Years ago when I was teaching religion in junior high school, the topic turned to God’s will, which can be a pretty daunting subject even for adults like Augustine and Aquinas, never mind adolescents.
I thought I’d done a pretty good job explaining it to 32 seventh-graders, until a hand shot up in the back of the class and young Beth Quigley proceeded to tell the story of a woman who walked out into the street and was hit by a car and died.
“Was that God’s will?” she asked. “Or was it fate?”
I understood how the ancient Greeks must have felt when Socrates was laying his trap for them as they debated on the streets of Athens. I stuttered, I started to perspire, and I probably blurted out something like “It’s not easy to tell what God’s will is.” Then, I detoured the discussion to something less perplexing like the sacraments.
“Beth, if you can’t remember the Seven Sacraments, how can you comprehend God’s will?”
It was a bad response. Years later, I realize God’s will for us is easier to understand than the 2,300 pages of the Affordable Care Act, and yet we agonize as if it’s indecipherable and we need a divine Rosetta Stone to crack the code and make sense of our lives.
Many people I know talk about their “destiny” and “fate” as if they’re characters in an Arthurian legend, a Greek myth or the Game of Thrones. Others trust their horoscopes more than God’s will. I don’t believe in horoscopes or fate, but I believe in God’s personally tailored plan for each of us.
The spiritual writer Carlo Carretto, commenting on the path that led him to become a Little Brother of Jesus and go into the solitude of the desert, once wrote, “Herein is contained the mystery of the history of our salvation … invited and impelled by a force which, when we do not recognize it, we call fate, but which, when we are clear about it and aware, we call the will of God. Do you believe that everything is part of a plan, a design, an intervention of God in our affairs? I do. And I am convinced that God’s love can transform the darkness of a disaster or the irrationality of an earthquake into an event that can influence or even completely change our lives.”
I’ve known family members and friends who look at their lives, scratch their heads and wonder what it’s all about. What’s their destiny? Some are celebrating, some are suffering. Many of them fell into careers or go from job to job pursuing a pay check while the true purpose of their lives eludes them.
Others knew their so-called destiny from an early age because their parents told them. They were achievers and over-achievers marked for greatness in the eyes of their families and society, and they eventually achieved prominence, prestige and wealth. But did they achieve as much in the eyes of God?
God’s ways are not man’s ways. He has a unique plan that existed before time for each of us, and it doesn’t necessarily involve acclaim and material success. Nevertheless, it can involve great things because when we commit to God’s will, he can turn our small acts of obedience into unimaginably tremendous spiritual accomplishments. Regardless of your vocation or profession, if you seek God’s will, you have purpose; and if you don’t seek God’s will, no vocation or profession however respected is as meaningful and productive as it should be.
Our world exalts power and celebrity, but the greatest achievements in salvation history often result from the efforts of humble people—homemakers, bank tellers, bricklayers and Uber drivers, who’ve turned their will and lives over to God.
Accepting God’s will means taking Christ with us moment by moment and asking him what he wants us to do in every situation. He’ll tell us, but to hear him, we have to pray, sit in silence and listen.
If we say “yes” to his plan for us, he’ll put people in our path, situations in our lives, and opportunities in our day to bring Christ to others. Does that sound simplistic? It’s simple, but not simplistic. God’s will has an immeasurable purpose in human and spiritual terms—nothing less than saving souls. God is counting on each of us. Really.
As I often tell my daughters, God has a plan for your lives and it’s better than your plan. To discover what it is, all you have to do is ask. His plan is your true destiny and the source of happiness. There’s no other.