Skip to main content

"What Next, God?"

I am a planner. I set goals. I want to keep on schedule. When I exercise, I want to know how far I go, how many calories do I burn, and what is my pace. Everything is calculated. I guess that is the math/science part of my brain at work. This is great for being productive and organized. However, it leads to great anxiety when the data is skimpy and I can’t work out an algorithm to model what comes next.

The problem comes when I forget that God is the lead engineer on this project. He doesn’t give me the big picture. I am just a subcontractor. He sets me up with one task. Before I expand this task or push on to another I need to check in with God to make sure I am following His blueprint. Sometimes I get carried away, thinking that I have the master plan all figured out, and just keep going my merry way. Of course that means I usually run into a solid wall where I think there should be a door and I realize I wasn’t following God’s instructions at all.

We are reminded of this in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles:

While they were worshiping the Lord and Fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off.

The early Christians didn’t have the big picture. They weren’t making plans for a Church that would last 2000 years. They were seeking moment by moment the will of God. I am not advocating giving up planning for the future. I am saying that we cannot become slaves to our plans. We need to be open to tweaking them as God directs us.

Twenty-five years ago I was certain I was going to become an OB/GYN physician. I loved promoting women’s health. I felt I could relate to women patients on so many levels. It just seemed like the perfect fit. I could do so much good there. Then my husband’s Air Force assignment took him to a remote base with no OB/GYN residency programs in the area. There was a family practice residency in the nearby town. Did God want me to be an OB/GYN or was that my plan? After much consternation, frustration, and finally prayer, I realized my vocation was marriage. Practicing medicine was my career. I felt living apart for four years so I could study OB/GYN was too big a compromise for my vocation as a wife. I chose to live with my husband and study family medicine. And of course, it turned out to be the best thing I could have done. Training in family medicine offered so many more opportunities as we traveled around the country from Air Force assignment to Air Force assignment.

I look back and can cite countless other instances when my plans were stymied but God’s plan rolled along smoothly. The truth is my view of the future is only a guess. It is certainly colored by wishful and willful thinking. It is very tempting to use my prayers as a sort of progress report to inform God how things are going and what I plan to do next. Instead, I need to surrender my plans and just ask God, “What next?”


This is an excellent point, and something I really struggle with. Coming from a background of atheism, it's a huge, huge change in my worldview to realize that God is actually the one in charge.

I've read a lot of posts on this subject, but I thought your point about the early Christians, that they were just following God's will and not executing on their 2000 Year Church Vision really makes it hit home. Thanks!
Alexandra said…
Hello, nice blog...just stopping by from Chatolic Mothers Blogroll. :)
Rosemary said…
Great post. We need always to be reminded of this fact. We have only a little tiny bit of the picture. We are His servants and we must always be seeking to follow His lead. It's so hard, though, when His will is not clear to us...I guess that's when we just trust.
Meg said…
I struggle a lot with this, between wanting to believe that it's my skill alone that gets me places in this world, when it's really God's gift of that ability that has gotten me anywhere at all.

It's hard to stop and ask God what is the next step, this world and so many around us are rushing and/or not calculating God into their very existence.
Peter Brown said…
I think there's a little bit of both/and here. Planning—even long-range planning—is no sin. The exercise of planning, properly approached, is in fact an exercise in discerning God's will and preparing oneself to submit to it.

Of course, when we won't let God falsify our discernment, that discernment is no longer faithful but idolatrous. But that doesn't meant that the planning exercise was misbegotten from the start; it only means that we need to hold our plans loosely, as working hypotheses subject to change (or even scrapping) as we learn more.

Anonymous said…
I don't know what you intended when you started this blog, Doctor, but I can tell you that I have learned a great deal about our Catholic faith just from reading what you write each day. Moreover, and whether you realize it or not, I am sure I am not the only anonymous Catholic that you've helped along the way. You are doing the work of the angels.

Thanks, by the way.
Denise said…
I am flattered! So happy to have you reading along and joining me on this journey of faith.

Popular posts from this blog

Find Catholic Mass even when Traveling

First published 1/27/06 There is no such thing as a travel dispensation. Even when you are away from your home parish, you are expected to take advantage of your Sunday opportunity to attend Mass. With most communities offering a Saturday evening vigil Mass as well as Sunday Mass, there is really no excuse for missing Mass while traveling unless you are backpacking beyond the reach of civilization. It takes just a little planning and effort on your part. The question is, “Do you really want to go to Mass?” Why should we worry about missing Mass while traveling? Well, the easy answer is “’Cause the Church says so!” Missing Mass is considered a serious sin. Jesus told Peter Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven ( Mt 16:19 )so we must take the edicts of the Church quite seriously. Still, this is a child-like level of understanding. The more mature answer is we have a responsibility to maintain our relationship with God. Like any relationship, if it is neglected, it

Dispelling the Myth of the Travel Dispensation

One of the fun things about having a site meter on my blog is I can see which posts garner the most attention. I can also see how people find my blog. One of the most read posts from my two years of blogging is this one that discusses finding Mass while traveling . I would like to think this post is so popular because it is so well written. The truth of the matter is that it generates so much traffic because I use the words “travel dispensation for Mass”—as in “There is no such thing as a travel dispensation for Mass.” I would guess that nearly a dozen times every week, someone googles “travel dispensation for Mass” and finds my blog. I wonder how many of these folks are poor souls trying to assuage their Catholic guilt with evidence of a justification for missing Mass while on the road. I know that when I tell my seventh grade CCD students that attending Mass every Sunday is a commandment (one of the top ten!) and not just a pretty good idea they are amazed. Missing Mass has become s

I Was There!

I was there! Yesterday I gathered with hundreds of thousands— please note the mainstream media will only say scores, thousands, or even tens of thousands —to make a stand for the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. It was a joyous and uplifting event. Of course, the message of support from the President that we have enjoyed for the last eight years was missing. There were numerous members of Congress who joined us to make a stand. This is not a Catholic event. Orthodox Jews and many Protestants were there. But it was striking to see the Catholic clergy and religious. I was excited to see the number of young priests and sisters. Take a look at the Sisters for Life . These young women are vibrant, beautiful, and just exude holiness. I would be honored to have my daughter be among their number. I was also excited to meet up with my blogging buddy Rosemary . She was there with her three lovely daughters. You know, the Washington Post coverage devoted as much space to th