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Danielle Bean

Danielle Bean
Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is author of My Cup of Tea, Mom to Mom, Day to Day, and most recently Small Steps for Catholic Moms. Though she once struggled to separate her life and her work, the two …
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Rachel Balducci

Rachel Balducci
Rachel Balducci is married to Paul and they are the parents of five lively boys and one precious baby girl. She is the author of How Do You Tuck In A Superhero?, and is a newspaper columnist for the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia. For the past four years, she has …
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Lisa Hendey

Lisa Hendey
Lisa Hendey is the founder and editor of and the author of A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms and The Handbook for Catholic Moms. Lisa is also enjoys speaking around the country, is employed as webmaster for her parish web sites and spends time on various …
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Arwen Mosher

Arwen Mosher
Arwen Mosher lives in southeastern Michigan with her husband Bryan and their 4-year-old daughter, 2-year-old son, and twin boys born May 2011. She has a bachelor's degree in theology. She dreads laundry, craves sleep, loves to read novels and do logic puzzles, and can't live without tea. Her personal blog site …
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Rebecca Teti

Rebecca Teti
Rebecca Teti is married to Dennis and has four children (3 boys, 1 girl) who -- like yours no doubt -- are pious and kind, gorgeous, and can spin flax into gold. A Washington, DC, native, she converted to Catholicism while an undergrad at the U. Dallas, where she double-majored in …
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Robyn Lee

Robyn Lee
Robyn Lee is a 30-something, single lady, living in Connecticut in a small bungalow-style kit house built by her great uncle in the 1950s. She also conveniently lives next door to her sister, brother-in-law and six kids ... and two doors down are her parents. She received her undergraduate degree from …
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Daria Sockey is a freelance writer and veteran of the large family/homeschooling scene. She recently returned home from a three-year experiment in full time outside employment. (Hallelujah!) Daria authored several of the original Faith&Life; Catechetical Series student texts (Ignatius Press), and is currently a Senior Writer for Faith&Family; magazine. A latecomer …
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Kate Lloyd

Kate Lloyd
Kate Lloyd is a rising senior, and a political science major at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire. While not in school, she lives in Whitehall PA, with her mom, dad, five sisters and little brother. She needs someone to write a piece about how it's possible to …
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Lynn Wehner

Lynn Wehner
As a wife and mother, writer and speaker, Lynn Wehner challenges others to see the blessings that flow when we struggle to say "Yes" to God’s call. Control freak extraordinaire, she is adept at informing God of her brilliant plans and then wondering why the heck they never turn out that …
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Seeking a Sign

Praying hard and trusting harder

Like many Christians, I often struggle to discern God’s will in my life. Faced with crucial decisions or worrying circumstances, I sometimes find the right relationship between prudence and faith, action and trust, not merely difficult to attain but downright impossible to determine.

To whit: Should I take the plunge on a decision and pray it’s the right one, or stall until prayer makes the right choice clear? When does resignation to God’s will become an excuse for laziness and passivity? At what point does careful planning morph into an anxiety-driven need to control outcomes and usurp God?

Whenever I’m forced to wrestle with these questions, I recall a lesson I learned while house hunting some years ago. My husband and I had been stunned by a quick buyer for our recently advertised condo, and found ourselves with a ludicrously small timeframe for choosing the family’s new home. Our city’s zoning-free sprawl and sinking real estate market offered a dizzying array of good options, but little chance of resale if we made bad purchase.

How, we wondered, would we reach the right decision in a matter of weeks? How, practically, was faith supposed to shape our choice? We began our hasty search while praying for guidance, but the answers weren’t clear.

The Audacity of Asking

Half-way through the process, discouraged by a series of failed professional inspections and bidding wars, I asked God to send us a sign. The right house, I prayed, would have a statue of the Virgin Mary. I admit this with some chagrin: asking for signs can be a legitimate Catholic practice under certain conditions,* but it’s also a risky one, plagued by theological misconceptions and spiritual pitfalls. My own request was rooted less in eagerness to pursue God’s will than impatience to resolve our dilemma. We’d been trying for weeks to reach a decision, and things were starting to feel desperate.

Shortly thereafter, we found a perfect house. It comprised the ideal location, price, layout and condition. Ecstatic, I realized there was only one problem: there was no statue. I looked to no avail—the owner wasn’t even Catholic.

For a day or two, I weighed the compelling logistics against my restless conscience. Was this a test of faith by God, or a test of God by me, I wondered? A dangerous experiment with superstition, or a sidetracked exercise in prayer? And were these even necessary considerations, or simply mental gymnastics?

Seeking Stability

I remembered a passage from the Epistle of St. James, which chastises the believer who asks God for wisdom and then revokes his trust. “When he asks, he must believe and not doubt,” writes James, “because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

Tired of such instability, I decided to take the wisest decision we could: buy the house, despite the absent statue, and trust that God was leading us anyway.

The transaction proceeded smoothly, and shortly after signing, I dropped in on the seller, who was busy moving her furniture. A large armchair had been pulled from its spot in front of the picture window, and there, on the ledge, was a dusty statue of the Madonna. It had been there all along.

Coincidence? I think not.

