We were discussing the difficult concept of the will of God. My friend told me about a college student who felt called to be a missionary, but was troubled because she didn’t know if she should serve in India or China. After much internal debate, she chose not to go to either country; she didn’t want to make a mistake and go against the will of God. I was horrified! This precious child of God missed her opportunity to serve God by being afraid she would miss the specific will of God.
I remember a life-time of being flummoxed by the whole concept of determining and then following the will of God. Obeying God’s will seemed like an impossible, even frightening, yet absolutely necessary task. I was released from my fearsome burden when I read a short quote from Thomas Merton:
“The will of God is not a ‘fate’ to which we must submit, but a creative act in our life that produces something absolutely new. . . . . Our cooperation consists not solely in conforming to external laws, but in opening our wills to this mutually creative act” (Journals of Thomas Merton).
Read the first thirteen words of this quote a few times: “The will of God is not a fate to which we must submit.” How would your willingness to surrender to God increase if you understood that God’s will was not “a fate” but a “creative act?” How would your excitement about finding your “calling” or your “mission in life” multiply if you understood that every moment of your life is a mutually creative act – God and you working collaboratively on getting something done in the world that God wants done.
Have you ever had an idea that seemed to come out of the blue and yet perfectly fits your passion and gifts? I remember decades ago when I taught teaching reading in adult high school program. The levels of reading ran the gamut from first grade to college level. The college-level people could easily make it through on their own, but I couldn’t make it work for anyone under that level without bringing in several volunteers each night to work individually or in small groups. It was exhausting for all of us. And then one day I had an idea. We should have a learning center for new adult readers who could be given private tutors. As soon as I had the idea, I was terrified. How could I possibly make this happen? I couldn’t, but God and I could! And we did! The Family Literacy Center has been in business for more than 30 years.
Over the years, I began to recognize the feeling of having an extraordinary idea that I knew God was calling me to. At the age of 64, I stared at a post card I held in my hand. It was a picture of Richard Foster! I blinked and looked again! It really was Richard Foster. And in large print were the words Get a degree in Soul. It was an ad for a new on-line master’s level program in spiritual formation at Spring Arbor University. I knew instantly that this was the answer to 18 months of yearning. I knew it couldn’t happen physically, emotionally, or financially without God’s collaboration. I applied, was accepted, and miraculously the $11,000 tuition for the first year was provided. It was another “creative act” that changed the entire course of my life and led to a late-life career in spiritual formation.
A few years later, I learned of a Renovare conference that offered a two-day training in a new concept of teaching discipleship: the Apprentice of Jesus program. I instantly recognized the feeling I had about this: God again wanted to collaborate with me again – this time to provide a way for people in my church to join in a creative active of becoming like Jesus. I was volunteering 20 hours in the adult discipleship program, so I told the pastor about the training. We agreed that the description of the program was exactly what we were looking for. And so I was off to San Antonio and on the spiritual formation adventure of a lifetime – for me and for people in my church yearning for a deeper relationship with God and with others.
Richard Rohr comments on the Thomas Merton quote at the beginning of this post in his book Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps):
“It is such divine synergy, people’s willingness to creatively work with the hand that life and sin and circumstances have dealt them that is our deepest life of prayer and devotion. This is ‘doing the will of God'”
Divine synergy. Working creatively and collaboratively with God. Making the most of the “hand that life and sin and circumstances” has given us. Doing the will of God!