Will of God: Do I want that, too?

Our biggest obstacle to doing God’s will, or even perceiving God’s will, is a preoccupation with what we want instead.  It takes commitment and discipline to recognize the difference.  My godfather has that commitment and discipline, and he still wrestles with his will.  We had lunch last week, and he relayed his prayerful reflections while driving to the office that day.  He was extremely pleased with the plan he had for his day in the office.  He didn’t really want to ask God if God might have something else in store for him.  “I’m asking you if you have a different plan, God, but I’m not happy about asking you, because I really, really like my plan!”

We tend to get in our own way on the journey to healing and life change because we resist taking that difficult step of creating a power vacuum to make space for God’s power to act in our lives.  There is a Jewish saying that you can’t pour water into a cup that’s already full.  “Islam” translates roughly to “surrender.”  Eastern traditions teach transcending self is necessary to ease suffering.  The Twelve Step tradition teaches self-centeredness is the root of life’s unmanageability and surrendering our will to God is the route to sanity.  The Christian tradition teaches Jesus’ life and resurrection represents the rebirth and newness of life that is available to all willing “to die to self.”  These spiritual traditions embrace the idea of emptiness—both emptying the mind to encounter the soul and, more especially, emptying oneself of one way of being to make space for a new way of becoming.

When we surrender our wants and ways to God, we make room for God to act in our lives, joining God as a partner in the creative process and inviting the kind of transformational life change we cannot even imagine.  C.S. Lewis encourages us to trust God’s imagination:

We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.

When I realize God’s imagination for me is better than mine for myself, I can relinquish my silly notions that I know best how to satisfy myself.  Whether those notions have led me to complete devastation or to a dull ache of emptiness (“There’s got to be more”), relinquishing them will free my imagination for the destination God would have for me.

When we have decided that an increasingly intimate relationship with God is the destination we seek, then recognizing and taking up his will for us becomes part of the destination as well.  What God desires is not so much a certain accomplishment as a certain reciprocal relationship.  God gives, we respond, and when we’re aligned to God’s will, our response to the gift is itself a gift to God.  When we seek God’s will in pursuit of this reciprocal relationship, we bring joy to him, to others and to ourselves.

Join the conversation.  When God put an opportunity you didn’t plan (or didn’t want) in your path, did you alter course or stick with mudpies?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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Emptiness

How many of us have asked, “Is this all there is?”  We burn the candle at both ends with work commitments, volunteer commitments and family commitments (sometimes in that order), and on top of that we work hard to schedule time for ourselves, for exercise and for entertainment.  Weeks dissolve into months, and at the end of it we’re exhausted and perhaps overwhelmed by the multiple simultaneous sound tracks creating noise in our heads.  We feel like there has to be more in life, but in reality, there is already too much. 

How can we step off the treadmill and find more meaning with less doing?  Many traditions embrace the idea of emptiness—both emptying the mind to encounter the soul and, more especially, emptying oneself of one way of being to make space for a new way of becoming.  There is a Jewish saying  that you can’t pour into a full cup.  “Islam” translates roughly to “surrender.”  Eastern traditions employ several meditation practices to transcend self.  Even in nature many things cease to be one thing in order to become something else.  A seed ceases being a seed in order to become a tree.  Emptiness may hurt, but it is also our best hope for the healing and life change we seek. 

Recent posts explored what it means to rely on God-help rather than self-help when seeking life change and renewal.  The Twelve Step addiction recovery tradition offers special wisdom on this point.  Recovery seekers know that one has to create a power vacuum in order to make space for God’s power to enter.  They recognize this wisdom as the Third Step, or making “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” 

As logical as this emptying sounds, it is incredibly difficult to do.  We can become deathly attached to our own desires.  Pharaoh is the Bible’s biggest loser.  He was willing to endure any number of plagues and to lose everything rather than doing a Third Step.  When talking about surrendering our earthly desires, attachments and plans to make space for God’s power and care in a Third Step, recovery seekers invariably talk of “taking it back” at some point in the journey. 

At least recovery seekers recognize that it’s either God’s will or their own will in the driver’s seat.  Many religious seekers hope for a little auxiliary God-help without taking the difficult step of surrendering their own will.  Sometimes we want God to be almighty on our terms. 

Join the conversation.  What practices help you empty yourself and surrender your will?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.