“If God changes your heart, be willing to change your plans.”
Looking at the lives of the saints, we are reminded of one of life’s great lessons: God’s plans for you are far greater than your plans for you. St. Ignatius of Loyola was someone who had to learn this lesson the hard way. He grew up with a normal childhood and adolescence among Spanish nobility, surrounded by wealth and vanities until he opted for military life. Without a doubt he made plans to rise through the military ranks, get married, and settle down in the midst of other nobility in a privileged and comfortable life. And all that seemed to be going well… until he was seriously injured by a cannonball and forced to be bedridden for a year. God seemed to have very different but even greater plans for Ignatius.
Through a series of books he read, he began to experience a deep interior conversion which not only changed his outlook on life, but also placed a different desire in his heart which urged him to pattern his life after Jesus Christ, in imitation of the Saints. He eventually took a leap of faith, renounced his possessions, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and began to attract followers, until he eventually founded the Society of Jesus – a religious order that today counts with saints so numerous that there’s not even enough days in the year to celebrate their feast days.
And what does all this have to do with me? The example of St. Ignatius – although there are many, many more examples we could use – helps us simply remember that more than choosing our vocation, we discover it. What’s left to us is the choice of accepting it, or better yet, embracing it and the generosity with which we respond. It’s something divine, not human – God’s initiative, not ours. We are all under the umbrella of God’s providence, who has a specific plan, a concrete design for each and every one of us that only we can fulfill – but we are free to choose it or not. St. Ignatius could have perfectly said no to all the movements he felt in his heart because they weren’t in accordance with the plans he had already established for himself. At first, he wasn’t even attracted to the idea of religious life – he was more concerned about his military career and finding the love of his life.
You can give your life to God in a thousand ways, but the important thing is to ask Him what He wants, to go where He has thought for you to go, and to do what He has in mind for you to do. It’s the place, the role that corresponds to you alone and that no one else can fulfill. If life were a play, in other words, there would be no understudy to take your place. The show can go on without you… but it won’t be the same as the Director had in mind, and if you try to put on a different costume and play a different role, it won’t fit you the same and in a way, your happiness depends on it.
That’s why you have to discern what path is yours and make your decision in the presence of God. It’s fairly normal that important decisions in life take time and involve risks, but we can’t let ourselves be overcome by fear because fear paralyzes us and can even be counterproductive.
Even some of the greatest saints in history had to search and some even made mistakes at the beginning. St. Thomas More, for example, thought he was called to be a Carthusian monk and lived with them for four years until he finally understood that it was not his place. Then, he thought about becoming a Franciscan, but with time also understood that it wasn’t what God had in mind for him. Then, he finally came to the conclusion that what God was asking of him was to strive for holiness in the midst of the world, in matrimony and work in the world – something very, very different than what he originally had in mind. If he wasn’t open to God changing his personal plans, we more than likely wouldn’t benefit from the great example he left us in defending the truth and the sanctity of marriage even to death. And along with him, there are countless other examples.
To give your life to God might mean leaving your country and going to a different one, like missionaries do. But missionaries are few in number. Whatever your vocation is, what God asks of each one of us is to leave behind our own commodities, our own selfishness, and launch ourselves towards His holy will. God has many paths and the Church needs them all. Each one of us has to find the one that corresponds to us. We have to be willing to accept that the path I have in mind might not be the same that He has in mind for me. And this attitude goes not just for my vocation; it’s a disposition that we should always have.
And who better to guide us than the Blessed Virgin Mary? Her life was marked by a total openness to God, even though on many occasion it implied a complete change of plans. Looking at her, we can find the courage to be brave with God, to not be afraid of Him, to risk everything in faith, trusting in His goodness. Commit yourself to God, whatever the cost, and you will discover that life is not boring, but is full of infinite surprises.