“Help me to ask you, oh Lord, for what is good for me to have, for what I can have, and do you service by having.”
These humble words come from the prayer journal of 21-year-old Flannery O’Connor. Born in 1925, O’Connor grew to become a beloved Southern Catholic fiction writer in the mid-20th century. Although O’Connor died at the height of her career from Lupus at age 39, her influence lives on through her writing. For people of faith, her journal is inspiring, particularly in how she addresses God regarding her desire for a vocation as a writer. Specifically, she gives these three priorities for asking God in prayer.
1. What is good for me to have? Think about yourself and if what you are asking for will ultimately bring good upon you.
2. What can I have? Consider what is possible and attainable for you to have.
3. What can I do you service by having? Recognize if what you are asking for can result in a way for you to serve God.
In my own life, O’Connor’s wisdom has guided me in the discernment of my vocational call. I’m currently the same age as the young journal writer and am in a relationship with an incredible young man. When we began discerning marriage, my boyfriend and I encountered criticism from my family, who said we were “too young” or “not financially ready.” These criticisms called me to doubt the desire I was feeling to marriage at this time in my life, even though in my heart the desire felt right.
It wasn’t until a conversation with my youth leader that I truly began to ask the right questions. He asked me if marrying my boyfriend would help or hinder him getting to heaven. My youth leader was not asking me for a portfolio of our financial goals or a thesis defense on the credibility of our age. Instead, she asked me the sorts of questions O’Connor was asking of the Lord in her own discernment as a writer. My youth leader was asking if our marriage would be good for us, would be possible, and would be a way for us to serve God, thus culminating in the question: Would our marriage lead us each to heaven?
I was stunned. For months I had been searching for answers to the endless “what if” questions from my family. I was consumed with stress over financial plans that could change in a heartbeat with a promotion or layoff. I was trying to reconcile our age, which, at the end of the day, was just a number. I muddled around in logistics that, while important, distracted me from asking a much more important question in my discernment process — that question being the purpose of the vocation itself and how my desire fit into that purpose.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux has written much on desire. Specifically, I recall her thoughts that God does not place desires on our hearts that he does not intend to fulfill. Leaving the conversation with my youth leader, I realized that I had lost sight of the initial desire that had led me to discern marrying my boyfriend in the first place. The initial desire that had sparked my discernment was not motivated by a view of marriage as a manmade puzzle of odds and logistics, a view that my well-meaning family often made the vocation out to be. My desire, instead, was for a view of marriage as participation in a supernatural gift of love and sacrifice, with heaven as the final destination. My desire was for unity, faithfulness and selflessness to him and to any children we might have in the future. This holy man brought me peace in the Lord. He helped me deepen my faith and was committed to supporting me in the good times and bad. Most of all, he shared in my mission of marriage as a heavenly endeavor, not simply an earthly one.
Flannery O’Connor asked the Lord to give her what was for her good, what was possible, and what would bring service to God as the fulfillment of her deepest desire. She wrote in her journal, “Dear God, please help me to be an artist, please let it lead to you.”
So, too, do I now ask of the Lord for what is good, possible and of service to him in a vocation to marriage. I trust that he will answer the desires of my heart, sustaining my boyfriend and I throughout the course of our lives in the logistics here on earth, reminding us to always keep in mind our heavenly purpose of one day glorifying him together in heaven.