Crying because I can’t follow God’s will…or my will?

A couple months ago I got it into my head that I was called to go to daily Mass.

I’d been going to Adoration a lot and had repeatedly felt a strong prompting that I needed to receive the Eucharist more than just once a week, so I decided to try it. It sounded really difficult to pull that off while in the third trimester of pregnancy with three kids under five, but it was also kind of exciting to feel called to do something so unusual and challenging. I’d also heard about the great graces that my friend Abigail had seen after taking her three young children to Mass every day and liked the idea of the same thing happening for our family.

I took all the kids to our parish’s noon Mass one Friday as a discernment trial run, and everything went very smoothly. Not only did my three kids behave unusually well, but the homily was about how the Lord wants us to spend more time in church! I took that as big confirmation that, at least for now, I was supposed to be a daily communicant.

So I started going to Mass every day.

After just a few days, however, things started to go downhill. Sometimes I was so tired that it really pushed me to my mental and physical limits to get all the kids dressed and strapped into the car, other days I found that dealing with bad behavior at church would be the straw that broke the camel’s back when things were stressful anyway.

One Thursday afternoon in January I found myself sitting in my car after Mass, calling my husband in tears to tell him how frustrated I was because, yet again, I’d had a difficult time taking the kids to Mass. After I got off the phone and began driving home, the following quote popped into my mind:

“Are you crying because you want to do God’s will or because you want God to do your will?”

It’s a quote from the life of one of my all-time favorite saints, St. Frances of Rome, said to her by her confessor when she was crying because her father wouldn’t let her become a nun. As I drove home that day I thought about her story: she’d been on fire for God from an early age and imagined that she’d live an ascetic life tucked away in a convent, devoting herself to prayer and penance. She had definite ideas about how she could best serve the Lord, and when her father married her off to a prominent wealthy family who expected her to be a socialite, she was horrified to the point of wanting to die. What she eventually learned, however, is that this life was God’s will for her, even though it was much more worldly and ordinary than the strict religious life she’d imagined. When she finally embraced that truth and devoted herself to truly embracing God’s will for her — letting go of her own more grandiose ideas of what God’s will should be — she became a tremendous force for Christ in the world. (I highly recommend taking a moment to read this brief biography of her inspiring life.)

I thought of Frances and asked for her prayers as I simmered in my exasperation about daily Mass that afternoon. And, finally, I had to ask myself that same question that she had been asked: Was I really crying because I wanted to do God’s will? Or was I just mad because I had projected my own wishes on the situation and things weren’t going my way?

When I thought about it, I realized that I had never specifically been led to go to Mass every day. The only thing I’d felt strongly in prayer was to go more often — but because I have an all-or-nothing type personality and like the excitement that comes with grand undertakings and big changes, I had jumped to the conclusion that “more often” meant “every day.” After all, going to Mass a couple extra times per month isn’t exciting. Being a “person who occasionally goes to weekday Mass” was a whole lot less interesting in my mind than being a “daily communicant.” And, as usual, there was probably some pride involved: being pregnant and having three little ones wasn’t going to stop me from going to Mass every day! Hah.

Because of my personality type, situations like this have come up many times throughout my conversion. All too frequently I let a sincere desire to do something great for God get mixed up with my own personal ideas about what doing something great for God might look like, and I stubbornly cling to my own wishes at the expense of finding out what God’s will for me actually is. Needless to say, in the daily Mass situation I pretty quickly discerned that I was not, in fact, called to go to Mass every day. What God had actually told me was a much less interesting, less dramatic message: to go to Mass during the week a little more often as I felt able to comfortably manage it. And, not surprisingly, being obedient to that call has been much more spiritually fruitful than when I was forcing myself to follow the imagined call that was more in line with my desires.

In this situation, like so many others, I drew great strength and inspiration from the life of St. Frances of Rome (and, I believe, from her intercessory prayers). Today is her feast day, and I’ll be doing something special to celebrate this great Christian who reminds me again and again not to let genuine desires for holiness turn into prideful fixations on my own ideas of what holiness should look like. May I never forget that the way to bring glory to God isn’t to stubbornly cling to my own grand visions of what true devotion should look like, but to set aside my desires and really let the Lord lead me, even when it’s down a humble, simple path.