I do believe it was a sign from God—and I marveled at it. But here’s what struck me more: it only came after I had taken action to make the very best choice I could with the information and resources I already had. That sign, if sign it was, did not replace my prudential judgment—it confirmed it. To discover God will, I had to do some common-sense legwork first.

Free Will is From God

I don’t know if God always works this way, but I do know He created us with reason and free will, and that He never circumvents or destroys these cornerstones of human nature when He draws us into His divine life. Grace builds on nature, Catholic tradition affirms, and God loves and respects us too much to take away our capacity—and responsibility—for making free choices. When we abdicate prudence in order to “let God guide,” we negate our dignity and trample one of the prime means of discernment God has given us.

Knowing our frailty and shortsightedness, we are right to beg for His help when facing important decisions, but the decisions themselves must be made by us, using every good tool at our disposal. The final outcome is in His hands, yet God wants to use our own choices and daily experience to reach it. I have always found it telling that Christ did not feed the crowd of 5,000 by simply creating a meal from thin air, but chose instead to multiply a little boy’s small, concrete lunch of loaves and fishes. Although He didn’t need it, Christ desired a human contribution—however pathetically insufficient—in order to work His miracle.

If we want God to guide our steps when making a decision, then, we ought to be stepping (or at least stumbling) somewhere first. And “steps” is really the key word—discernment rarely involves just the one momentous decision: getting married, homeschooling, moving, returning to school, finding a new job ...  Focusing only on that final choice can be paralyzing!

Rather, effective discernment entails an ongoing progression of small, simple acts: going on a date, attending an open house, replying to a job posting, asking a friend or priest for advice—and continually taking the results to prayer.  We can’t usually foresee the long-term consequences of our big decisions, nor reach them overnight, but we almost always have enough information to take the next small step in front of us.

Learning to Trust

Finally, if we earnestly (and honestly) pray that God’s will be done through our choices, we must trust that it will.  Without this trust, our rightful sense of responsibility quickly swells into the prideful illusion of control. Yet He is the one in charge: all of salvation history demonstrates that God has the power to take not only good decisions but faulty—even sinful—ones, and use them for His glory.

As a spiritual director once told me, God is like a brilliant conductor who can transform the disastrous end note of a concert into the start of a magnificent new symphony, far surpassing the original.  No matter how badly we goof, God’s providence can make “all things work together for good to them that love Him.” (Romans 8:28)

This is why the Church has the audacity to call Original Sin a “happy fault” (felix culpa) in the Easter Vigil’s Exultet, because it was this very fault that “won for us so great a Redeemer.” Under Christ’s New Covenant, initiated in gratuitous response to the Fall, the Kingdom of God supersedes even the blissful Garden of Eden.  As C.S. Lewis once wrote, the worst has already happened—and has been repaired. However critical our personal struggles or the state of the world, what great reason we have for hope!

—Marion Fernandez-Cueto writes from Houston, TX.  She was baptized into the Catholic Church in 2000.

*St. Thomas Aquinas addresses this issue in the Summa Theologica under a larger question about tempting God.  It’s one thing (and a sin) to demand that God to “prove Himself,” Aquinas says; it’s quite another to ask Him to help you fulfill His will in a given situation: “There are two ways of asking God for a sign: first in order to test God’s power or the truth of His word, and this of its very nature pertains to the temptation of God. Secondly, in order to be instructed as to what is God’s pleasure in some particular matter; and this nowise comes under the head of temptation of God.”  Summa Theologica II-II q. 97, a. 2


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Thanks for writing this!  I tend to struggle when discerning big decisions in my life, waffling between going only on “signs”, and going only on my own reason.  I learned a valuable lesson in this area, though, when I was trying to decide where, and whether, to go to graduate school.  While thinking about the decision one day, I heard an ad on the radio for the place that had offered me a full scholarship; I decided it was just the sign I was looking for.  Despite visiting the campus and not feeling at home there, despite not finding a good faith group on campus (although it was a Catholic college), and most importantly, despite the fact that it was 600 miles from my family, friends, and significant other, I chose that school - and miserable, dropped out after only one semester.  God definitely used the experience for great good: I grew tremendously in my faith through the loneliness, and learned a lot about myself, but I also learned not to rely on just a sign when making a decision.

I’ve found Peter Kreeft’s article on discernment - - pretty helpful.  The basic premise he advises is that everything should add up to a “yes” or a “no” around an issue, not just one or two pieces.

We’re about to start looking for a house, so this post came at a great time, prompting me back to prayer for God’s guidance as we go forward.  Thanks!


It makes me think….seek and you shall find


Goodness this was inspired, and timely! Thanks so much for this… I have a lot to reflect upon and pray about now (and then… DO?).


How timely.  I am currently prayerfully discerning a re-evaluation my current situation, feeling tempted myself to ask for a concret sign as to what God wants me to do.  I really needed this post today.  Thank you for allowing yourself to be a tool for Christ! This has helped me so much.


This was a great piece!


Excellent article!  So many Catholics struggle and even agonize about doing “God’s will” when they needn’t be so troubled.  I wrote about this very subject recently, hoping to bring some relief to anxious souls!


I really enjoyed this, too!  I linked to it on my weekly roundup, thanks so much!


A priest once told me, “God sends just enough signs for those who have eyes too see, but he will not force us to believe.”

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