Discernment tip with Jacques Philippe: Is God’s will always the hardest choice?

From Jacque Philippe’s In the School of the Holy Spirit (pgs 55-58)

God’s will, and hence the inspirations of his grace, obviously often go in the opposite direction from our immediate tendencies, in the sense that our tendency is often toward the desire for selfish comfort, ease, laziness, and so on. St. John of the cross tells us, and a celebrated passage:

“Let the soul apply itself ceaselessly not to what is easiest, but to what is most difficult…, not to what pleases, but to what displeases” (AC I.13).

He is not wrong to say this, in that context. But we should not interpret his maxims wrongly, or take as a systematic rule for discerning God’s will the principle that in any given situation what he asks of us will always be what is most difficult. That would make us fall into an exaggerated ascetical voluntarism that has nothing to do with the freedom of the Holy Spirit. We might even add that the idea that God is always asking us for what we find most difficult is the kind of thought that the devil typically suggests in order to discourage people and turn away from God.

God is a Father, and he is certainly a demanding one because he loves us and invites us to give him everything; but he is not an executioner. He very often leaves us to our free choice. When he requires something of us, it is to help us grow in love. The only commandment is to love. We can suffer for love, but we can also rejoice in love and rest in love. It is a trap of our imagination or the devil to picture a life spent following God has something imprisoning, incomplete, constant contradiction with all her own desires, even the most legitimate ones.

God’s aim is not to complicate our lives, but ultimately to make them simpler. Docility to God sets our hearts free and expands them. This is why Jesus, who invites us to renounce ourselves and take up our crosses to follow him, also tells us: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Even if we sometimes find it difficult to do God’s will especially at the start if we do it lovingly we end up filled with joy; and it’s true to say it is a real pleasure to do the good that God inspires us. The more we journey in docility to the Holy Spirit, the less painful and forced, the freer and more spontaneous, our adherence to God’s will becomes. “Lead me in the path of thy commandments, for I delight in it,” says the Psalmist (Ps 119:35).

It’s true that life is made of trials; but if we are constantly sad and discontented in a certain path, we would have to question seriously whether we are on the right path or if we were not actually in process of imposing burdens ourselves that God is not asking of us. One of the criteria for discerning a vocation is whether the person is happy in it. To imagine, as certain scrupulous or falsely ascetical people do, what God requires of us in every circumstances necessary most difficult thing, can seriously deform our judgment; and the devil can make use of this false idea to deceive us. And so bear this in mind.

I want to tell you something. Sometimes, after tiring day happy to be getting to bed at last, I perceive a little inner feeling that says to me, “Won’t you come to the chapel to keep me company for a moment?” After a few seconds of fighting back and resisting, saying things like “Jesus, you’re exaggerating. I’m tired, and if I don’t get enough sleep I’ll be in a bad mood tomorrow!” I finally consent and spend a few minutes with Jesus. After that I go to bed in peace, very happy; and the following day I’m no more tired than usual when I get up. Thank you, Lord–that is certainly your will: the fruits are there to see.

But sometimes the opposite happens. I may have a big problem worry me, and tell myself: “this evening I’m going to pray for this to be sorted out.” As I go toward the chapel for this purpose, a little voice says in my heart: “you know, you’d give me more pleasure in going straight to bed and trusting; I’ll take care of your problem.” And, recalling my happy situation as a “useless servant,” I go to bed in peace, abandoning everything into our Lord’s hands…

All that is just to say that God’s will is where there is the maximum of love, but not necessarily where there is the maximum suffer. There’s more love and resting in trust than making ourselves suffer through worrying!

I really enjoyed reading this section from In the School of the Holy Spirit. Jacques Philippe’s personal story of discerning God’s will in a common everyday situation like dropping by the chapel for a couple minutes struck a chord in my heart.

Here is the key point that I have taken from this excerpt:

  •  God’s will can be demanding and challenging, but know that renouncing ourselves and taking up our crosses to follow Jesus ultimately leads to freedom, simplicity, peace, joy, happiness, and joy that culminates in a maximum of love!

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