Living in today’s world we are confronted with hundreds of choices every day: red or blue, sweet or savory, toast or muffins. We cope with this plethora of choices by habit. We have our usual breakfast, our usual half-sweet, decaf mocha (no whip), our favorite color, our going-to-bed routine. And yet in spite of our routines and predictable patterns, all of the choices in our life serve a purpose in our culture. They preserve the illusion of freedom: “I always choose blue, but I could choose red, and once I did choose red; but I like blue better.” Somehow these options give us the feeling of freedom, a sense of being in control of our life, of being the captain of the ship that is our life.
This life of choices is much more a life of bondage than of freedom. One aspect of this bondage is the burden we feel to make the “right” choice. Here I am not merely talking about which bread (of the 15 to 20 varieties at the grocery store) to buy or which car is best for you. I am talking about the spiritual burden we impose on ourselves of choosing the will of God for our life.
For the overwhelming majority of the people in the world throughout history, what they would eat, where they would live, what work they would do and even whom they would marry was not a matter of their choice. As far as such matters were concerned, God’s will for their life was determined for them. The choice was not whether or not to harvest the grain on the master’s estate; the choice was whether or not to entrust yourself to God, not grumble against your master, work with your whole heart, and love your fellow laborers. The only real choice for a Christian has always only been: “Will I be a Christian right now, today?”
In our contemporary world with its illusionary freedom, earnest Christians often worry that they might not choose God’s will for their life. They wish they knew what God’s will for their life was. They are afraid that they have missed God’s will for their life. Such thinking comes from a grossly inflated (and often delusional) sense of control we think we have over the events of our life, and our very small view of the providence of God.
God’s will for our life is that we be conformed to the Image of Christ. This is possible in marriage or in singleness, as a businessman or as a plumber, as a slave or as a master, as a home owner or as a prisoner (although Christ does tell us that it is more difficult for the wealthy than for the poor). The will of God has very little to do with being married or single, or being a firefighter or an insurance salesman; but it has almost everything to do with how we are a married or single person, how we are a firefighter or an insurance salesman. The will of God is that we acquire the Grace of the Holy Spirit. It is that we manifest the fruit of the Spirit, that we love God and our neighbor wherever we are or in whatever condition of life we find ourselves in.
The will of God cannot be thwarted by foreign invasion or bad economic decisions or even poor interpersonal communication (with our parents, children or spouse, for example). God’s will is not so much a matter of taking the left or right path at the fork in the road, but of entrusting ourselves to God and embracing as a Christian whatever we encounter on the left or on the right. This, however, does not mean that choices do not matter. They do matter, and the Church has given us quite a bit of guidance about God’s will for our life–particularly about what is not God’s will.
I can confidently assert to every Christian that it is not God’s will for you to fornicate or commit adultery. It is God’s will that you pay your taxes and (in so far as it doesn’t keep you from obeying Christ) obey the laws of the land. It is not God’s will for you to dishonor or abandon your parents or children. It is not God’s will that you kill (or even hate) another human being. God has not left us clueless regarding His will. Our struggle lies in our wanting to control aspects of His will that He has not given to us to control. We think little of the guidance He has given us, and yet we want Him to reveal deeper matters of His providence to us. Our behavior belies that we really do not think that what God says is important, is important. Why should He reveal more to us? In my own struggles to do God’s will, I often hear in my head the prophet’s words, “you draw near me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.”
So what’s a heart that’s far from God to do? We can begin by accepting our life as it is, where it is, with whom it is (or isn’t). We can begin by repenting from the obvious stuff, the stuff we already know shouldn’t be in our lives. We can begin by believing that where I am is where I am called to be a Christian. I can accept that my salvation is nearer today than it was yesterday–despite all of the mistakes and regrets of yesterday (and of yesterday’s yesterdays). Today is the day of salvation, St. Paul tells us. Now is the acceptable time, the Bible says. God’s will is that I commit my life to Him today, to do my best to pay attention to God in my heart today, to love as much as I can those who are in my life today. This is God’s will for my life.