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Saturday, April 10, 2010

The "God Button": Allowing the Holy Spirit to Guide Decisions

"Give a little whistle..." -Jiminy Cricket

As I was preparing to teach my 8th grade Confirmation class this weekend, I was studying up on the idea of conscience, and (sure enough) the beloved Jiminy Cricket popped into my head.

After he is appointed Pinocchio's official conscience, he sings the well-known song:

When you get in trouble
and you don't know right from wrong
give a little whistle, give a little whistle

When you meet temptation
and the urge is very strong
give a little whistle, give a little whistle...

Take the straight and narrow path
and if you start to slide
give a little whistle, give a little whistle
and always let your conscience be your guide

This got me wondering, what is a conscience and how in the world do we listen to it? Who are we supposed to whistle to when we meet temptation or start to slide?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, "Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil" (1777).

This, of course, is drawn from one of Jeremiah's beautifully loving prophecies, spoken from the mouth of God: 
"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
       after that time," declares the LORD.
       "I will put my law in their minds
       and write it on their hearts.
       I will be their God,
       and they will be my people." Jeremiah 31:33
The covenant of which God speaks has since been made. With Christ's death and resurrection, the old prescriptive law has been fulfilled. This means that we no longer need to look outside ourselves or consult a stone tablet to understand right from wrong. God has hardwired us to instinctively understand His law.

This sounds easy enough... but how exactly do we decode this inner wiring? If we did not have all the external stimuli the world presents, or our own inclinations to sin, it would be a lot easier - that much is certain. However, I can offer a few tips:

1. Pay attention to the "God Button." It was only a few years ago that I began to identify the beeping of the "God Button" inside my soul. It has one particular signal for good and right, and one particular signal for bad and wrong. The signal I get when something is right could be described as peaceful, joyful, or excited. I can tangibly explain the feeling as warm and euphoric. The signal I get when something is wrong could be described as anxious, worried, and guilty. I can tangibly explain that feeling as tight, empty, and sinking. My "God Button" goes off all the time, and I know this is my conscience - my inner law of God - trying to guide me toward one decision or the other.

2. Consult Scripture. Scripture is the very Word of God. If you are trying to make a decision, recall a favorite Bible passage, run a Google search of Scripture verses on that topic, or perhaps even randomly flip open a page. (You would be surprised how often this works!) I was once contemplating the topic of premarital intimacy and a verse from "Song of Songs" that I had heard perhaps once before kept entering my head: "Do not stir up, do not awaken love before its time" (Song of Solomon 3:5). That single verse spoke volumes to me in that moment.

3. Consult Trusted Others. It's so important to have confidantes in your life who are spiritually mature enough to consult when you are unsure about something. When I was first starting my journey, I always turned to my friend Kelly, and she was able to answer my questions or point me in the right direction. Over time, I have actually become that person for some people. But I still have sources I can rely on when I need extra guidance, and especially when my own judgment becomes cloudy for some reason or other.

4. Pray. Jesus sent us our own "Jiminy Cricket" - the Holy Spirit. He promised to send us another Advocate and said, "All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:25). If we just lift our hearts to God in humble prayer, the Spirit will guide us to make the right decision.

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:36-40

5. Draw from Love. Contrary to popular belief, God's law is not at all complicated or convluted. It consists of the 10 Commandments, but much more than that, at its very core, it is drawn from one single entity - love. Love is the simple cipher needed to decode the law of God. When in doubt, evaluate the level to which love of God and of neighbor is demonstrated in your decision. When you choose the decision that demonstrates the greatest pure, unadulterated, sacrificial love, you can never go wrong.

"With great power comes great responsibility..."

Even with all of this information, though, the responsibility lies with us. We can always consult our conscience to make the right decision... and quite honestly, I think it is usually rather easy to know God's will when confronted with moral dilemmas. The more difficult thing is to choose right from wrong, rather than simply to know it. The more difficult thing is to set aside our own agendas, to shut out the other voices in the world, and, even more than that, to trust God.

As for me, I acknowledged this "God Button" for the first time at the age of 22 when I noticed I was very unhappy in a serious romantic relationship. Few things outwardly told me I should end the relationship, but something on the inside led me to believe that was the right thing, and ultimately what God wanted me to do. It was the first time I had ever really consulted God in a decision, let alone listened to His advice, but it ended up being the best thing I have ever done. It led me away from sin and closer to Christ in a way I had never imagined possible.

In the end, God has given us free will. We are in charge of our decisions and in control of our own futures, but, mercifully, He has not left us to wander aimlessly alone. He is available to help us make those decisions, and when we factor Him into the equation, we will end up choosing paths, however unlikely, that bring us the most joy and fulfillment. Just remember, when you find yourself in a moment of temptation or the middle of a difficult decision, to "give a little whistle," and you will be surprised how quickly your conscience - and more particularly, your Heavenly Father - will be your guide.

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