Sounds huge, doesn’t it? I mean, what are we talking about here? Is it God’s will as it applies to our entire lifespan, or do we simply want to know what to do next? It seems to me that figuring this out is the first step.
Of course, the two have to be in agreement. Our moment to moment life has to be in alignment with our life’s purpose, doesn’t it? That’s called integrity. But what if we don’t know what our life’s purpose is? How then are we supposed to know what we should be doing today?
Being one with God, in a practical sense, is doing God’s will. Spiritually speaking, it’s where the rubber meets the road. No amount of mystical experience, divine revelation, or wide-open chakras can compensate for the lack of a full-on engagement with God’s will. Even if you’re “spiritual, not religious,” unless your life is in sync with the Universe, getting high on Spirit will only be a temporary fix at best. It will do little to actually transform you. What we do here in this life is the litmus test of our spiritual evolutionary status. As Huston Smith says, “It’s not the altered states but the altered traits” that count.
Trying to figure out your life’s purpose is as intimidating as trying to know the entire plot of a novel before you write it. I don’t know of any author who does that. They all say that the plot, along with the characters, evolve as the story unfolds. No wonder we have such a hard time trying to figure out God’s will. The plot, it would seem, is never revealed ahead of time. There are no spoilers in God’s Plan.
If writers waited until they knew what they were going to write about, nothing would ever get written. Author Joan Didion says, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Writing, it turns out, is a process of self-discovery. Why then should the story of our life be any different?
Before we go any further with this, we need to lay one thing to rest: God’s will is not, has never been, nor will it ever be written down. Everything that has been written is nothing more than a set of principles. The Bible (or any other sacred text) is a style sheet, a collection of guidelines, not a personalized prescription. By design, it has something for everyone. But if we try to script our lives according to its dictates, we quickly discover that the sheer volume of its wisdom can quickly overwhelm us. When it comes to guidance, there is no one-size-fits-all. What is wise for one person is often foolish for another. Timing, as they say, is everything!
So how do we do it—how do we engage with the creative process called “Life”? Someone once asked me, “How can I help?” I replied, “Well, what can you do?” Unless you have something to start with, something you can bring to the table, engaging is going to be difficult. The best place to start is finding out what lights you up. This is not a matter of what you want, but what you love. As Joseph Campbell used to say, “Follow your bliss.” And by that, I don’t think he meant to follow your desires. We all know where that can lead. No, he meant follow that which gives you joy, not pleasure. Discovering the difference between joy and pleasure is a rite of passage into adulthood, and the enquiry into God’s will is an adult pursuit. God’s will is not geared towards instant gratification or cheap substitutes. The goal of moral development is to bring us to this threshold.
A writer’s worst nightmare is writer’s block. And everyone who has ever wanted to live a spiritual life, to do God’s will, or even to simply be a good person has experienced the spiritual equivalent of writer’s block. The way out is the same for both: write something—anything! When we don’t know what God’s will is, the best thing we can do is anything. At least give God something to work with. You have to be able to do something before you can be of any use to God. So what does it matter what profession you choose, what country you live in, what political views you hold, or what religion you are? Those things are not important to God. If they’re more important to you than they are to God, then that might be the problem. What you know is not as important as what you value.
You have to be willing to let your life’s story unfold creatively. Like a novel. It’s not that you aren’t the author. But then, God isn’t the author either. Stories write themselves. God is just as eager as you are to find out how it ends! In fact, I say that that’s why we were created. God wanted something to read!
Trying to write the story you think you should write is the worst kind of self-betrayal. God didn’t create you to be someone else. Art is nothing if not authentic. And authenticity (along with timing) is everything. If you bring anything to God, bring that. Bring authenticity. “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot,” says the angel in Revelations. Lukewarm, in stories as well as in life, doesn’t cut it.
You can pretty much go anywhere as long as you go all out. Our lives are judged by their level of commitment, not by generic standards of right and wrong. Does this give us an excuse to hurt people? Of course not. But what normal human being finds bliss in hurting people? (Anyone who finds joy in hurting people has a much more serious problem than finding their life’s direction.) Sometimes, people do get hurt, but we call that a “mistake.” If we live our lives in constant fear of hurting someone—in constant fear of making a mistake—then we’re back to lukewarm. The best we can do is the best we can do. No one, and especially not God, expects us to be perfect. “Good” is good enough.
In a sense, we are characters in God’s novel. And just as stories tend to write themselves, so does God expect us to show Him/Her who we are. God doesn’t know how we will develop. If that were known, what would be the sense in writing the story? God breathes life into us, and then it’s up to us to see where the wind of that breath carries us. Our journey is a day-to-day, moment by moment exploration of who we are, what we’re made of, and what we’re capable of becoming. We write our own script, our own dialog, and, to a large degree, the plot. Just like the characters in a novel. This is God’s will, that we go forth and multiply. Not children, but “children.” What will we give birth to? How can we multiply the potential that we are? If God wants anything from us—anything at all—it’s a surprise. There’s no cosmic ultrasound that will show us (or God) what’s going to come out.