“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” we pray in the Our Father. “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42), prayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. For someone seeking to live as a disciple of Christ, finding God’s will for our life is essential. It is something to keep learning about for a lifetime, and much ink has been spilled on the subject during the last 2000 years, so I do not intend to offer a pat-and-dry answer. However, my recent childbirth experience and reading of Walter Ciszek’s book, He Leadeth Me, has led me to lay out my own recent reflections.
Is it a straight path you stray from?
While dating my husband, I felt an urgency in knowing God’s will for me. Now looking back, I see the years we dated as God’s providence in preparing us for one another and for marriage. At the time, however, I thought we were wasting time. I wanted to get onto my “real” calling of either marriage or religious life. I felt God might be calling us to marriage and having children, so anytime we spent otherwise felt as if maybe it wasn’t God’s will for us to be dating. Maybe it wasn’t working out.
During a particularly memorable trip to Taizé (a Christian community in France), I reflected about the will of God with my small group. I was particularly frustrated about not “knowing” the will of God for my life. Our small group leader asked, “So do you see the will of God as a path you have to find and anytime you spend off the path before getting back on again is wasted time?” Yes, I agreed. I couldn’t see it any other way.
God’s will as the doctors’ will
Since then (about eight years ago), I have grown much and changed many views on spirituality, especially about God’s will. Now I definitely don’t see God’s will as a straight path, nor my life as a straight path at all. I see God’s will more and more as Isaiah 55:8-9 describes:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
Mixed up in our wounded, chaotic, messy lives, God’s will is everywhere. We can choose to accept it and listen to it at any time.
I most experienced this at our third baby’s birth a month ago. From the very beginning of pregnancy, the feeling of being out of control was overwhelming for me. Two days before our baby was born, I was at the end of my rope. There were no contractions, I had already passed 41 weeks and the doctors wanted to intervene. I live forty minutes away from the hospital and distinctly remember the feeling I had when driving to the hospital. The doctor had asked me to come back to be checked. I had already been checked in the morning, and almost every day before then. I didn’t want to go and be checked for fear they would want me to stay at the hospital. I still thought I could “convince” the doctors one way or another and that would influence what happened.
My husband insisted that I go back and get checked because I had told the doctor I would. So as I was making the long drive to the hospital and feeling angry, frustrated and out of control, I realized God’s will was submitting to these unknown conditions. God’s will was doing what the doctors I trusted and had chosen told me to do, much like a religious nun should see God’s will in her superior’s orders. God’s will was accepting what my body decided or not to do. God’s will was doing what my husband also thought was right because he was the father.
Bishop Barron’s Daily Gospel Reflection for that day (1/12/2018) especially helped me see this:
“One of the most fundamental statements of faith is this: your life is not about you. You’re not in control. This is not your project. Rather, you are part of God’s great design. To believe this in your bones and to act accordingly is to have faith. When we operate out of this transformed vision, amazing things can happen, for we have surrendered to ‘a power already at work in us that can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.’ Even a tiny bit of faith makes an extraordinary difference.”
He Leadeth Me
I read Walter Ciszek’s book He Leadeth Me during the first weeks after the baby was born. The most impressive part of the book for me was his reflection on God’s will. He was imprisoned for five years in complete solitary confinement. How could that be God’s will? Wasn’t that a “wasting time” and straying from some path of something desired by God? On the contrary, he realized that God was teaching him lessons during that time. He realized that he could be an instrument for Christ for some prisoners. He realized that he still had the freedom to do or not to do God’s will.
“The body can be confined, but nothing can destroy the deepest freedom of man, the freedom of the soul, and the freedom of mind and will. These are the highest and noblest faculties in man, they are what make him the sort of man he is, and they cannot be constrained. Even in prison, a man can choose to do good or evil, to fight for survival or to despair, to serve God and others or to turn inward and selfish” (chap 16).
Then Father Ciszek spent 15 years in a slave labor camp, where he did very little apostolic ministry amidst grueling physical work, long hours and near starvation. However, he again realized his work for God’s will and God’s kingdom was there.
“I didn’t build a new city in Siberia because Joseph Stalin or Nikita Khrushchev wanted it, but because God wanted it. The labor I did was not a punishment, but a way of working out my salvation in fear and trembling. Work was not a curse, even the brutish grunt work I was doing, but a way to God – and perhaps even a way to help others to God. I could not, therefore, look upon this work as degrading; it was enobling, for it came to me from the hand of God himself. It was his will for me” (chap 10).
After leaving the camp, Father Ciszek led a simple, hidden life among Russian people, doing very little apparent apostolic ministry. However, he again saw that accepting where God took him, the little or apparently useless things God gave him to do, there was God’s will.
“Yet my greatest consolation was the evident faith of the courageous Christians I served, a living witness in this desolate land to the power of God’s grace and the existence of his kingdom. Their faith, their courage, inspired me daily to offer up all my actions and works and sufferings of each day to the work of spreading the kingdom of God upon earth. What was I, in comparison the millions of atheists in the Soviet Union? What was I, in comparison to the might and power of the Soviet government? What were any of us, really in the face of the system around us, with all its organs of propaganda and powers of persecution? Yet, in God’s providence, here we were. This was the place he had chosen for us, the situation and circumstances in which he had placed us” (chap 17).
In the everyday
God makes no mistakes. Of course, we make mistakes, but God’s redemption is stronger than any mistake we could possibly make. We are never “wasting time” in finding out God’s will. God’s will is present at every moment, leading, inspiring, calling us, even when we stray from Him. God speaks to us and lets us know His will, and that is what we call revelation. He does this through His Word, the apostles’ successors who interpret His Word, through the sacraments and most especially through our everyday lives, circumstances, and conditions.