We can trust the love of God for us, we can trust the path we’re on and where it’s leading
It’s not uncommon for people to struggle to understand and grasp the will of God for their lives. It’s also a subject that often comes up in Spiritual Direction, so I have decided to offer some thoughts from my own journey in the hope that they might help you on yours. As you read these words, please remember that they are simply thoughts born of personal experience on my journey so far, and are by no means definitive theology or scholarly answers.
My church background has been one in which “the will of God” has been central. As many of us were, and still are, I was taught to see God’s will as something I had to strive to discover for my life, some gold hidden at the end of a rainbow. And if I did eventually manage to find this gold, suddenly life would make sense, everything would fall into place and all would be well. My purpose discovered, my bag packed, I could set out as Frodo did from Rivendell and be on my way to living the epic life God has chosen for me.
The trouble is, discovering this epic purpose which sets us on a hero’s journey is something which happens for very few, and for the rest of us, we can often end up living with misappropriated shame and guilt, or in a constant turmoil as we try to fathom this illusive will or purpose for our lives.
For me personally, as life has unfolded with all of its struggles, twists and turns, and as I ‘failed’ to discover God’s will for my life, disappointment gradually began to give way to something new and kinder. I began to see God’s will, neither as something I needed to ‘do’ with my life, nor an assignment I had been given on which to spend the days I had been given, but rather as something entwined around and woven through all of my life regardless of what I was actually giving my time to.
Jesus says little about God’s will, but perhaps he points to the answer when responding to a question from the religious leaders of his time about which is the greatest commandment …
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself”. Matthew 22:37 – 38.
So simple – love God, yourself and others.
In John 6:39 – 40 Jesus also says…
“I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life and I will raise him up in the last day”.
In this passage, and elsewhere in the New Testament, although the original greek word thélēma is commonly translated as ‘will’, the word is more accurately translated “desire or wish”. Speaking of God’s desire rather than His will for us is so much more encouraging, inviting us to partner with Holy Spirit to fulfil the desires we carry inside us. It no longer resounds with the sense of a will being imposed upon us from on high, but rather a gentle request to enter a Divine partnership living a life of love.
I don’t believe God holds a masterplan for our lives and hopes that one day we will discover it and finally begin to live it. If that were the case, it would only happen for those that are tenacious or lucky enough to find it, which makes it about us and our own efforts, not about a grace freely given. And how would that work for those that spend a lifetime trying to discover God’s purpose for their lives only to seemingly fail?
As I read about the life of Jesus, what I see is love being lived out in every moment in its purest, kindest form. Everything Jesus did was motivated by love. He healed, restored, raised from the dead, hung out with outcasts, gave time to those on the edges, reached out to the demon-possessed, removed shame from prostitutes. On and on it goes, always love, every breath, every moment… that none should perish.
I have come to see that love is God’s desire for us and how we live that out is not set in stone. Love sustains us in every breath and God is intimately involved in our lives. I love how James Finley says it…
In the freedom with which you freely choose to give yourself in love to the love that gives itself to you, in that reciprocity of love, your destiny is fulfilled, and God’s will for you is consummated.
God walks alongside us in all our decisions, in all of what life brings our way actively inviting trust and surrender all the while offering love and grace. Perhaps instead of looking outside of ourselves – as I have done in the past – for a divine masterplan, we need to sit quietly and honestly with ourselves, giving ear to the desires and longings within. This for me stimulates hopeful anticipation rather than fear of failure if I should ‘get it wrong.’ What desires do I carry? What brings me life? What gifts have I been given that I want to share with the world? Can I be courageous enough to take a risky step in response to these desires? Even if it looks messy or foolish to the world, can I trust the love that sustains as I follow my heart?
My husband Mike and I have been living a life like this for many years now, following our hearts and trusting infinite love with the outcome, and we can both say with great honesty and enthusiasm that the rewards have been huge. We have experienced God’s love at every turn in the road. In all my “doings”, geographical movement, pursuing this training or choosing that job, I have been invited to trust, and chosen to put my foot forward trusting that the firm ground of love is beneath. Sometimes it’s worked as I had hoped, sometimes it has not, and yet the Trinity has been present with love and kindness in every step, and I have been changed as a result. I can confidently say that love has grown in me: towards God, towards myself and towards others.
I have moved away from the idea that God’s will has anything to do with purpose, but rather everything to do with desires born of love. There will be many times when we find ourselves making decisions between this path or that, but whatever path we find ourselves on, we cannot fail because God is right there with us, never leaving or forsaking us, whichever route we take. Whether the path is difficult or easy, treacherous or smooth, God is always gently inviting us to choose love and offering us the grace to be continually transformed into the likeness of Christ.
We can trust the love of God for us, we can trust the path we’re on and where it’s leading, following our hearts as they meander and weave through life. As we grow in love, we grow in God’s desire (will) to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. What could be better?
Finally, I leave you with this quote by Thomas Merton. May it reassure you and bring you peace.
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.