Husband & Wife Articles


‘Good vs. Good’

A deacon is asked to do many things

By Joel Schmidt

“We can’t do everything.”

As requests mount, at times I need to remind myself that ordination to the diaconate does not bestow superhuman powers of presence.

During the formation period, commitments were mostly structured and mandatory. My wife and I did what was needed to complete the program and prepare for life as a deacon and wife. Now, after ordination, little is mandatory. Sure, there are both diocesan and parish expectations, but how to meet them is often discerned, not dictated. How much time can I reasonably spend at the parish? When am I most available? How much absence should my family be expected to tolerate? Where does God want us to invest our time and gifts in serving his people?

It’s been a year, and we still haven’t figured out the magic formula. I doubt we ever will. There are lots of legitimate requests.

“Can you come to the [insert charity] annual banquet?”

“Your family will be at the [insert social event], right?”

“You would be the perfect leader for [insert parish ministry].”

Everyone thinks their request is small, and in most cases it is. I don’t discourage requests, but I do need to discern my response. We really can’t do everything.

On a deeper level, it’s about avoiding spiritual clutter. Saying yes to every request is like getting on a “treadmill of self.” There’s no room for discerning God’s will, or our own motives. Is it for my glory to feel so needed and important, or do I put the glory of God first – that he may be seen, known, and loved more clearly?

It has been said that one needs to learn to say no with conviction in order to say yes with enthusiasm. We can only do that when we are confident our will is aligned with God’s. That confidence is only possible if we believe God truly has a will for everything in our life and we can actually know it.

Several years ago, I was discussing a “good vs. good” dilemma with a trusted friend. He advised, “Sometimes, I think God says, ‘You decide. I can work with it either way.’” It may have been both the most and least helpful advice I ever received. It was comforting to believe God would be there for me in either case and could bring forth good out of my bad decisions. Still, the implication that God didn’t really care was unsettling. I didn’t buy that part.

It can be difficult to believe we can know God’s will when discerning between two apparently equivalent options, which is much harder than discerning between good and evil. It is often beyond our natural abilities to figure out the implications of the alternatives. That’s when we really need to lean into God, who can see much farther down the road than we can. We need to pray, wait for an answer, and trust him.

Pray, wait, trust – three things most of us don’t do particularly well. We are not well versed in the art of discernment, because we value doing over being. We don’t rest. Most of us cram our schedules full of things that are not necessarily bad themselves but run ourselves ragged in the process. There’s no room for discerning if God wants us to do all those things, or even any of them. We’re effectively relying on ourselves; that’s what I mean by the “treadmill of self.”

Maybe we’re just afraid things won’t get done. If that’s the case, our definition of rest may need an adjustment. Maybe resting is not so much to experience the absence of doing as it is to experience the fullness of being – to simply bask in the warmth of the glow that radiates from God’s boundless love for us. To know who we are in him. To know God loves us more than we can imagine, and there’s nothing we can do about it. When we get that straight, then we’ll be able to discern God’s will for us.

As for me, I’m still working on it.

Joel Schmidt is an ordained deacon for the Des Moines Diocese and holds a doctorate in biochemistry. He lives in Des Moines with his wife, Lisa, and their three young children. Joel and Lisa write together at The Practicing Catholic.