At first glance it can seem Jesus left us zero wiggle room when it comes to our doing God’s will. But that’s not so.
“Teach us to pray!” Jesus’ disciples ask, noticing what a champ he is at it. And so he gives them, and us, the Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer. He gives us: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).
But this is a big problem for a lot of people, at least some of the time, because it can feel like God’s will is incredibly, well, awful. When a loved one dies, when we’re facing a catastrophic event in our lives, a well-intentioned friend or family member may comment on how this is “God’s will.”
So God wants me to be devastated? Crushed? Crippled emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and physically?
No. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). And while he allows horrible things to happen — he allows free will and all the consequences that flow from that, both good and bad — he’s not some evil puppet master.
He wants the very best for us. He wants him for us. And he allows us to choose him. Or not. In all circumstances.
Times of suffering
The same Jesus who taught the disciples to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” also begged his Heavenly Father, “Let this cup pass from me,” just before his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. And concluded his agony there with a true act of faith: “Yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39).
Sometimes in our own lives we have the same challenge. To pray: “I don’t want this! I don’t like this! But I accept it.”
And we have the opportunity to travel, step by step, our own personal way of the cross for reasons we may not understand then and there, and may never understand in this life. We have the opportunity to move, step by step, closer to our Heavenly Father. To come to a newer or deeper realization, understanding, and appreciation of his always walking with us as we take those steps. As we stumble, he provides others to help us carry our cross. And we find comfort and support in Jesus’ mother Mary.
Times of joy
When it comes to God’s will, there are also times and ways, blessings and graces, when his yoke truly is easy and his burden is remarkably light (Mt 11:30).
There are times when — truth be told — he just surprises the heck out of us. When he amazes us. When he delights us and our doing his will delights him.
Sometimes, to use a metaphor — one I hope is playful but not irreverent — he stacks the deck in our favor. He deals us a hand that has some amazing cards and then invites us to play the game. Maybe even “go all in.”
God’s will for you can be seen, especially looking back on your life, as a series of vocations to which God calls you. Some are big: married or single life, priesthood or religious life. Some have to do with family: your role as a son, daughter, sibling, parent, grandparent and so on. Some have to do with economics: how you earn a living. Some have to do with ways in which your heart moves you: concern for the poor, the uneducated or undereducated, for example.
And just as no two people are identical — not in their bodies, not in their minds, not in their souls — your vocation, your series of vocations, is one of a kind. Simply put, doing God’s will for you, right here, right now, is paying attention to the cards God dealt you and then playing them.
(Spoiler alert: Do that and you’re sure to win.)
Growth in discernment
But realizing what your “cards” are, at this point in your life, and figuring out how to play them takes some effort, some choosing, some saying “yes” to this and “no” to that. It takes some free will.
And isn’t it fortunate you have that? It’s almost as if God has your life planned. Which, of course, he does. And which includes, in accord with that plan, quite a bit of wiggle room on your part. The God who gave you that body, mind and soul doesn’t just value your input and contribution. He wants it.
|Fruit that will last
How do you know if you’re doing God will? If it’s better to stay the course (persevere!) or time to make a change (put out into the deep!)?
Not surprisingly, once again it’s Jesus who gives us the answer: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you” (Jn 15:16).
What fruit? Or, often, fruits? Those of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s where the Father’s will dovetails with your will. Is what you’re doing — or considering doing or maybe feel a little nudge toward doing — the Father’s will? Take a look at the “fruits.” Or are those noticeably scarce, not so lush, or even absent? Of more concern, are there what might be called “thorns” and “brambles”? Maybe even “stinkweed” or “poison ivy”? You get the point.
In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul writes: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. ... In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:19-23).
Notice that neither Jesus nor St. Paul says, “And if you do what God wants you to do, your life will be hunky-dory in all ways. Nothing but smooth sailing from here to eternity.”
That certainly wasn’t the case for either of them. Not for the one who, in the garden, accepted God’s will. Not for the one who, apparently, fought it to one degree or another until God slapped him upside the head on the road to Damascus.
Each was arrested, was tortured, was put to death.
One final point: None of this is to say these “fruits that will remain” mean you’ll have some sort of globally recognized legacy. Most likely not. Most likely your joy, peace, kindness and all the rest are meant to be, and will be, links in a chain of love that stretches from one age to the next until the end of ages. They’re links in a love that’s eternal.
So how can you better figure out God’s will for you right here, right now? Ask yourself:
1. What am I good at? What are my God-given talents?
2. What interests me? What tugs at my heart?
3. What am I afraid to admit I’m interested in doing, that I feel myself being called to do? (Or perhaps feel God must have “misdialed” when he got my number.)
4. From another angle, what is it I feel I’m being called to stop doing? To no longer do this particular job or volunteer work but move on to something else? Do I have a “delayed” vocation of one kind or another? A public or personal ministry for which my own heartaches and hardships have been preparing me?
5. How do I need to start preparing now for something to which God is, or may be, calling me? How do I take one small step in that direction?
6. How do I better use the God-given virtues of faith, hope and love when I’m in the middle of, or just beginning, a time of personal tragedy? How, in some little way, am I being called to accept, if not embrace, my personal way of the cross?
7. How can I better imitate Jesus and more sincerely, and bravely, pray “your will be done”?
Bill Dodds writes from Washington.