Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Discerning the Will of God

When I was growing up, and for a long while after I grew up, I had serious difficulty discerning God's will. Discerning God's will was of utmost importance as a Protestant child, teenager, and young adult... this is the time of one's life where one chooses a career, where one chooses a spouse. There are other large decisions made in that span of time, but career and spouse are generally considered the largest of the large.

For those not of a Protestant upbringing, young people are taught that God has a will for their lives, and that they need to discern what it is. Through prayer, Scripture reading, maybe fasting, maybe counsel by a respected elder or other church leader. And once discerned, they are to act.

[Let me apologize now for focusing on another church than my own - I don't want this to become anti-Protestant propaganda central, just as I don't want my Orthodoxy to appear to be a simple negation of that which went before. I was just thinking about careers, and the topic came up.]

My experience of "discerning God's will" is that it paralyzes the discerner into inaction. I have seen this in the lives of others, and I can speak to the paralysis in my own life.

Quite honestly, God doesn't talk to me much. I don't get much in the way of heavenly voices or divine light. I never have. [Most people don't.] And when I prayed for wisdom, for discernment, I got nothing. And because I was honest with myself, I couldn't pretend that my desires had the heavenly stamp of approval upon them.

What was the net effect? I was afraid of failing, I was afraid of going outside God's will, of messing up my life, of getting the second best, or third best. I was afraid that I would use my talents unwisely and end up condemned.

There is no will to choose in such a life.

I thank God that in my Orthodox home (as could well be in the Protestant circles I didn't hang with) we are taught that we choose. There is free will.

So I can choose a career.
I can choose a wife.

Of course, I should choose a career that will be of benefit to my salvation (maybe not a rock star). I should choose a wife who will help me walk the way of the pilgrim (so maybe a non-Christian would be a bad idea).

But the thrilling part to me is that divine judgment does not come for the decisions we have made (ie. farmer over doctor, or Betsy over Susie), but for how we live with those decisions (ie. What kind of a farmer am I? How do I treat Betsy?). I find a certain degree of freedom - of liberty - in this.

- V.


Anonymous said...

The difficulty that you faced was due in part perhaps to the amount of choice that you had. This is a phenomenon of recent generations more so that ever before.
If we go back even 100 years we find most young men following the trade or business of their father, and depending how well travelled they were, finding a spouse within the community in which they grew up. The choices were much more limited and if we go back before the industrial revolution in the class society of those days the choices were even more restricted. Today there is less pressure to follow in the footsteps of the father, unless you are the first-born, in which case the family can add pressure, sometimes very subtly. My oldest brother experienced this, I think. I know I felt kind of sorry for him sometimes in that regard because our father had large shoes to fill, and I think he felt some kind of obligation to try.
I found however, that talk of seeking the Lord's will for your life in our Protestant home, generally was code for ministry of some sort. And in old school Protestant families I think it was a point of satisfaction, if not pride, to have a clergyman in the family, much like it once was an honour in a Catholic family to have a priest or a religious sister, or even several from large families.
Today, Catholics call everything a vocation, not just the call to the priesthood.

V & E said...

There is some measure of truth to what you say, Les.

If I knew from the age of eight (or earlier) that I was to carry on my father's farm, well, that would simplify matters.

However, I think that "seeking the Lord's Will for my life" is more than code for figuring out if ministry was it for me, a la doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. In the circles that I hung out with, all the devout were encouraged to start with missions and pastoral work, and if those were not the "Will of God", then to apply that same probing to the rest of their lives.

The same went with regard to finding a spouse.


Although I can remember some leaders baffled by the idea of someone not knowing what to do with their lives - the solution, for them, was simple: if raised a Christian, go into the ministry; if converted into Christianity as an adult, serve God in the career field in which you found yourself. The attitude with these enlightened few was that no Christian should be trying to find a career, because careerism was unChristian.

That said, I still stand by my original assertion. There are simply too many of my friends who are paralyzed into inaction, and who go through their lives with a sick sense of having chosen the "second best."

- V.

V & E said...

On rereading your comment, I felt I needed to add to what I had written, above. It seems that modern Catholics are doing the same thing that I have noted modern Protestants are doing:

Making everything a vocation, and thus, all careers something to discern from God.


I also read with interest your theory with regard to your oldest brother. Filling the shoes of someone with a large and dynamic personality can be crushing. I guess the only person I pity more than the eldest of such a person would be the eldest of the eldest of such a person. In such a case, pressure would be hereditary, and obligation traditional.

- V.

LifeSpark said...

I'm not a huge Augustine fan on every point but I like what he had to say about discernment of vocation:
"Love God and do as you please."