We all want some direction. I mean, who among us hasn’t asked, what should I do? Or who should I be with? Or where should I move? Or better yet, why am I here? We all ask these questions. I know I ask them daily. I feel like if you could draw a table of my life (which, as a complete nerd, I will admit, I totally have), there would be questions marks in almost every field. Slowly, as I get older, I answer a few of the questions. I want to be a preschool teacher and artist. But, I have no idea who I will be with or where I should be or when I should be there.
In junior high and high school, I looked for meaning all the time. I cannot be the only person who had a mother who told me I was “just figuring out who I am.” And I know I am not the only person who was dumped because the guy was still trying to figure out what he was supposed to be doing with his life or needed some time to figure his life out. And I think because of my church-going, I looked to God to answer all of my questions about my life at once.
For a romantic teenage girl, like me, the best thing God can tell her is whether or not she is going to be married and which cute boy she will marry. Looking back on it, I am so glad he a. has not told me whether or not I will be married and b. that it was not one of the boys I knew in high school. But, I had read the books and heard the testimonies of those couples who had just known in one instant that they would spend the rest of their lives together. I wanted that to be me. I actually thought I heard that voice once but that guy is married and I haven’t spoken to him in years. So I guess I was wrong. I have not even pretended to hear something similar since.
But as I got older, the questions got bigger. What would my career be like? Where should I move? What kind of mom will I be? What kind of person will I be? I always heard that we needed to be in line with God’s will. That it was important to ask him to show us what to do or where to go. If we were not in God’s will, he would not bless us and we would not be right with him. But, as much as I sought it, I did not know his will. I was often told that as doors close and windows open, we will know which way is God’s will. But that was not always easy enough for me.
One of my friends from youth group at the beige church (it’s just easier to identify churches by colors, it’s how I remember them) once told me that she did not know whether to play lacrosse or run track in the spring. When she heard it was going to snow, she prayed that if it was God’s will for her to play lacrosse, that it would snow exactly an inch. When she woke up, they reported we had gotten an inch of snow and she had her answer. I tried that a few times but it seemed a little too “church voodoo” for me. We think that if we set conditions (if only an inch, if I roll a six, if the lights go out), God will be happy to work in those parameters.
There is a story about a guy named Gideon. He wanted to know the answer to whether or not to attack a group of people. He put a fleece outside and if it was wet, he knew he was supposed to. I may have gotten that flipped- maybe it was supposed to stay dry. Anyway, it indicated he was supposed to attack. So then, he reversed the conditions and it again indicated he was supposed to attack. So he did and they won. It is really only about ten verses long. We often stop at that part of the story. What we don’t remember is that he went on to hear God tell him to cut his army by almost 90 percent and then go save Israel. We like the first part where we set the rules, God is happy to play along and we win. There have been a few times in my life where I have wanted to set up this same trial. As a seven year old, I figured my Patagonia fleece would have to do. But I was too embarrassed to actually set my jacket outside. To be honest, I probably also feared what my mom would say when she found my jacket lying outside in a rainstorm.
It is hard to criticize this method since it apparently worked for some people, namely the nation of Israel. But, I think we long for answers to the point that we are willing to put human constraints on God. If only we were taught that God’s going to do his will no matter what we do. Fleece or no fleece, God can make anything happen. It’s a matter of trust. If I am honest, I have to say that I would much rather rely on my sopping wet jacket than on faith.
But I also think we tend to use “God’s will” as an excuse. I used to think that if I woke up on time, I was clearly supposed to go to breakfast with a friend. If I did not, maybe God was keeping me from a car accident or something like that. I heard many stories of how people were supposed to be somewhere but then, there was traffic and so they avoided the snowstorm or car accident or whatever disaster awaited them. We use “God’s will” to allow ourselves to make choices others may not agree with or as the ultimate justification for our actions. I remember friends in youth group shrugging off meetings or plans because they said it wasn’t “God’s will.” In reality, we were just lazy. Or there were the times we would openly criticize one another (aka speak the truth in love) because God had “put it on our hearts” to do so.
As a history fan, I cannot think of two words that have caused more pain and suffering when misused than “God’s will”: The Crusades, the conquistadors, Manifest Destiny, wars, fighting, and ultimately manipulation. Who can argue with “God’s will?” It’s a hard statement to stand up to.
I still get angry when I think about how we have taken something good and turned it bad. Ultimately, I am happy that someone other than me is in control of the universe. It lets me relax and not be anxious. But, when I hear people say that it is God’s will for all of us to be healthy and wealthy, or that terrible things that happened are a result of God’s will, something deep inside me churns. I know we want some direction, but at what cost? Usually the people who are using the term “God’s will” are just trying to strengthen their own case. When his will is being spun to create support for our personal goals, I have to doubt that it is actually what he wants us to do.
I do not have much of a solution. Just perhaps when we talk about God’s will, particularly to adolescents, maybe we should talk about it as something holy and deep rather than something trivial and useful in debate.