If you’re like me, “God’s will” has been the focus of much prayer, angst, hope, and confusion. I’ve often wondered if I had found it, missed it, or generally screwed it up. So I’m very grateful for these words from Mandy Meisenheimer, challenging myths that I’ve often believed about God’s will:
Seeking God’s will used to be so simple in my mind.
“God must have better plans for you.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“God shut those doors. It wasn’t supposed to happen.”
It was so simple that these pithy, reductionist sayings didn’t seem bizarre to me at all.
But when we choose to see God’s will in everything while ignoring the futility and despair of this life, we miss God’s will entirely and we lose sight of the hope of the gospel itself.
These are eight myths that I have identified in my life about God’s will and God’s involvement:
1. High school students should know what God’s will is for their lives and choose a college major accordingly.
The decisions we make during our early adulthood (career, marriage, etc.) alter the courses of our lives. But to expect that an 18-year-old would have the perfect life mapped out for himself/herself places too much responsibility, expectations, and false hopes on a young student, setting him/her up for failure and disappointment.
Those dreams look different in ten years, for better or for worse. And there is nothing sacred about the age of 18 in the determination of one’s destiny. Mostly likely, the 18-year-old will get it wrong a few times.
2. God’s plan for me is my vocation.
God’s will is about loving God and loving others. Only in a position of privilege can a person have the notion that work should be some romantic expression of his/her gifts and talents.
3. If you are bored with your job, it must not be your calling, or God’s will for your life.
The gospel does not promise the actualization of our full potential. Many martyrs have died without being able to make a living performing in a band or writing a ground-breaking novel.
We tend to believe the myth that our fulfillment in life involves labor which is creative, stimulating, and success-generating. But the idea that God’s will must involve following one’s dreams contradicts Scripture and disrespects the millions of impoverished people around the world who labor in harsh circumstances every day to provide for their families.
4. Some people have high callings.
God’s will does not have a front row and a back row. Missionary martyr is not first place; suburban housewife or husband is not number 53.
Finding wholeness and love in this life is all there is. There isn’t a bonus level with ninja powers.
5. If God does not want me to do something, God will close the door.
If God always were to “shut doors” on disobedience, then there would be no abuse, no lies, no bank robberies, or littering. God does not close doors to prevent all bad things from happening.
And the converse is also a myth: If all the doors are opening for me, it must be God’s will. Shouldn’t we beware of the illusion of orchestration through circumstances? Sometimes the best things are ruined and all the doors are shut in our faces. Sometimes the worst things open up for us with ease.
6. If something goes wrong, what you are doing must not be God’s will.
Resistance is not an appropriate gauge of the righteousness of a decision, nor is a “sense of peace”. Sometimes resistance proves to us that we are following Jesus. And sometimes resistance happens because this planet is a tough place to live.
7. Everything that happens to me is part of God’s plan.
Things happen to us that are contrary to God’s will. A person neglects or abuses a child. A drunk driver has an accident. God does not cause these things. What if you were supposed to get that job and someone lost the paperwork because this world is a dark place? What if your child was supposed to thrive at birth, but humans don’t always do their jobs perfectly?
What if what happened wasn’t truly meant to be? Is that okay? Can futile, awful things happen in this world?
8. Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.
Why don’t we put our faith in the Holy Spirit working within us much more than the signs and wonders without? Why do we look for confirmation of God’s will in tealeaves and toast crumbs? Are we really going to take this or that highway because someone had a bumper sticker that seemed like a “God thing”? Why does this seem more like voodoo and less like faith?
One of the most amazing, gospelly books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes, sets us free from the pursuit of meaning in all things. Nothing is new under the sun. Everything is a chasing after the wind. The wisdom in this poetry can set us free from seeing our lives through a Jesus-crystal ball. Sometimes bad things happen and that’s the way this world works. This fallen, dark, corrupt world gets it wrong. Why does that surprise us? Why do we need to explain it away?
The answer I have found to all of these myths is in one statement:
This too shall be redeemed.
We do not have to find meaning in every event, every change, every decision, every slight, every loss, every win. We find meaning in watching it all be redeemed in time.
Eventually. Perhaps at the end of all things when things are made whole again.
adapted from Things I Want the Internet to Know
Mandy Meisenheimer is the Director of Children and Youth at West End Collegiate Church in Manhattan. She also writes curriculum and reflection guides for books and short films. Mandy and her husband live with their two young children in the Bronx, New York. Follow her on Twitter.
[ image: Ivana Vasilj ]
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