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35 Responses to “Crying because I can’t follow God’s will…or my will?”
  1. MamaMidwife says:

    Yes!! I do the same. Also a convert, and an all-or-nothing personality, I take everything, especially anything to better my connection with God, a little too far sometimes.

    Good luck with getting there with all four of your kids. I didn’t make it to Mass when my most recent baby was born until he was 2 months old. God’s will was for me to be at home.

  2. Laura says:

    There was an article in the Washington Post over the weekend that described the increase in people who have decided to give up tech stuff for Lent. There is even a Facebook group dedicated to giving up Facebook for 40 days.
    As I read, I wondered if I should be doing the same- when really I feel like I am my best self when I am writing, so it’s confusing.
    A priest (or pastor?) in the article said that he wanted to spend LESS time on the computer and use the extra time he saves for spiritual purposes.
    Bottom line message I felt was to make small changes that can make big differences.
    Going to Mass an extra day a week is a lovely change and makes anyone who does it feel better.
    (And what a gift to God.)
    And, if you can add another day- Wow.
    This is a lovely reflective post and inspired me to realize that it’s not too late to make some alterations to my Lenten promises too.
    (One or two of them were tanking already.)

  3. Sebastian says:

    “What she eventually learned, however, is that this life was God’s will for her, even though it was much more worldly and ordinary than the strict religious life she’d imagined.” If I could end my days with this as the description of my life, I’m not sure I could ask for better.

  4. Kylie w Warszawie says:

    What a beautiful way to look at it. I once had a similar “calling”. I was living in the States, which is rare for me, and I had the opportunity to go to a daily mass that I could understand. So I took my two young sons with me and the first day, my oldest son was not able to sit still and he fussed (he was 2 at the time) and an old man told me through clenched teeth to “take them outside!”

    So I left. Very hurt and seriously considered leaving the Church.

    Your POV makes it much more clear that I was trying to make my will God’s.

  5. Christine the Soccer Mom says:

    Reminds me of what Blessed Mother Teresa said:

    “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

    I’ve been known to do the same thing. “I ought to pray more. I should say the Rosary daily and start the Liturgy of the Hours and Morning Offerings and Daily Mass and…”

    Suuuure…

    What has actually helped me this Lent is simply saying Morning Offerings – every day – before I so much as turn on the radio, TV, or computer. Including for work, which means that when I work starting at seven, I have to be up a wee bit earlier. But it helps my day, and it’s gotten me more ready for adding prayers throughout the day. And it also helps me keep more silence in my day, too. But it’s so small! I tend to think. However, it’s something, and it’s a lot more than before, so … there. Gotta start somewhere.

    Who knows? Maybe you will be a daily communicant at some point. But God lets us crawl before we walk, yes? :)

  6. Amy says:

    I am so guilty of doing this too. I keep praying to God to fix this or that in my life to make way for these big things I want to do to be a change in this world. I keep thinking that God would not put these ideas in me and in my heart to do these big ideas if he didn’t want me to do them. I felt “lead” to do them. But little by little I am seeing that maybe it wasn’t God’s will but my desires and ideas. Maybe His will is for me to do better with what I have been given. Not to over look the mundane simple things in everyday life. To try and do those things better to bless those around me. And may be in turn it would inspire them to do better too. I am long way from being an inspiration to anyone, but maybe just thinking of others before myself is what God is trying to teach me. When am I going to learn that simple lesson? Thanks for reminding me of this and hopefully doing better today.

  7. Shelly W says:

    What a beautiful reminder that a relationship with Christ is all about freedom and nothing about slavery. I’ll think about St. Francis today (even though I’m not Catholic!). :)

  8. Party of Eight says:

    Hi Jennifer, Wow! I think a lot of moms feel this way…especially me! I could have written it, except it would’ve turned out more choppy and harder to follow ;)I think it must be a Blessing that our parish has weekday Mass 3x/week and I usually aim for 1 day, 2 if I feel He is calling us (me + 6 littles). Thanks for the history of St Frances :)

  9. Eliz says:

    Stubbornly following my own desires is a problem I have over and over, not only in my spiritual life but in other aspects of my life as well. It’s *the* recurring theme of my life. You expressed it so eloquently.

