Figuring out God’s will for my life

girl in sun

About a month ago, I found myself at a retreat/formational program about discernment with 70+ strangers in Kansas City. All of the other attendees were either college students, 50+ adults with children, grandchildren, and spouses, or consecrated religious women and priests. At first, I was overwhelmed by the fact there was no one else present who was in my same stage of life. This feeling of isolation quickly turned to freedom from comparison and distraction, allowing me to enter more fully into the experience Jesus was crafting. 

I came into the week with a litany of questions to “discern”. This list included but was not limited to:

  • Am I supposed to continue living in College Station? 
  • Should I move to Washington DC or Denver? (I’m a sucker for mountains and museums)
  • Am I called to marriage or single life?
  • How long do we think it might take to answer question one and three?
  • Are my friends in College Station going to be called away? 
  • Should I apply for a job that takes me to a bigger city and a clearer career ladder? 

Each of these agenda items had sub-points, qualifiers, and if-then functions woven in. I wish I was joking when I said I even had a written version. In hindsight, I should have thrown in a question about how my favorite football team’s record would be looking this fall. 

My agenda items could be summarized in a simple phrase: I need to figure it out. 

I am in a season of life where every moment feels charged with importance. Every minute passing is a moment less in the “defining decade.” I crave change, development, and growth. That said, I simultaneously want everything to stay the same. When things do not unfold in the way I expect or desire, my first thought is to question my decisions and discernment.

When did I come to believe there is a singular “right path” for my life? What does this elusive “right path” lead to? Success? Fulfillment? Sanctification? Purpose? Meaning? Influence? If you are already feeling exhausted just reading this paragraph, I would simply welcome you to the internal dialogue that has been on repeat in my subconscious for the past couple of months. 

As I entered more deeply into the retreat, the talks, sermons, and scripture readings that followed only confirmed what I felt the Holy Spirit beginning to reveal in my heart. The immense pressure I felt that created anxiety, heaviness, and fear regarding figuring out God’s will for my life was not a result of me guessing wrong or being on the wrong path. The anxiety, heaviness, and fear was a result of my self-reliant approach to discernment – my determination to figure out, on my own, what God wants me to do and then execute seamlessly – leaving no room for childlike dependence, freedom, surprise, and most importantly, surrender. 

I wanted answers to my list of questions. The Lord wanted my heart. 

All too often, I forget that, in the words of St. Teresa of Avila, “Prayer is primarily a loving matter, more than a thinking matter.” 

All too often, I forget that life with Christ is primarily a loving matter, more than a doing matter. 

The more I entered into prayer, the more I realized that God did not want to help me figure out what to do with my life. He wanted to give me the grace to surrender my whole self to Him, including my future career, family, community, and ministry. 

A secondary, but equally important insight I gained: my obsession with the future and figuring out God’s will is not rooted in a pure and simple desire to be obedient to Him. My desire to figure it out is rooted in a wound of abandonment and a belief I will have to take care of myself. If I know the future, I can prepare myself and guard against future hurts. I can block off vulnerable parts of my heart. I can beat disappointment at its own game. 

I found myself reflecting on the story of blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52. 

“They came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”

And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, He is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Him on the way.”

While I have my physical sight, there are times in my life when I feel very spiritually blind. I cannot figure out what God is up to. Everything seems unclear. Nothing seems to make sense. 

In moments of spiritual blindness, when we cannot see what is ahead, Bartimaeus is a powerful model for us:

“He began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.’”

Bartimaeus did not wander about, feeling his way through the dark world, attempting to figure it out and navigate it on his own. Rather, he cried out in desperation to Jesus who encountered him and asked directly, “What do you want me to do for you?”

I want to see. I want to see Jesus rightly. I want to see others rightly. I want to see myself rightly. More than that, I want to surrender my self-defensiveness and live a life surrendered to the love of Jesus and His providence. In my moments of blindness, instead of seeking to figure it all out, I want to cry out to Jesus who is the author and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), and the restorer of my soul (Psalm 23:3).  

Jesus, I surrender myself to you. Take care of everything.

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