“Ugh. It’s taking us on the scenic route,” I grumbled to my husband as he maneuvered our sedan through windy back-roads somewhere in Tennessee. I was anxious to get to our destination, and I silently cursed Siri for steering us away from the highways and into the rolling hills. Every time the GPS gleefully chirped “recalculating,” I sharply barked back in frustration. But as the minutes passed, I looked up from my phone and onto the sweeping fields of green grass and budding crops; and I sighed with contentment. It was quite scenic.
We eventually re-merged with the highway and decreased our travel time. Our legs and smiles stretched as we finished the long journey.
Taking the highway was the right way to go. It would have been faster. It would have been easier. It would have been safer. It was our intended route. While losing our way was irritating, our misdirection was redeemed by the lovely views and the unique chance to navigate new places.
As we unloaded our bags from the car, my mind was drawn to St. Francis of Assisi. Regarding seeking the Lord’s will, he, too, once took the long way. He, too, set out with the best intentions. He, too, needed help recalculating. He, too, experienced the blessing of beauty and growth as he re-merged with God’s greater plan.
Rebuild My Church
One day, freshly converted and burning with the love of Jesus, Francis walked into his local chapel of San Damiano on his way to pray in the fields. The smell must have been familiar to him by now, with his frequent visits and unshakeable fidelity to prayer. He probably had a favorite spot to meditate. He was likely familiar with the surrounding sounds, with the texture of the floor, and the imperfections found in the tiniest details of the weathered chapel.
But this day proved to be be different for Francis. As his biographer, St. Bonaventure, describes:
One day when Francis went out to meditate in the fields he was passing by the church of San Damiano which was threatening to collapse because of extreme age. Inspired by the Spirit, he went inside to pray.
Kneeling before an image of the Crucified, he was filled with great fervor and consolation as he prayed. While his tear-filled eyes were gazing at the Lord’s cross, he heard with his bodily ears a voice coming from the cross, telling him three times: ‘Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.‘
Trembling with fear, Francis was amazed at the sound of this astonishing voice… he prepared to put his whole heart into obeying the command he had received. He began zealously to repair the church materially, although the principle intention of the words referred to that Church which Christ purchased with his own blood, as the Holy Spirit afterward made him realize….
After this divine encounter, Francis focused his energy on responding to the Lord’s call. He spent hours rebuilding the fallen chapel, selling everything he owned to pay for materials. He even sold some of his father’s belongings (his bishop later corrected him for stealing). He was excited about his destination and confident in his direction.
The desire of Francis’s heart to do Jesus’ will was unstoppable. And he was doing it all wrong.
St. Francis of Assisi Gives Us Hope
We know now that the call from the Lord was in reference to the Church at large. Jesus wanted Francis to ignite a return to the Faith and a renewed devotion to Christ’s Heart in a world that was desperately lost and weary. God had plans for a major renovation through Francis’s handiwork. It just took our guy a little bit to figure that out.
Along our journey as Christians, we are bound to misfire on God’s call, too. We take the scenic route. Even when we are fully surrendered to the divine will, even when we are connecting with God through prayer and the Sacraments and seeking counsel from wise and holy individuals, we can misstep. It’s part of being human.
St. Francis, then, gives us hope. He’s our travel buddy. And he shows us what God can do through our actions and decisions that are born from a consuming love for Him, even if we’ve missed the mark. When we misfire on God’s call:
- God is merciful and uses it for our good. Just as the Lord used St. Francis’s efforts to rebuild his local church and inspire conversion in the town of Assisi, so too can He work through us when we are striving to do His will. Our efforts are blessed when our hearts are centered on Him.
- We learn through the misstep. If we are in a state of grace and are authentically seeking Jesus in our daily lives, chances are, our missteps aren’t going to involve something contrary to the Gospel. Often, like Francis, we just choose the good thing instead of the better thing. Sometimes we make a wrong turn and end up delaying the fruition of our journey. In these moments of holy error, we can learn a great deal about obedience, humility, reliance on grace, and perseverance.
- We get a second chance to “get it right.” The Holy Spirit gently guided Francis’s heart and mind to a fuller understanding of His call. He does the same for us. He doesn’t leave us where we are, but ceaselessly directs us toward a deeper comprehension of His masterful roadmap.
What to Do When You Misfire on God’s Call
So what can we do when we misfire on God’s call? How can we re-route and find our way back to the highway of God’s plan?
1. Ask for Mercy
First, we can ask the Lord for His mercy. Especially if our misstep harmed our relationship with God, ourselves, or others. But even if it didn’t, it’s great to thank the Lord for His patience.
2. Laugh at Yourself
Next, we should laugh at ourselves! We are only human, after all. And if our misfire was a result of our fervent search for the Lord’s will, then we are doing alright. This presents a great opportunity to grow in humility; and true humility can only be achieved when we find some merciful humor in our own limitations.
3. Return to the Call
After we have a good laugh with Jesus, it’s time to return to the call. Bring this to prayer. Revisit old prayer journals. Seek counsel from spiritual directors or mentors. Go back to the drawing board and dig in deep with the Father. Beg Him for guidance and clarity.
4. Move Forward
Finally, go. We don’t do the Lord, the Church, or ourselves any favors by staying stuck in disappointment or frantic indecision. We have to move on. St. Francis didn’t let his misfire distract him from doing God’s work. In fact, he continued to physically rebuild churches even after he recognized and pursued the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words to him. St. Francis moved forward with his life and mission, always attentive to Christ on the Cross, always striving to love and serve Him more, and always recalculating and re-merging with the highway to heaven.
Have you ever misfired on God’s call? What blessings and mercies did you receive during the process?