    Kiss that baby for us.

  10. Abigail says:

    So TRUE!

    Look at this quote I found in the “Imitation of Mary” book this week.

    “God wants of us a continuous series of little actions, while you want to do some great ones. The only result, if you follow your own way, is that you will do neither the small nor the great well.”

    The other side is that it’s really humbling to follow your own path up to heaven an not jump on someone else’s “great idea” before you are ready. For example, you pray the Daily Office. I’ve wanted to do that for a full year after reading your posts on the subject. I can’t do it yet. I’m too “little” in prayer to handle that commitment. So I just occassionally join my husband during his Daily Office and attempt to be content with my more “teeny” daily prayer routine.

    Slow and steady wins the race. The going easy helps ease that nasty pride thing!

  11. Lisa says:

    I’ve run into the same thing — it’s such a pretty idea, isn’t it? Mass every day with the little ones lined up trying to follow along? And sometimes it works, like when the baby is small and sleeps through Mass and the oldest is old enough to get it and the middle is trying to copy the oldest. And then the mix changes and it doesn’t work anymore — the baby is a toddler and even happy noises are loud, and daylight savings time changes and it’s cold and dark outside and two kids already have strep. . . and you find yourself frustrated and feeling like you’ve GOT to FORCE it.

    I found, also, that I had to try to discern when I was being scrupulous and dragging my kids through a kind of OCD pridefest by making them get to church.

    St. John of the Cross (I believe) said anything could be an attachment that keeps you from God — even God himself. I can’t remember it well, but he essentially said that even getting attached to the Eucharist can keep you from God, the same as getting attached to that “warm fuzzy” feeling of God’s love can keep you from God because you seek that feeling rather than seeking God’s will. Which is when you get the dark night of the soul, when consolations are denied to you so you can follow God more directly.

    Awfully hard, though, to discern the difference between giving up my attachments and just not wanting to get out of bed and get the kids dressed for church. . .

  12. blog nerd says:

    Jen–as I posted the other day on my blog, reading you just makes me a better person.

    Your desire to be closer to God is perfectly lovely.

    I remember reading on the internet or hearing a priest describe a woman of many children who insisted on going to Mass every day and he found that a sinful thing.

    By way of saying: even virtue taken to excess becomes vice. It is great if somehow a mother of so many small children could get to Mass daily but if it is causing stress, disruption or tears–by all means, this cannot be in good order.

    I see someone else used the word lovely–after I wrote the above.

    God must be finding you lovely, too, and that’s why the Holy Spirit is sending that word through our fingers. ;)

    For my part, I think that for my very active daughter going to Mass too much would be unfair to her, because she would find it so difficult to behave well in that situation.

    I’m all about giving her situations in which she will find it easy to be a good girl and not asking too much of her.

    At 21 months old–very physical and tending toward the non-verbal. Asking her to sit quietly at Mass more than once or twice a week would be cruel and unusual punishment.

    Though I am inspired to incorporate more structured daily prayer. I fall away from it and take to very unstructured forms of prayer and this is reminding me to take that time every morning.

    God bless–and can’t believe you are back to posting so soon!

  13. Juli says:

    This came at a good time, because I too was feeling called to attend daily Mass, but my husband said “No, way.” I was feeling that he was trying to block me from doing God’s will. After further clarification he said it would be fine to go a few extra days, but not EVERY day. Maybe when the kids are bigger we can try again.

  14. Melanie B says:

    I miss going to daily mass but I can’t imagine getting to one daily mass pregnant and with my 2 little ones the ages and stages they are now, much less 3 or 4 small ones. And as we discussed mine are quiet and calm compared to yours.

    I’ve had a similar struggle, though, with the all or nothing mentality when it comes to my prayer life. I’m finally realizing that while I’m called to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, I might not necessarily get through more than a psalm or two of Morning prayer before I have to go get breakfast and get started on the day. I may or may not get to any of the other hours before I say Night Prayer when I fall into bed last thing. The important thing for me right now is to open the book and make the attempt. How much I get through before I’m interrupted is in God’s hands.

