A young man named Tom was a very skilled cabinet-maker, and after several years of working for a home-builder, he decided to go into business on his own. He loved fine woodcrafting, and because of his talent and dedication, he was sure he’d be successful. However, establishing himself was harder than Tom expected—especially finding new customers, bookkeeping, filling out tax forms, and other paperwork. He was quickly becoming exhausted and discouraged, and even though he had been convinced branching out on his own was God’s plan for him, he now had serious doubts. While driving his truck to an appointment with a possible customer, Tom was so busy stewing over all these things he didn’t realize he was going twenty-five miles over the speed limit—until a police car pulled him over. Tom put his head in his hands while thinking “This must be God’s way of telling me I made a mistake.” “License and registration” said the officer, and Tom silently handed them over. The officer noticed Tom’s tools stacked on the front seat, where he kept them because he didn’t yet have a cover for the back of his truck. Gesturing at them, the officer asked, “What do you do for a living?” “I’m a cabinet-maker,” Tom answered, while wondering what this had to do with a traffic stop. To his surprise and relief, the officer handed him back his documents, while saying, “Next time go slower.” Then, leaning against Tom’s truck, he continued, “I moonlight as a general contractor, and right now I’ve got sixteen custom kitchens and fifteen bathrooms that all need cabinets. Think you’d be interested?” Several years later, as a successful businessman, Tom recalled this moment and said, “It was a real answer, just what I had asked for. God was saying, ‘Keep going—but slow down.’ I know He’ll always give me the direction I need” (Joan Webster Anderson, Where Miracles Happen, pp. 33-35).
When life becomes difficult or confusing, it’s very easy for us to grow discouraged, thinking that God is displeased with us or uninterested in our worries and problems—but these challenges are actually opportunities for us to demonstrate our faith by persevering and continuing to hope. Just as Tom learned to trust, we too must practice this virtue if we are to find and fulfill our mission in life.
As the Gospel of Luke (10:1-12, 17-20) makes clear, following Jesus is often unpredictable, difficult, and sometimes even an adventure—something that can’t be fully understood, planned, or organized in advance. Our Lord sent forth His disciples to every town He intended to visit, specifically telling them not to take any money bag or provisions, and instead rely on the generosity of those whom they would serve. Doing this would require great faith—and might well result in some experience of rejection, but also many unexpected blessings, while furthering God’s Kingdom through the spread of the Gospel. In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (66:10-14), it is written that “the Lord’s power shall be known to His servants,” but this can only happen if we’re willing to obey and demonstrate our trust in Him.
About six or seven summers ago, a priest unknown to me attended one of our Tuesday evening Masses, along with five young men. Afterwards, he introduced himself and explained that he and his companions were from a seminary out east. They had each been given round-trip train tickets to Detroit, but nothing else for their five-day mission journey to southeast Michigan; like the disciples, they were to learn to trust in God by relying on the generosity and kindness of strangers. When I heard this explanation, two thoughts came to mind: first, “That’s very impressive and inspiring,” and second, “I’m so thankful I didn’t have to do that when I was in the seminary.” At the priest’s request, I was able to help them find a place to stay for free that night.
Few if any of us will find ourselves in those circumstances, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with making prudent plans and preparations—as long as we let God have the final say in the direction of our lives. St. Paul (Gal 6:14-18) says, “May I never boast except in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ”—and this must be our attitude as well. We shouldn’t boast or feel self-satisfied about our education, business successes, property, finances, material possessions, talents, accomplishments, influence, status, travels, experiences, opportunities, or anything else of that sort. Instead, we should be thankful for everything God has given us, and willing to use these gifts for His glory and for the spread of the Gospel. This can only happen, of course, if we proceed in a spirit of humility, obedience, and trust—especially when it comes to our experiences and the chance encounters and events of daily life.
When we begin each day with prayer, we can include an intention like this: “Heavenly Father, help me recognize and use the opportunities You’ll give me this day to serve others and glorify Your Name.” When we have any sort of decision to make, whether large or small, we can pray, “Lord Jesus, guide me so I can know and do Your will.” When we encounter other people during the course of the day, whether acquaintances or strangers, and whether the encounter is pleasant or annoying, we can pray, “Holy Spirit, please bless these persons in the way they need most.” If we feel the Lord inspiring us to say or do something, we should try to obey; if we receive an unexpected blessing, we should humbly accept it in a spirit of gratitude; if we feel we’re being called in a certain direction, we should do our best to respond in trust.
We all know intellectually that God can arrange or organize our lives in an infinitely holier and more wonderful and even miraculous way than we could ever do ourselves—but actually giving Him this control is usually somewhat frightening and challenging. Today the Lord is once again gently, lovingly, but persistently asking us to take the radical step of placing our lives in His hands, letting His Holy Spirit guide and direct us on our journey through life. You and I each have a mission to fulfill during our time on earth, but we can’t achieve it if we insist on being in charge. Only a spirit of trust and self-surrender will help us truly follow and bear witness to Jesus, and allow us to enter His Kingdom—and if we make this effort, we will be able to rejoice that our names are written in Heaven.