I was sitting on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. There was a restlessness in my heart that I couldn’t describe. At that very moment, I was doing what I loved - leading a group of pilgrims in the Holy Land. I knew I was doing the Lord’s work as director of faith formation for the Diocese of Nashville. I was extremely blessed in my job: I worked for a good and holy bishop. I had wonderful colleagues. I had been promoted and trusted with more responsibility.
Why the restless heart?
I was sitting there, at one of my favorite pilgrimage sites. I was outside the church of Peter’s Primacy, built on the spot of the post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus to Peter and the other apostles. The church is built on a large rock known as Mensa Christi, the table of Christ. It is the place where Jesus made his apostles breakfast, before asking Peter three times about his love.
It was my third time to the spot, and there was a little bit of concern that it would be extra-crowded that day. We had seen an influx of tour buses, and since Yom Kippur began at sundown, pilgrims were going to be in a rush to see as much as they could before the country essentially shut down the next day. But when we pulled up, there wasn’t a single parked bus in sight.
Our guide, knowing how much I loved the place, whispered for me to go ahead to the seashore ahead of the group. He had some things to talk about before we made the walk down the path to the church and the beach, but I had heard it twice before. He gave me a great gift when he nudged me ahead.
I sat there on the beach, looking out on the sea. The sea that can transport you to the time of Jesus like nothing else in the Holy Land can. The sea that witnessed so many miracles, times of fear and doubt, and acts of faith. The sea that can be so violent and unexpected, but at that moment, was serene and inviting.
My heart was restless. So I simply asked to Lord to speak. If I wasn’t supposed to be doing this, show me. If he wanted me somewhere else or to do some other work, show me. I wanted to feed his sheep. I had the desire. I wanted to do his Will. I just needed him to open the door, close the door, and show me.
A year and a half later, I’m sitting here in my apartment. The world has dramatically changed since I made that cry on the beach. And I have quit my job.
I was always jealous of people who seemed so sure when the Lord was speaking. I wanted to hear his voice. I wanted that clarity and confidence. How do you know it is the Lord speaking? Are you simply saying that so no one can argue with your decision or conclusion?
I wish He would have written me a letter to tell me to do this. I wish I would have picked up the phone and heard His voice. How can I know that He is with me? How do I know that this is an answer to that prayer I made on the seashore?
I don’t, I suppose. That’s why it’s a leap of faith. But the lesson over the past few months, as I was making this decision, is that God speaks in practical ways.
He can speak through ordinary events, like opportunities crossing our path or projects turning out differently than we expected. While we should be careful not to over-spiritualize things, we should also recognize that He isn’t distant from our daily lives. If we have a door close in our face, He has allowed that. And He has allowed doors to open, too. He wants to work through the ordinary occurrences, conversations, and progression of our work and relationships. What the world sees as coincidence or even just normal life can be the Lord at work.
He speaks through people we trust, like a good spiritual director or friend. I was given the great grace to have a priest walk me through this decision. In the end, it was a decision that was mine. But he listened, asked questions, and handed me Kleenex. Sometimes that’s what we need.
God also speaks through the desires of our hearts. It’s not to say that everything we want is His will. Not by long shot. Nor is it to say that we will always be happy, or that we will always get what we desire. (I wanted to be married by twenty-five. And no matter how many female Catholic speakers told me I just needed to pray and write letters to my future husband, that desire wasn’t granted.) Sometimes there are desires on our hearts that aren’t His Will. And sometimes His Will is uncomfortable and painful. But ultimately, God does want us to be happy, even in this life. Sometimes that happiness is found in places where only He knows we can expect it. Sometimes it’s found in the midst of the discomfort. And that’s why we have to trust Him. I had a desire to teach, write, and speak. And so I surrendered it to Him and asked Him what that should look like. So here we go.
God speaks through Sacred Scripture and the liturgy of the Church. Whenever you think God doesn't speak to you, pick up a Bible. Those aren’t generic words on a page. It’s the primary way God speaks to His people. Over the last few months, I have had numerous consolations given to me through Scripture, the prayers of Mass, and the Liturgy of the Hours. When I wasn’t looking for them or before I needed them, consolations were given. It is often only in looking back that I realized why something struck me that day or why I heard a phrase differently than I ever had before. Don’t underestimate how much He desires to speak to you in very practical, daily ways.
Sometimes He opens doors. Sometimes He doesn’t close doors. Often we have to discern those things. He wants us to cooperate with His Plan. He respects us and the freedom He gave us. He doesn't want to force us; He wants us to be coworkers in the vineyard. Notice He cooked the Apostles some fish but also asked them to bring some of the fish they caught, too. He wants our help. He’s not going to shove us. He’s going to invite us.
Jesus didn’t force Peter’s love that day on the beach. He asked for it. The Lord knows our hearts. He knows them better than we know them ourselves. That morning on the beach, Jesus showed his Apostles how much He loved them in a very normal, practical way. He made them breakfast.
Maybe you’re looking for a sign. Maybe you're straining to hear the Lord speak. Maybe you’re asking for a miracle.
He might just be making you breakfast.
I would be honored if you wished to partner with me on this new adventure. If you would like to help support my work of evangelization as it shifts from diocesan work to writing and speaking full-time, please visit www.patreon.com/joanmwatson.