Through Uncertainty to Insight and Peace

February 2012 — Vol. 1, Issue 4

Fr. Drew Gawrych, C.S.C.

Profession of Final Vows

“When we are honestly seeking God’s will, uncertainty and doubt are only the next step to greater insight and peace.”

Those are the words that jumped out off my lips in a recent conversation with a young man who was starting to get discouraged that some of the answers he felt that he had finally begun to find in his discernment seemed to be unraveling. After saying them, I actually had to pause for a moment to think about what I had just said and whether or not I believe it to be true.

Is it actually the case that when we are honestly seeking God’s will that uncertainty and even doubt are only the next step to great insight and peace? The answer, I believe, is a definite yes.

Uncertainty and doubt usually come to cast a shadow over our discernment when the questions are piling up for us faster than the answers. We all are yearning to find “answers” in our discernment because we want to be able to know what God is asking of us so that we can generously give our lives in response to His call. And so it is natural to get discouraged and disheartened when the questions seem to be flowing more abundantly than the answers.

Yet if we are ever to find the answers we seek, we have to know the right questions to be asking, because the right answers will only come when we are asking the right questions. And that is why God at times blesses us with the gift – yes, the gift – of uncertainty and even doubt. By revealing to us what we still do not know – whether about ourselves, about the vocations we are discerning, or about God Himself – God is helping us discover the questions we need to be asking, including some we may have overlooked.

To give just one example from my own life: Throughout college, I rode the rollercoaster of discernment between marriage and priesthood. Going into my senior year, I concluded that I still had too many questions and doubts about my vocation – not the least of which was being in love with one of my friends – to enter seminary the following year. I felt good about that decision, so I took seminary off my list of options and began pursuing a dating relationship with my friend.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly until one afternoon, while day dreaming about dating the friend, I heard a little voice inside say: “You cannot date her because you are thinking about priesthood and religious life too much.” Needless to say, I was shocked because I hadn’t been thinking about priesthood and religious life for months. I had thought there was nothing I wanted more in life than to date this friend, but the voice would not go away, throwing uncertainty and doubt into the plans I had made. Yet this uncertainty and doubt led me to ask new questions about my life, questions that eventually led me to discover that God was calling me to enter the seminary the following year.

The key to all of what I have said, of course, is that we are honestly seeking God’s will in our lives. That is the precondition necessary to be able to have faith and trust in the moments of uncertainty and doubt that what is happening is all still part of God’s greater plan to lead us to His will for us.

For if we are not honestly seeking God’s will and remaining close to the Lord, then we cannot be sure that uncertainty and doubt are not, in fact, the work of the enemy trying to lead us astray. The devil, of course, gets more desperate the closer we get to Christ, and sowing seeds of fear and doubt is one of his favorite tactics as all vocations require from us some leap of faith.

But if we are honestly seeking God’s will  and remaining close to the Lord – if we are trying to pray daily, to live a life of virtue, to celebrate the Sacraments, and to love as Christ loved  – then we can trust beyond the shadow of our uncertainty and doubt that God is at work even in those moments.

Such faith – that God’s will is being done in us and will continue to be done in us – is what guides the way forward for us in our discernment through both the questions and the answers, just as the pillar of cloud and fire led the Israelites in the Exodus through both the day and the night.

So, yes, have faith. When we are honestly seeking God’s will, uncertainty and even doubt are only the next step to discovering your vocations in the peace that only God can give. 

Prayer from the Tradition


Following God's Will

Prayer of Discernment
Thomas Merton
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think
that I am following Your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

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