There Are Many Mansions

Catholics are to seek God’s will in all things. Does he want us to take the job that will give the family more financial stability, but requires travel; or the job that pays less, but is ten minutes from home? Go to this college or that college? Start a home business or plug away at a large corporation? Homeschool or not? God rarely sends revelatory dreams, so when there are benefits to each choice, we just have to pray and do our best—and either it will go well, or it won’t. But if you’re paying attention, you can almost always glean something good from any choice you make (even the disasters).

As we started to discuss on Monday, though, the choice about whether or not to have another baby tends to look awfully black-and-white. After all, assuming that all goes well, you either (a) have a baby, or you (b) don’t. And so discerning God’s will in this matter can seem black-and-white, too: Either he wants us to have a baby now, or he doesn’t.

But here’s something I’m starting to grasp: The will of God is not necessarily one thing, and one thing only. It’s not as if, as one commenter put it, God is sitting on his throne with a golden box labeled “Divine Will” in his lap, and we’re supposed to guess what’s inside it—and every other choice we make is the wrong choice. This is not a game show, after all, and God doesn’t play “gotcha.”

The truth is, there are many different things—even mutually exclusive things—that are God’s will. To switch analogies: When getting to your destination (God’s Willopolis), you might take the scenic route, or the route that gets you the best gas mileage, or the route that takes you through your old hometown, or the shortcut you accidentally discover because the kids were screaming in the back seat and you didn’t realize you missed your turn.

Is there such a thing as a wrong road? Of course. Are any of the four I described above wrong roads? No. Are there benefits from taking one that you wouldn’t get from taking the others? Yes. But they will all get you there.

So, getting back to the decision of whether or not to have another baby right now: It isn’t simply a matter of figuring out whether God wants you to have a baby, or wants you not to have a baby. Yes, your choices about fertility heavily involve God’s will about bringing new life into the world. (And sadly, they sometimes involve realizing that the road you’re on is a dark and lonely one, which will lead you to God’s will, but without the baby you longed for.)

But your choices also involve discerning God’s will about a number of other things—and that’s where the “scenic route vs. best mileage vs. sentimental value vs. blundering around” part comes in.

Besides having a baby vs. not having a baby, we are supposed to discern if God wants us to learn self-control, or learn trust; if God wants us to focus more on the things around us, or focus more on the long-term view of our life; if God wants us to shower our spouse with extra care and attention for a time, or to stretch our concept of what our marriage is for; if God wants us to have a better understanding of generosity, or a better understanding of prudence; a better acceptance of our own limits, or more sympathy for the struggles of others. And so on.

These are all things which may very well be within that golden box marked “Divine Will.” One of the dreary misfortunes of living as a lonely Catholic in a world so hostile to babies is that, in our loneliness, we sometimes try to drag God down into our limited view of life: Black-and-white, Lord. Just tell me what to do. But just because WE see only two choices before us, let’s not forget that God is all-seeing, all-knowing. His will is not a checklist of do’s and don’ts, but a living, fluid, powerful force that somehow, inconceivably finds its way into our puny seedling lives, nourishing us like the rain and making us grow and bear fruit.

Remember, Christ told us, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions” (John 14:2). In his will, there are many places to stay and be safe, and learn more about this Father of ours.