  15. Jaime Chase says:

    I can totally relate to this post. As a mother of four, wife of a non-believer, I am constantly striving to do ‘God’s Will’ but there are those moments when I have to take a step back and make sure it is God’s Will and not my overwhelming urge to do ‘all or nothing’.

    Hope that makes sense.

  16. Kingdom Mama says:

    This is so gorgeous Jen!

  17. Rebecca says:

    Thank-you for this post. I was considering an update post to how I was doing with my New Year’s resolutions, but I realized I had failed miserably at doing my daily devotionals as part of my ‘becoming a more educated believer’ resolution and was really beating myself up over it – b/c I like you are an all/nothing kind of girl.
    I know realize that while my goal is everyday, I really have learned a lot in the last few months already and that working towards my goal of every day is ok.
    Thanks! How is the new baby?

  18. MOm says:

    This – in a random/odd way – reminds me of something that Catherine Doherty frequently said. Several families gathered ’round in Combermere after she founded Madonna House there, and they were all on fire to embrace poverty and follow Christ, just like the Madonna House people.
    She got quite exasperated with them; reminding them that while it is valid and acceptable to choose poverty for oneself, it is presumption to deliberately choose poverty for one’s children. (There is a huge difference between being poor and making your children poor on purpose!)
    Her point was that in the married vocation, our service to God is primarily our service to our families, (she called it ‘the duty of the moment’) anything above and beyond that must take the needs and abilities of the family/children into account. This includes considering what we can reasonably do and still have enough energy/brain-space left for the essential services! For me, some years that meant making it to the Stations during Lent, nothing more…

    • KAREN VAN DE LOOP says:

      Hello — just read this and am wondering which one of our “favorite families” you are. You definitely quoted the B correctly. How did it work out? Karen in the bookshop

  19. Kelly @ Love Well says:

    Wow.

    I’ve done that.

    I think God must laugh at people like us. “I didn’t say THAT!”

    It’s a good lesson in listening and waiting instead of running ahead with what we’re SURE must be God’s final destination.

  20. Karen E. says:

    I’m sure you already know this quote, too, Jen, but St. Frances of Rome is also the one who said:

    “A married woman must often leave God at the altar to find Him in her household care.” :)

  21. Anonymous says:

    Jen — Your message gave me the opportunity to stop and ask God to forgive me for not accepting His will on something that has kept me in a turmoil for months.

    It was so bad that yesterday I had to take two doses of extra strength aspirin to get through the day (and I am infamous for my capacity to deal with physical pain — three non-medicated 24-hour labor births to boot). My whole body has been wracked with pain…highly unusual for me!

    Today — more of the same — until I just now read your post. And I prayed and now the pain is suddenly subsiding.

    I know in my heart of hearts that God is willing to overwhelm my “problem person” with His grace. Who am I to cling to canon law and regulations when God is obviously willing to do this for her?

    Didn’t I once say to Him, “I’m at your service, Lord.”? I need to really mean it — again.

    Thanks, Jen.

    Stefanie

  22. Barb says:

    I felt called to daily Mass when my children were young also. I started out by going on Saturday morning(when my husband was home) by myself. When my youngest was almost two, I started going one extra day a week. Then as they grew older, I added another day. When my youngest was 7, I started going everyday. It has definitely been a blessing, even the one extra day a week.

  23. Kelly says:

    I would like to go to daily Mass more often, but for right now, we try to go one extra day a week. Maybe two, during Lent. My children are 8, 6, 3, and newborn.

    Personally, I think it is too much to expect for small children. I often run across non-churchgoers who tell me that they “got burnt out” on religion because they felt their parents were too excessive. My hairdresser told me that her parents went “way overboard” by going to Mass every Sunday and praying a rosary every evening.

    So while I think daily Mass could work out for families, I also want to make sure that what we do is enjoyed by *all* and not a chore for some. We want them to keep that delight and joy, and not have it become drudgery.

  24. Veronica Mitchell says:

    One of the most important aids in my spiritual life as an adult is realizing that God cares about ordinary faithfulness much more than he cares about epiphanies and grand commitments.

  25. Shannon says:

    Daily Mass is a luxury that most people in the world do not have. Nor did those early Christians. Great graces, sure, but I think we take “daily Mass makes me holier” a little too literally.

