Scripted: The “What Is God’s Will For My Life?” Frustration
How does one know if they are following God’s will for their life? How can one discern his will for them? Is there a planned route for each individual that God really hopes they will follow – and we had better be careful that we don’t accidentally miss it – or is everything in life already pre-rigged by him and no matter what we do in life we are still in “God’s will” since it is what he omnipotently allowed to occur? How on earth do we find out what we are supposed to do with our life for goodness’ sake? I of course am no expert on God’s will; I must wrestle with this perplexity along with the rest of humanity. But upon contemplation a few thoughts come to mind that I would like to share.
WHAT’S MY LINE?
Not too long ago I was listening to a podcast on Ancient Faith Radioi about suffering in which they got into discussing the will of God and how this endeavor weighs on different Christians in accordance with their respective tradition. The guest, Scott Cairns, often visited Christian campuses of various stripes and noted how inevitably he will have conversations with students who are so crushed by the burden of knowing what God wants them to do with their life. It seems the usually unconscious implication is that God has totally “micromanaged” peoples’ lives and has everything planned out for them to follow. The great challenge is to discover this “script” and follow suit, to passively read the lines and act out what is all choreographed for each of us. He contended that this is a very caricatured way of looking at our lives, because we are called to struggle and wrestle out this thing called life in cooperation with God. We are meant to participate in this restoration of the world that God is doing, and while he is the Head and the Leader and the source of all the success, we have to actively work with him to make it a reality.
When Jacob wrestled with the angel, or pre-incarnate manifestation of God, in Genesis 32 he was then renamed Israel, meaning “one who struggles/wrestles with God.” This in turn became the name of God’s people, for his people are distinguished by the fact that they are wrestling, grappling, struggling with him; trying to get through life while looking to God’s help but suffering with the reality of a broken world absent of God’s total immanence; making the effort to deal with their pain and doubts and the seeming absence of God in it all.
RELAX, GOD IS IN CONTROL
I believe that Christians need to stop putting on airs and convince themselves and others that they need to be positive and uplifting, having a subconscious pressure to “fake it till they make it,” and so often turn a totally blind eye to the reality of life’s hellish condition. David and the other psalmists, Solomon in his wisdom literature, and other biblical figures were blatantly honest with God in the outcry of their inner pain in life, making statements about and to God that would be appalling for someone to pray in most congregational settings. This struggle and inner wrestle with God is the journey, the pilgrim’s progress, which enables people to deal with their underlying issues and come to terms with them in order to progress towards the inner peace that Saint Paul speaks about.
Currently I work at a hardware store where my primary duty is retrieving shopping carts out of the parking lot. After working so hard to earn high-level GPAs in undergraduate and graduate school, I have moved from piddly job to piddly job, to unemployment, to piddly job, still living with family at 25 and struggling to make enough just to pay on student loans. Growing up, I cannot recall how many times various well-intentioned, God-fearing people, (usually women) have told me how they are convinced that God has such a great plan for me, that he’s going to use me to do great things for many people, that the videography I do as a hobby is going to take me places, and that I just need to be patient because the Lord is going to pour out his blessings upon me.
Today I ponder just what exactly a blessing from the Lord really is. So often good fortune and “blessings” have caused people to slip further and further into conceited selfishness, while pain and hardship have shaped so many into such amazing, Godly, inspiring people. So, was it God’s will to bring the good fortune knowing the ill effects, and did God bring the evil horrible things on others just because of who it would shape them into? In the words of Saint Cyril of Alexandria:
“Man, having received as his lot an exhausting fast and sorrow, was given over to illnesses, sufferings, and the other bitter things of life, as if to a kind of bridle. Because he did not sensibly restrain himself in that life which was free of labors and sorrows (in Paradise), he is given over to misfortunes, so that by sufferings he might heal in himself the disease which came upon him in the midst of blessedness.”ii
In talking about God being in control and events being his will, we need to remember that we are the ones causing the pain and suffering since our sins affect those around us, and that, while God could in fact stop bad things from happening, he has given his creatures free dominion over this world; although too often that freedom is the very thing that keeps us enslaved. But as the human race struggles with itself and with its Creator, as the proper Greek articulation affirms, “with those who love God, He is working with all things into good,” (Rom. 8:28). Father Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of Saint Vladimir’s Theological Seminary, used to say that he has found the best definition of “Providence” to be, “God doing the best that He can with what He has to work with.”
PEACE BE WITH YOU
Christ so often spoke of and greeted people with the notion of peace, and the angels announced that His purpose was to grant this peace to the world. But this peace goes beyond good terms between relationships, for it is something each person must achieve within themselves. So often in this world people arrive at a luxurious life of bliss yet are internally in anguish, depression, and torment. This is why God does not just want us to be successful and earn a middle class living and live happily ever after with easy living because this would not purify most of our hearts. God’s will for us is to become saints, and that requires finding a peace that transcends all external circumstances, and usually requires quite heinous circumstances in order to find it. And it is that peace with God, with men, and with all things that is the ultimate witness to the world of the faith. Saint Seraphim of Sarov challenged Christians to “acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.”iii
I am just not convinced that God’s blessings or even “God’s will” is really concerned with what we do for a living. I really think he just cares about who we are. I know that I need to be constantly beat down and humbled in order to become who I need to be, so perhaps I will never be “successful” or “serve God” in some profound way; perhaps I just need a simple, humble, invisible place in this life in order to find inner peace and be changed. I may be collecting shopping carts in a parking lot the rest of my life, or I may become a filmmaker in Hollywood, or I may end up cut off from society in the African bush. I really don’t care anymore, as ultimately they are all meaningless distractions and chasing after the wind. They are only means to an end, and that is union with God.