Puzzling out the will of God

We are called to do the will of God. If we are supposed to do God’s will, then it stands to reason that we should be able to discover what God’s will for us is. St. Paul prays that we will be filled with spiritual wisdom and understanding which will give us the knowledge of God’s will (Col 1: 9). We can expect such prayers to be answered, but we have to do our part. We have to earnestly seek to know the will of God.

It may sound strange at first but I think the process of discovering God’s will in our everyday lives can be likened to the process by which one solves a Sudoku puzzle. In case you are not familiar with the new fad, Sudoku is a number puzzle, which originated in Japan. The puzzle maker fills in a few of the squares as clues. All you have to know are the rules.

We trust that the puzzle maker has created a puzzle that can be solved with nothing but perseverance and logic. In the same way we need to trust that if God wants us to do his will he will supply us with enough clues to discover his will.

God will not reveal his will to us unless we are committed to doing his will. Therefore, we have to want to do God’s will. This means we have to study Scripture and particularly the teachings of Jesus because Jesus said that whoever chooses to do God’s will shall know that Jesus’ teachings are from God (Jn 7: 17).

Once we know the rules, we have to follow them. We can’t expect to get the right answer if we are breaking the rules.

The first time I saw a Sudoku puzzle in the paper I didn’t know where to begin then I realized that there were various strategies, which by a process of elimination I could find the correct answer. Sometimes we find God’s will by a process of elimination. We can pray, “God if this is not your will then close this door and open the right one.”

When we are looking for strategies to discover God’s will we need to read the Bible on a regular basis, to become familiar with the stories and parables. How does God deal with people? How has he in the past revealed his will? Is this a situation when we, like Gideon, should ask for a sign? God sends prophets in every age to guide his people. Have we listened to the prophets God has sent for our age --words of our Holy Father, the example of the many new saints?

Sudoku puzzles have to be solved one square at a time. If we have a hunch and guess where a number goes without checking it out carefully, we can be wrong and from then on everything will be wrong. God rarely lays out his entire plan for our lives, rather we must live it one day at time -- one decision at a time -- often not seeing where his plan is going. Sometimes we think we know where he wants us to go only to discover that his plan is entirely different.

When we realize we have made a mistake, we have to go back and figure out where we went wrong. Occasionally the only answer is to erase everything and begin again. On several occasions I failed twice. The numbers just didn’t seem to fit. I was almost convinced that the puzzle maker had erred, but then I saw where I had made a mistake and found the solution. As Catholics we have a strategy to deal with failure: confession. As often as we fail, we can begin again.

If you want to learn how to do Sudoku, it is best to start with the easy puzzles and move up to the harder ones. It is the same with learning how to know God’s will. Too many people pray for guidance only when making really big decisions. We need to practice on small decisions. If you have developed a strategy, when the big decisions present themselves, you will know how to attack them.

We can find strategies for discovering God’s will by reading St. Paul’s letters. For example, he writes, “Do not be conformed to the spirit of the age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may discern what is the perfect will of God” (Rom 12:2), or again “In all circumstances give thanks for this is the will of God for you.” (1 Thes 5: 18). In another place, he writes, “This is the will of God, your holiness.” (1 Thes 5: 3).

Each day we find a new puzzle in the paper and each day we must pray to know God’s will for us for that day.

Dale O’Leary is the author of “One Man, One Woman: A Catholic’s Guide to Defending Marriage.”