    Anyone listen to the first reading yesterday? I wonder if Abraham thought he was doing what God required, going all the way. Almost on a dare.

    Some wise commentator said that God never spoke to Abraham again after that.

    Somehow, I’m not surprised!

    It would be a good thing if we continued to teach people to look at the saints, and others, through the lens of “How did you get to know God and what God was asking of you?” Then we might be able to ask the question in our own lives without trying to snag someone else’s call.

  26. truthfinder says:

    Guilty, Jen. Oh, how I needed this today. Even grandmothers can be holding onto a concept and whining, “God, why aren’t you helping me to do your will?” I have been wrestling with something for several years, a “great thing” I believed I had been called to do. Now I see that I haven’t been seeking His will in this, but my own. Bless you for being so honest and for sharing. All He is really calling me to is to “offer a cup of cold water” in His Name. Rosemary

  27. Shylock says:

    It is great reading about everyone’s struggles with this right now! I am learning a lot about my poor spiritual commitment during Lent and have noticed how, even when at some level I believe I am following God’s plan and I tell myself that it is all about the journey, etc, I can get downright … ugly when there’s a bump in the road. When something seems to lead me away from what I thought was God’s plan. Not always – just particularly when under stress, and I somehow start questioning every single decision I’ve ever made in my life that got me to this point!
    Sounds depressing, I know… so it’s great to hear that there are people out there with such hope and commitment.
    God Bless.

  28. Anonymous says:

    “Stubbornly following my own desires is a problem I have over and over, not only in my spiritual life but in other aspects of my life as well.” (Eliz)

    I am reflecting on this in terms of hsing…or staying with our very good Catholic school. Is it what I want – or what God wants?

    Right now, we have to get up early to get my KG dd to the bus stop – at the church – and since we’re up, the other 3 littles have dressed and eaten, and Mass starts in 5 min, we go. It has been a blessing to have understanding grandmas when the 2yo fusses, but the 4 and 5yo actually do quite well. If we homeschool next year, I don’t think that will continue because getting everyone up and dressed and fed is so hard on all of them and we wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t for school…yet it seems wrong to say we’ll do all that to get to school, but not to get to Mass.

    How DO you figure out God’s will, when you’re deciding between two good alternatives?

  29. Sarah (JOT) says:

    I just read about this Saint last night (Real Women, Real Saints) and her story left me with a similar impression. Now, reading your blog every now and again just to read this . . . it’s a confirmation to ask myself exactly that question. More often!

    God bless you.

  30. scatteringflowers.com says:

    Are you sure I didn’t write this? Because it sure sounds a lot like me. It’s so hard to discern sometimes just exactly what God is asking of me. But I usually know the area, or the range, it’s the details that I get stuck on.

    I also tend to expect my children to be all or nothing too. I need to remember that a little is better than none, and might even be better than all if a little is what God is asking.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I’ve only recently started going to daily Mass because now I can go. You see, my youngest child is in kindergarten and my older children are in school all day long. There is a season for everything in life. If the desire is there, you will find God. Be patient with yourself. Your time will come.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Just found your blog from a comment at ravingatheist.com. The mixture of head and heart that you bring to your writing is just awesome. Thank you for sharing your gift with us.

    Blessings to your family,

    Jonathan

  33. Anonymous says:

    I truly believe God wanted me to see this! You see, I'm a Baptist and after an experience at church camp this past summer, I decided to try witnessing. It was easy to ask a stranger to church, but getting one of my friends who didn't belive in God to church was much harder for me. Trying so hard to do so was affecting my ability as a student, actress, and Christian altogether. I couldn't stop crying over my friends whom I thought were lost forever. But from the advice of my mom, pastor, and now, this blog, it changes everything! I need to take more care of myself and take baby steps. I now know I wasn't built to learn in leaps and bounds. Thank you and God bless everyone!! :D

  34. Ghena says:

    No one in this world live in a perfect life, there are ups and downs even rich people encounter problems. Believing God is the greatest and strong foundation of our life and it is important. He is the one who provides our needs, strength, knowledge and everything. We should give thanks and praise HIM. God bless everyone!
    Ghena recently posted..puffy eyes and crying