What I Wish I Had Said

What I Wish I Had Said

Maybe you’re also a fire-breathing introvert. If so, you know that one of introversion’s most infuriating traits is figuring out the answer to a question three days after it’s asked. It usually comes to me when I’m driving.

During a recent interview, I was asked, “How do you know when it’s God?” In other words, how do we make spiritually responsible decisions about what to do and what to avoid?

All I could think of to say was, “I’m not sure.” Then I scrambled to do some nervous yet pious damage control, because the imaginary little red devil perched on my shoulder, fiery pitchfork in hand, started screaming in my ear, “That’s the best you’ve got? That’s it?”

Hard-won experience usually urges me not to listen to all this accusatory huffing and puffing; instead, I try to listen to the cherub playing the harp on my other shoulder. That angelic voice is harder to hear. It’s usually quiet and hushed, yet reassuring and rescuing.

“ ‘I’m not sure’ wasn’t a bad answer,” the cherub urged. After all, certainty would render faith superfluous and send the Holy Spirit to the unemployment office. Scratch prayer and discernment too.

But I could have said there’s at least one reliable sign that something comes from God: that thing will offer us suffering and joy, death and resurrection at the same time. Pain without hope or life without suffering knows nothing of God. Death and resurrection turn out to be twins.


Image: freedigitalphotos.net/dan


About the Author

Joe McHugh is a spiritual director, retreat leader, teacher, and writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the National Catholic Reporter. His book, "Startled by God: Wisdom from Unexpected Places" is available at catalog.franciscanmedia.org. He can be contacted at jjmch1300@gmail.com.
  • Bob Pierson

    Joe: Very wise. “I’m not sure” is a good answer in the short run AND the idea that God’s way involves both suffering and joy, death and resurrection is right on. Of course, one doesn’t experience “both sides of the coin” right away. That’s why real discernment always takes time, so that one can experience the “fruit” in order to know (at least tentatively) that one is doing God’s thing and not just my own.