. Catholic marriage is living with a stranger and learning to adapt to them. Catholic marriage is mortgages, in-laws, school fees, infertility, pregnancy loss, arguments, infidelities, heartbreak, compromise, parenting failures, chronic illness, broken dreams, weight gain, disappointing children, and varicose veins.
The whole ‘will of God’ thing, in terms of marriage, desperately needs an overhaul of common sense. I’ve seen young people tie themselves in knots over this, which I am sure is not God’s will for them.
I can tell you exactly what God’s will is for you. It’s your salvation: that you find Him, have a relationship with Him, and eventually get home to Him. How you get there is largely up to you – it’s choose-your-own-adventure, using your free will. God is omnipotent, so He writes the story around your choices, both good and bad.
Give God credit for some intelligence and kindness. If He wants something super-special from you, like consecrated celibacy or marriage to a very specific person, He will make that clear to you. He hasn’t hidden it somewhere, planning to damn you for all eternity if you fail to dig in exactly the right spot on the archaeological site of your life.
Most people choose to get married; a natural state that’s been raised to a sacrament. The desire for marriage and parenthood is written deeply in the human heart – so much so that it takes daily fidelity to grace to embrace a different state of life, and a Christian who doesn’t fulfil it physically should fulfil it spiritually.
Too often we as Christians explain many little things in our lives by attributing them to “God’s will”. In talking about this, I feel it’s important to distinguish God’s passive will from His active will. Let me dip into the dark recesses of my memory for a moment to dredge up lessons from my Little Green Catechism.
In a certain sense, everything that happens is God’s will, insofar as He keeps everything in existence and allows it all to happen. This is because He has given each of us free will to do as we choose. I like to think of this as God’s passive will.
However, when we open ourselves up to God, and allow ourselves to be used as His instruments, we allow His active will to work through us.
There are many occurrences of God’s active will throughout history. I won’t go into any of them, but certainly all genuine miracles are examples of God’s active will.
Hindsight is a very handy tool for seeing where God’s active will has worked through your life, and when I think of my own, it is clear that the times when He steered me in a direction I might not otherwise have gone were actually very few.
As an example, I once wanted to quit my job desperately, but felt I couldn’t leave until I’d found another position. I was scared of my manager, a very intimidating man, and was convinced that I needed the security of being in someone else’s employ before I could muster the courage to tell him I was quitting primarily because of him and how he managed the staff. (I didn’t want to tell him this, but felt I had to.)
After weeks of seeking another position and coming up empty, I was kneeling in the pews after First Saturday Mass, and despairingly begged Our Lord to just find me another position so I could quit my job.
A voice flashed across my mind: you could just quit now.
I was terrified by these words and what they might mean. Mentally scrambling away, I shouted this voice down. No, no, no. Not that, I couldn’t bear it. Just find me another job, okay??
I literally prayed these words. Then a short while later, my two friends and I left and had breakfast at a cafe. After some idle chatter, one of them asked me about my job situation, and I told her I was waiting to hear back about a possible position. She looked me square in the face and said, “have you considered just quitting your job now?”
I was startled – the very words that had come to me while praying were being repeated to my face not half an hour later. My other friend chimed in and the pair of them talked to me for a good 40 minutes about the benefits of quitting my job and talking to my boss now, even without the safety net of being employed elsewhere.
I didn’t want to accept what they were saying, but I felt in my bones that they were right. So I eventually gave in. One week later I handed in my notice, and it went far better than I could have imagined. My manager took it really well; he actually apologised to me and wished me well. I could hardly believe my ears.
The job I’d been waiting to hear back about turned out to be a no-go, but a week after quitting, a friend sent me an ad for a dream position exactly suited for me – less well-paid but much less stress. I got it and it has turned out to be the best job I’ve ever had.
But that’s not the end of the story.
A few months after accepting the new job tragedy struck my family. Had I still been at my old workplace, it would have been disastrous. I would not have been able to remain, and would have had to quit in far less ideal circumstances, as it was very close in time to a huge project. I would have let everybody there down, rather than giving them enough time to find a replacement by quitting when I did.
In my new job, I could not have been in a more supportive environment during what was an exceptionally difficult time. It made all the difference in the world and I now see very clearly God’s hand in the whole affair. I couldn’t see what lay in my future, but by accepting the call coming my way – made explicit both while praying and by my friends’ influence – I was in a position to be able to deal with what followed.
One of my friends later told me that while speaking to me in that cafe, she felt the Holy Spirit working through her words. She told me nothing she said came from her – she felt compelled to say everything she did.
The point of this story is that it’s important not to attribute everything that happens in your life to God’s will, or to wait for “God’s will” to occur to you before deciding anything. People who say they need to understand God’s will first before making a decision will likely end up not getting a whole lot done.
Most times, God will sit back and allow you to choose your own path. But when necessary, He will intervene and make His will clear to you. What we are meant to do is to pray, trust, and be open to His call when it comes.
A few more words from Philippa on Christian marriage:
But human marriage is not necessary for your salvation. Catholics have never believed that, and hopefully never will. Personally, I ended up single through choices, good luck, and the grace of God. It took time to accept it, but I’m hugely grateful for it, and God is working with me every day on this.
So what can these women do? What they’ve always done – continue to seek the Kingdom first in their everyday life. I’ve watched as God has given them everything they need. Their lives are a beautiful and potent witness of the providence and tender love of God for the broken-hearted.
If they can do it, so can you. Try it and see. You might find that if you seek the Kingdom first, you really do get everything else that you need. For where your treasure is, there is your heart also.