How should one know God?

How does God help with life choices?

Contribution to the program "Spurensuche" on Radio Horeb on October 15, 2007 by Auxiliary Bishop Dr. Stephan Ackermann

Dear listeners!

Every day we have to make umpteen decisions: It starts shortly after getting up: The question arises: What should I wear today? What do I eat at breakfast? And the day goes on: Who do I sit down at the table with? What is the correct answer to a question I am asked? What do I tell whom, and what should I not tell? Which product do I buy from what is on the shelf? Who do I spend the free time with? We make tons of decisions every day, big and small. In many situations, we make decisions in fractions of a second. We don't have to think long about it. We hardly know about them in the evening.

If tonight the question is: How does God help with decisions? Then it is not about such small everyday decisions but about decisions that are of greater significance, that have long-term consequences that cannot be reversed from now on that may even have an impact on my whole life, are life decisions in this sense. This includes, for example, the decision for a specific training course or a profession. This includes the question of how I want to shape my private life: Do I want to live in a partnership, start a family and with whom? Or maybe I want to consciously live celibate in an order, in a spiritual community or as a priest?

Anyone who as a Christian is or has already been in such a decision-making situation knows the longing to get a clear tip from God as to where to go. Some might even wish that the voice of God would work in us like the button in the ear of security guards, who receive unmistakable indications from their task force as to which direction to move. Quite a few people, who are wavering between different options, want a clear sign from heaven that gives them the security of choosing the right one.

Sign from heaven ...?

We see, for example, that this wish is not so absurd. B. on the biographies of St. Francis of Assisi. They report that it was not until about two years after his conversion that others began to take an interest in his way of life. The first of them was a certain Bernardo, a well-to-do man. He decided to distribute his possessions among the poor to join Franz. As the stories describe, Francis was very happy about it, as he has been alone so far. But the two wanted to make sure that the decision was the right one. So they decided to go to the Church of S. Nicolò the next morning and get confirmation from the Holy Scriptures there. The legend tells: “They devotedly prayed to the Lord that he would make his will known to them when the Gospel book was opened for the first time. After the prayer, Francis took the closed book and opened it, kneeling in front of the altar. As he opened it, he came across the advice of the Lord: 'If you want to be perfect, go there, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven!' When Francis heard this, he was delighted very much and said thank God. But because he was a true admirer of the Trinity, he wanted three confirmations and opened the book a second and a third time. The second time he opened the book he found: 'Don't take anything with you on the way ...' and the third time: 'If you want to follow me, deny yourself ...' Every time he opened the book, Francis said thank God that he was already his I have reaffirmed the long-awaited plan three times «(Legend of Three Companions, 27-29). Who would not want such divine confirmation? Experience shows, however, that this kind of heavenly decision-making aid is rather rare.

The Christian counselor in life decisions is still today Ignatius of Loyola, the great Spanish saint, the "inventor" of the retreat. He lived three hundred years after Francis lived. Ignatius, Iñigo in Spanish, first had to learn that, in order to make a responsible decision, one must not ask for divine signs at random: In his biography he tells that on a pilgrimage he made with a mule, He was joined by a Moor - a man of North African descent - who was also riding a mule. They started talking and finally they argued about Mary, the Mother of God. The Moor just didn't want to believe in her virginity. They could not agree and the Moor rode on. Ignatius, however, was so excited by the Moor's lack of insight that he felt the desire to stab the man a few times in order to restore the glory of the Mother of God. The Moor had already ridden into the next village, and Ignatius wasn't quite sure what to do. So he decided to let go of the mule's reins and let it go by itself until the next crossroads. Should it then take the path to the village, he wanted to take that as a divine sign and track down the Moors in order to give him a few dagger stabs. But if it should pass the village, he would leave the man alone. Fortunately, the mule just trotted on along the main road (see pilgrims' report 15-16a). For the Moors this decision of the mule became, in the truest sense of the word, a life decision ...

But how did Ignatius, a passionate hot spur, become a clever advisor for questions about Christian life decisions? At first it looked as if Iñigo didn't need to make a decision for himself. The path was mapped out: as the son of a Basque aristocratic family, he became an officer, brought up according to knightly ideals. But then comes the turning point: he is badly wounded in a battle off Pamplona and lies on the hospital bed for a long time. To drive away boredom, Ignatius likes to read chivalric novels, but there are hardly any. In the castle, however, there is a book about the life of Jesus and the legends of the saints. While reading, the wounded Ignatius now makes the interesting experience that different sensations and feelings arise in him: If he reads novels of chivalry and dreams of accomplishing adventures in the service of a noble lady or acts as a knight, then he is only enthusiastic as long as he is indulges in his fantasies. But then he feels a bland aftertaste. But it is the other way around: If, stimulated by reading the Holy Scriptures or the biographies of the saints, he imagines living in the footsteps of Jesus or leading a life similar to the saints, then he remains happy and encouraged afterwards ( see Pilgrimage Report, 6-8).

