A central fact of the Christian message is this: we Christians serve a foolish God, who calls His followers to a life of folly. “Whoever wishes to come after me”, He says, “must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24). To where must we follow him? To Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. Sounds foolish, does it not? By merely human standards—yes. Nevertheless, we know by faith that, as St. Paul says, “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Cor 1:25). In other words, though we perceive God’s ways as foolish by our merely human lights (think Abraham and Isaac, Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh, the crucifixion, etc.), His ways contain wisdom of an unfathomable depth. Moreover, contrary to our fleshly intuitions, His plans for our lives are more consistent than any other with our true good and the deepest longings of our hearts. This truth has major implications for our lives as Christians, especially when it comes to discerning what God is calling us to.
My sense is that every true calling contains at least an element of foolishness (by human standards). It is a grave distortion of the Gospel to claim that God calls us only to a life of perfect contentment, financial security, physical and emotion well-being, etc. This is precisely the heresy of the “prosperity gospel”. Some indeed will enjoy such blessings, even in abundance. But they shirk their calling and offend God if they refuse to accept that sufferings of various kinds will, and should, coexist with such blessings in the life of a Christian. Moreover, it is deeply important that we as Christians realize that we will not all enjoy blessings of regular contentment, good health and financial security, etc.—and that we are not all called to. What, though, does all this mean for us as we discern God’s plans for our lives? I would suggest that it merits us asking at least the following five questions:
- The first and most central question is: “Am I called?”—NOT how it will make me feel or how it will work practically.
- Another central question is: “Do I see any element of foolishness (or risk) in this path?” If not, more consideration may be required before making a final decision.
- “If I follow this path, will it make me miserable, or could I find fulfillment?” This is not a “prosperity gospel” question or a rejection of God. If every fiber of your being tells you that you would be miserable, it’s probably not your calling.
- “What would ‘the world’ think of this?” Think of possible worldly criticisms that could be leveled at your decision—for example, “you’ll be in the middle of nowhere”, “you won’t have much in savings”, “this will never look good on a resume”, etc. In many cases, these could be signs that you are on the right path.
- “Is there no conceivable way this could work out practically?” Though we are all called to a certain degree of folly, God does not usually call us to lives that seemingly defy all common sense. Remember, as Catholic Christians, we live by faith and reason.
Aside from asking these five questions, there are the more obvious and foundational requirements for rightly discerning God’s plans for your life: prayer, growth in virtue, staying close to the Sacraments, and obedience to a spiritual direction. And of course, we ought always to keep this in mind: we are called to be fools for Christ! To be anything less would be, well, foolish.