Have you ever wondered how you could know God's will or recognize God's voice? Does God give you a brain and expect you to figure things out for yourself? Or does God have a blueprint—a Plan A—for your life that you can miss? Is Plan B just as good? How do you discern God's movements in your life anyway?
I doubt there is one right answer to these questions because each of us has our own unique and unrepeatable relationship with the Divine. God spoke to Abraham and told him to pack up and leave his hometown. But he didn't give a destination. Abraham seemed to wander out into the unknown without an argument. On the other hand, when God called Moses and gave him a destination (Egypt), Moses protested and had it out with God. God directed each of these men in a different way. And the Holy One's presence went with both of them even though they both made mistakes that seemed to derail God's plan from time to time.
The good news here is that human failure doesn't stump God's story—because God's story is never just a story about Abraham or Moses or us. We all have parts to play. Parts that call for plenty of awareness, listening, and knowing how to say "yes" and "no" along the way. But we don't have to make our way in fear. God has all the loose ends in his hands.
When I wanted to know God's will, I used to make lists of pros and cons. I tried to figure out which option came with the most perks, upsides, money, opportunity, etc. Then one day I looked at Jesus' journey and realized that God's will is not always about moving up in this world. Sure, pro and con lists can be useful, but a pro list a mile long doesn't guarantee it is the right course of action.
In the end, God makes his will known in relationship. Some people feel nudges. Others get a word from Scripture. Others hear a sermon or read a book and have a sense of what they are supposed to do. Once I think I heard God's voice. But most of the time hearing from God has meant listening to my life, the Word, my friends, and the world I am in.
The Examen is a spiritual practice for discernment that originated with Ignatius Loyola some 500 years ago. Ignatius wanted to help people attend to the movements of God in their life. And the process he developed has been used by countless followers for centuries.
Psalm 37:4 reads, "Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart's desires." This doesn't mean the Holy One gives you what's on your wish list like Santa Claus. It means God has hidden certain desires within you from the beginning. They are part of your life-plan DNA. Maybe you love to nurture people or help people who have problems. Maybe you like to lead, or make beauty, or work for justice. God wants you to be in touch with your deep desires because they shape the part we play in God's story. The desires God puts in us bring us energy and life.