Saturday, August 30, 2014

You're Going the Wrong Way: God's Plan and Purpose

I spent most of my late teens and early twenties trying to discern God's will for my life. Does God want me to be a creative writing major or a religion major, or an English teacher, or should I do all three? Should I keep going to Ashland or should I transfer to another school? Which school? Is this guy the man I should marry? Is this guy? Is this guy? Does God want me to go to graduate school for writing or should I go to graduate school for Christian ministries or should I go to graduate school to be a teacher? How does God feel about birth control? Did God will for me to miscarry? Is this God's plan? What is God's plan for me?

As a zealous follower of Christ, I plastered verses about God's plan for me all over: "I know the plans I have for you... plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future," "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, down unfamiliar paths, I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them," "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight," "We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose."

I worried over God's plan and God's will constantly. When I didn't get a job I applied for, I thought, "It must not have been God's plan." When God isn't the one you look to in order to dictate your life's path, you might say, "It wasn't in the cards," as in Fate and Random Chance did not deal you the ace, or "It wasn't meant to be," as in the gray fog of Destiny did not align with what you thought should happen.

And then I miscarried. And then I miscarried again. "I guess it wasn't meant to be."

It wasn't meant to be? Did God mean for this to happen to me? Am I supposed to learn some kind of lesson from this? Does God cause bad things to happen in order to make good? Were these things in God's plan?

I still believe those verses. In this current season, I'm seeking out God's plan and God's will all over again, trying to discern whether to turn left or to turn right.

I still believe God has a plan and a purpose for my life, but not in a Magic 8-ball, "Should I ask Chris on a date," way. I still believe that God intimately cares about the details of our lives. I don't believe that he's micromanaging the details.

The trouble with "It must not have been God's plan" is that we screw up "God's plan" all of the time. "God's plan" looks like this:

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

As a species, we're almost always doing it wrong. The abuse, the cheating, the lying, the selfishness, the pride, the arrogance, the hatred, the prejudice, the stealing, the killing, all of the sneaky ways we try to manipulate circumstances to keep ourselves comfortable... they all contradict God's plan. Even nature has its ways of stepping out of bounds, in cancer, disease, abnormalities, all challenging what we might call "the natural order."

If I'm not offered a job that I thought I should get, shrugging my shoulders and saying, "It must not have been God's plan," just doesn't work. I didn't get offered that job because some other candidate seemed like a better fit than me, and the hiring committee might have been right. They also might have been wrong.

God, from what I can tell, has left a lot of the daily grind up to us. He has given lots of control over to us through the whole free-will business. Bad things happen. Good things happen. His concern seems to be about how I respond in situations rather than the situation itself. When bad things happen, he grieves with me. When good things happen, he celebrates with me. He is present in it.

If we combine what is said of who we're created and called to be, "Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus," "You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb," and more, then part of God's plan is identifying who we are, what our strengths are, and what we are passionate about individually. Then, as we make or discover opportunities to exercise those talents in the broader world, we must apply part two of God's plan - to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with him.

"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"

Part two of God's plan is harvesting the fruit of the Spirit in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, exercising love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

When new opportunities or challenges present themselves, it would be great if someone would just say, "Nope. Wrong." or "Yup. Do that." Where is my bright red, flashing God sign? Sometimes it is not clear whether one thing or the other is the better choice, and possibly even God doesn't care one way or the other. You might be equally effective whether you stay or go.

And yet, we can ask God for wisdom and discernment to figure out the costs and the benefits, to weigh the opportunity against the challenges, and to be aware when intuition and spirit are shouting, "You're going the wrong way!" These gifts will help us come to a decision free of anxiety, resting in the peace that whatever direction we decide to turn, God's way along the path is filled with both justice and mercy. Now walk in it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What are we going to do today?

We are going to do nothing. Nothing at all, nothing planned, nothing scheduled, no agenda, no calendar items, no outings, no play dates, not even laundry. We are doing nothing.

I am out of the office (again) after the two-week summer residency. Because I worked so much during the last two weeks, I've been itching to schedule out all kinds of fun during this week of vacation, this final week of honest-to-goodness summer before I go back to regular hours and they get ready for school. It has taken me a few days to feel like a thinking human being instead of a gray lump of motionless clay, but now, there are plenty of things-to-do on our things-to-do calendar, like the zoo, a Rubber Ducks ballgame, a wedding, a birthday party.

But TODAY, there is nothing. I laughed at Lydia and Elvis as they whined, "There's nothing to doooo," creating two syllables where there's only supposed to be one. Yes, there's nothing!

I feel a certain mix of guilt and delight knowing that my kids have to figure out for themselves what to do to keep entertained without the default television or video game. I have to resist the urge to monologue, "When I was your age..." but in my head, I remember it being just me and my brothers, or me and my cousins, inventing games and playing for hours. Or reading, how many hours did I sit and just... read?

Today, the kids have thirteen potential playmates within 500 feet of our house. It is a rare occasion when none of them are home, but it does happen, like this morning, when some are off to camp and others off to daycare and others still off to dentist appointments. It takes a little perseverance to break through the whining, but sooner rather than later, the default settings of boredom are overridden by creativity, and now they play Spy or build castles in the sand, or, like right this minute, they go to the pound and bark like dogs.

Meanwhile, my "nothing" is reading The Circus Train by Judith Kitchen, a novella-length essay that turns inward and outward, tracing trains of thought and circus trains and memory itself the way that one can only do when sitting still. Paused. Besides following Henry from the front of the house to the back and then to the front again in some subconscious attempts by him to keep me from being productive, I have wandered with her through memory and into my own past, where cousins counted different colored cars as they passed, where we stretched out on a blanket and stared up at the clouds, making shapes and figures out of vapors.

Now, I have sat here long enough to hear the dozen honey bees humming in the Russian sage. I have sat here long enough to watch a monarch butterfly dart from flower to flower, its lemon wings folding and unfolding. I have sat here long enough to watch a hundred cars accelerate and brake up and down our street, darting along their roads between somewhere and somewhere else, off to do something, and I have done nothing except observe and travel through Judith Kitchen's memory into my own and back again, back to the monarch on the flower, back to the buzz of cars and bees and children, back to the nothingness of activity.