I often wonder what Mary was doing when the Angel Gabriel approached her. She must have had a heart and mind ready to hear God's word. How can I ready myself to hear what the Lord may be saying to me?
My first thought is that Mary was "full of grace" and "without sin." Although I can not achieve the perfect state of grace that the Blessed Mother possessed, I can go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If I empty my soul of sin and open myself to God's grace, I may hear His voice more clearly. Spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, reading Sacred Scripture and spending time in prayer may prepare me to hear the Lord.
Still one may wonder, "How can I know what God is telling me to do?" I suppose the easy answer is, we don't. Having said that though, I believe that we are often given the grace to know what direction our lives should take. Sometimes the answer from God is very clear, as clear as signpost. In fact, it may be a signpost, a bumper sticker or a billboard. We call these signal graces.
A signal grace is sign that we see that gives us an answer or confirmation that we have been heard. My husband once experienced an amazing signal grace. He was "in the desert," lamenting a difficult situation. He fell to his knees and whispered to God, "I don't know if you even hear me." Just then, he looked up at the sky; the moon was above the planet Jupiter and a shooting star rushed between them, creating a celestial cross in the sky. He knew that God was there.
Other times we receive confirmation from reading the Bible. My husband and I were scheduled to give a talk on Natural Family Planning. We went to confession, went to Mass, spent time in front of the Blessed Sacrament and prayed about the material we had prepared for the talk. I was still quite nervous, so I pulled out my Bible and flipped it open. The passage I came to said, "The spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue" (2 Sm 23:2). I knew that was confirmation from the Lord that we would say what He willed us to. I had nothing to worry about.
Another great avenue to discern the Lord's will for us is the Sacrament of Reconciliation or confession. When we are in confession, we are whispering in the ear of Christ. The guidance the priest gives us is from the Lord. I have received some of my clearest direction while receiving this sacrament. On one occasion I was told by my priest to just "try harder." Simple, but true confirmation of what I needed to do.
Finally, we sometimes hear God's voice in the silence of our hearts. In order to do this, we must be still and listen. During a very fruitful meditation after my son, Andrew, was born, I said to the Lord, "I have three sons now. Which one would you like for the priesthood?" Very clearly I heard, "One not yet born."
Very strange, I thought to myself. Oh, well, only the Lord understands. I put those thoughts aside and went on with my life. Several years later, I found myself with three daughters and three sons. During my last pregnancy I had a blood clot and a pulmonary embolism and could have died. The doctors warned me not to get pregnant again. I practiced my NFP faithfully and remember saying to the Lord, "Oh, well, I must have misunderstood you, because they'll be no more sons for me." Shortly after that, the Lord unexpectedly blessed us with another pregnancy and, of course, that child was a son. I still don't know if he'll be a priest (he is only four years old now), but he says he will. Only God knows for sure, but I no longer doubt when I hear that little voice in my heart. I am sure that the Lord speaks to me that way sometimes. I just have to trust Him.
In some circumstances, finding God's will in our lives takes time. We must be patient and wait for His answer. Once in a while, His answer to us is, "No." Then we must just accept it and move on. Still other times, we feel quite certain of His will, but we do not want to comply. It is then we must trust His will and act on faith, not on feeling. Our feelings can be deceiving, but by measuring what action we will take, considering the teachings of the Church, and preparing our hearts by utilizing the sacraments, we cannot go wrong.
"What then, is more precious than to be in the hand of God? For God is Life and Light, and those who are in God's hands are in life and light" — St. John of Damascus.