Non-Religious Christian Spirituality

the what and the how

What is God’s will for my life?

As a pastor, this is probably the question I hear most, often in anguished tones. When uncertainties overwhelm, when meaning and purpose are just words devoid of meaning and purpose, fear sets in that the life we are living is not the life we ought to be living. Bearable only so long. But in looking for God’s will as an unknown out there somewhere to be found, we have already assumed that it is a what, an object, a fully formed plan in God’s mind. As insurance against the risk of a wrong choice, we want to know in advance what course to follow, what job to take, what school, what spouse, what career. God has the plan but he’s not telling, so we must figure it all out and execute perfectly or our lives will never be what they ought to be. Pressure.

But is God so coy with his will? Does God play hide and seek with the most important thing we need to be fully human? In Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, the word for will is sebyana, which literally means pleasure, desire, delight, deepest purpose. Turns out God’s will is really his bliss: what delights him and causes pleasure–never separated from himself as object is separated from subject. Turns out that God’s will is not a what at all, but a how, a way of living life always revealing deepest purpose. And there is no doubt about the how of God’s will; he is shouting it from the rooftops, full volume, full extension. To simply leave people better than we found them; to love them as we love ourselves; to forge unity where we encounter separation is everything we’ll ever need to know. The rest is commentary.

I don’t know that God cares what we do. But he cares deeply how we do what we do. It’s the how that defines us, not the what. And with the right how, any what will do. But if this is true, then what do we do? What do we choose from all the dizzying array of choices each moment presents? I think Joseph Campbell, the great teacher and writer on comparative religion and mythology said it best:

“My general formula for my students is ‘Follow your bliss.’ Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.” “…if you do follow your bliss…the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

Turns out we mostly get it backward–desperately looking for the life we ought to be living when all along, once the bliss we’re following has become the same as the bliss God is following, then the life we ought to be living is always the one we already are.

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