Pay attention to the "inner movements"

Those who are used to paying attention to their emotions will not find it to be anything special. But many people find it difficult to pay attention to what is going on within them and to allow it to happen. For the knight Ignatius, the bedside experience was the first decisive step. He says: I learned to differentiate between the various "ghosts" - that's what he calls the emotions in himself. And this distinction helped me and helps anyone who is attentive to it make better decisions. Because in these emotions God speaks to me. Because of the Spirit that he gave us in Baptism and Confirmation, he is in us like an "inner teacher" (Augustine) who helps us to recognize what is right. Of course, attention must be trained in order to hear the voice of the inner teacher. Because there are other voices in us that influence us: voices of unpleasant desires that live in us and are perhaps even strong that they threaten to wash us away; Also voices that come from outside and try to penetrate us with power in order to manipulate us. These can be voices from individuals, from a group, from the media ...

Perhaps you, dear young listeners, even have the impression that there is often a chaotic jumble of voices and you are wondering which voice should I just follow? Which voice in me advises the right thing? Which voice can I trust? What is the voice of God? The answer could be the simple basic rule: "What brings [you] deep joy, peace, freedom, love and inner coherence in the long run is a good trail. Those who follow these impulses - even against some resistance - can feel that they are being led [by God] «(W. Lambert: Die Kunst der Kommunikation, Freiburg 1999, 97).

So if we go back one more time to our original question How does God help with life decisions?, then we can already see that it is not so much a matter of expecting spectacular characters. God's language is quiet, not violent, without coercion. Therefore, it is more a matter of turning our attention to the signs that God keeps hidden in our normal everyday lives. In order to track them down, you not only need open eyes and ears (you need them too!). It takes an inner openness of the heart that is attentive to the various emotions in us: to fear and joy, to sadness and courage, to aggression and peace, to restlessness and serenity, to dejection and zest for action ...

In conclusion, I would like to mention three rules of thumb that can help to sharpen the necessary attention to the clues of God. In our subsequent conversation, we will certainly have the opportunity to talk about further tips:


  1. In order to make a good and sustainable decision, it is essential to listen to yourself. Because important decisions, v. a. Nobody can make life decisions for us. Therefore we have to take seriously what is going on in us. But that does not mean that you should not consult anyone else. It is helpful to open your own considerations to the "critical eye" of good friends. “Seek advice from wise people. Check your alternatives in realistic experiments «(S. Kiechle, Sich haben, 70). E.g. through an internship or through a time of concrete living in a community. God gave us common sense to use. It shouldn't be turned off even in our biggest endeavors.

  2. A religious who is experienced in the company of people says: God's voice, which wants to advise you in your life decisions, has a threefold sound: On the one hand there is yours personal nature, d. H. your story, your talents, your character, your strengths and weaknesses: all that you can do: that is the supporting sound. The second sound of the voice of God that is your longing, these are your ideals, your personal values ​​and desires: everything you want is that moving sound. And then comes the third sound: it is being touched by objective, external voices such as B. the word of the Holy Scriptures, the exchange with other people, the challenges that life presents, maybe even certain needs to which you have to react: that is the unsettling and enticing sound the voice of God. "When this threefold sound comes into harmony, then the right path appears" (cf. J. Maureder: We come, 34). This does not mean, however, that this path, even if it turns out to be 'coherent' for you, will be free of tension once and for all. There remains a way in which the different sounds are also dissonant from time to time, i.e. H. rub against each other or possibly even stand against each other. Especially in crunchy situations, the very simple question often helps me: What would Jesus do? How would he decide if he were me?

  3. And finally: a popular saying goes: the better is the enemy of the good. There are people who never make a life decision because they feel that they have not really heard all the voices, have not yet considered all the aspects. St. Ignatius would probably see in this the work of the "evil spirit" who wants to confuse people under the appearance of good and thus keep them away from real life. On every decision-making path there is a point at which there is no turning back, because everything essential has been weighed and action is now the order of the day: the heart already knows, only the head is still confused. If one does not want to miss the decisive moment, then one must follow the old rule of the jump rider: "Throw your heart first and then jump after!" Without the risk of the jump, life will not succeed (cf. Mt 10.39 par).