Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Along with Kathryn, I attended a seminar at St. Peter the Apostle Church a few nights back in Naples, Florida. The speaker was Father Matthew Linn, a Jesuit and healing therapist from Minnesota. He asked the question at the end of his talk, “Can you think of what you have been most grateful for this past year?
My answer was immediate and simple, and also a little shocking for me. “I was most grateful for the fact that God had revealed a truth to me about human choice and human willingness.” I say shocking in the fact that this realization seemed to come so easily to a person who lived his adult life not really defining gratitude, let alone coming to any conclusion on something spiritual and meaningful.
The result of this revealed understanding – in the physical – has translated into an incredible deepening of my spiritual relationship with God; His Word, and His will through the reading of the Old and New Testaments, and an intense study in Philosophy and its relationship with Theology. In the physical, it brought me an exercise routine this year – walking – that has improved my overall health, and has brought about a loss in weight of twenty-eight pounds. In the physical, I am being led to walk the Camino de Santiago; to fulfill the death of my past and ensure the life of my future in God.
On the spiritual side, I have gained a broader sense of peace in my life through the ability to rest in God’s care and love. Over the past four years as a new Christian – my anniversary was this past January 13th – I had always been confident of, yet perplexed by a sense that I had no free will. I would profess it freely; even to my Pastor, who I’m sure thought tenderly of my lack of understanding on the nature of God’s gift, free will, and how free will is the essential part of God’s love for mankind that makes it love. I always suspected that my assertion was more confusion on my part than some revelational epiphany, so I just bided my time. I had learned some time back that those things I do not understand would resolve themselves through God’s time and not mine. The good news on that thought is that God is moving fast in my life, so I usually do not have to wait very long for the answer.
And so this past year has brought me to witnessing through my writing, and in my writing I have begun to come to beliefs that I have to examine for God’s truth within, before I assert it onto others for their examination, and acceptance or rejection. One such belief is on choice and willingness.
I have read an interesting and inspiring short book recently, The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. This is a book, written in the late 1600’s, that contains four conversations between Joseph de Beaufort, a counsel to the Archbishop, and Brother Lawrence, Nicholas Herman, a monk at a monastery in Paris, France. In addition to these conversations, the book contains fifteen, short letters the Brother had written, and that ultimately fell into the possession of Joseph de Beaufort.
Reading through this book I developed a clear sense that many who would read this might find the Brother a bit of an ideologue, or at worst a fraud or an idiot. Let me give you an example using an excerpt from the book. Beaufort writes:
“Since he knew his obligation to love God in all things, and as he endeavored to do so, he had no need of a director to advise him, but he greatly needed a confessor to absolve him. He said he was very sensible of his faults but not discouraged by them. He confessed them to God and made no excuses. Then, he peaceably resumed his usual practice of love and adoration.”
On first read, it seems that the Brother gives little weight to his sins, and finds his contrition to be, of course, acceptable to God. It is as if his pride, his naiveté, is matched only by his careless way with God’s love. He needs not an advisor, but a confessor only? Is he taken to a belief that he understands all that he needs to understand? But as I wound my way through his conversation with Beaufort, I began to sense a common ground with this man. Let me see if I can say this properly.
Brother Lawrence sees his relationship with God as a continual condition of his existence. He reverses what normal man does – placing one’s mind and body in service to one’s physical needs and relationships with others, and serving God’s needs as a scheduled rite of homage – and rather sees life as a continuum with God; where all physical tasks of this world are performed with God, and never without. The Brother sees no emotional requirement of desperate repentance, overwhelming guilt, and melancholy unworthiness; as so many of us just love to play out as the pitiful victim of Satan’s patient deception. The Brother is in a constancy with God; always noting his need of God in completing any task – no matter how simple – and then acknowledging his gratitude for God’s assistance when he has done well, as well as acknowledging that while God gave all, he did not give enough, and therefore must always rely upon God for all things. Beaufort writes:
“When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”
And why should he not sense “no further uneasiness about it”? He knows God is there. He knows that God loves him. He knows that he needs God presence and strength to do anything; not just the big things. And He knows that God will never abandon him. With that knowledge why would anyone carry a sense of doubt about God’s sensible and good provision for their own welfare in life? Perhaps it is because people have a most difficult time separating the idea of choice away from what we believe to be its essential role in walking out God’s path. Choice is a human instrument, and as such it will always be subject to human discrimination and judgment. It is a grave error to think that human choice is of any good at all in the pursuit of God. Beaufort writes:
“He thought it was lamentable to see how many people mistook the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works which they performed very imperfectly by reason of their human or selfish regards.”
Man tries too much to use his own strength in accomplishing God’s purpose for our lives. Man, in his desire to be obedient to God’s will, falls prey to humanity’s peer pressure; standing in the Temple courtyard, arms outstretched and proclaiming in prayer his devotion to the God almighty. Our golden calves are many; all fashioned by our own hands.
The point the Brother is making, is that the conflicts between the human mind and the spirit are resolved through the acceptance of God and the willingness to seek Him out in constancy. What are these conflicts? How about doubt, apprehension, confusion, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, hesitancy, distrust, suspicion, fear, and faithlessness – to name but a few of the emotional states we experience in OUR chosen path to God. In willingness, we walk a path of hope, assurance, certainty, conviction, expectation, trust, and faith. This is the path that we see Brother Lawrence express in a manner that aligns with his character. Brother Lawrence writes:
“I was sometimes troubled with thoughts that to believe I had received such favors was an effect of my imagination, which pretended to be so soon where others arrived with great difficulty. At other times I believed that it was a willful delusion and that there really was no hope for me. Finally, I considered the prospect of spending the rest of my days in these troubles. I discovered this did not diminish the trust I had in God at all. In fact, it only served to increase my faith. It then seemed that, all at once, I found myself changed. My soul, which until that time was in trouble, felt a profound inward peace, as if she were in her center and place of rest. Ever since that time I walk before God simply, in faith, with humility, and with love. I apply myself diligently to do nothing and think nothing which may displease Him. I hope that when I have done what I can, He will do with me what He pleases.”
One cannot ‘choose’ one’s way to God. The path is not for human feet; the path is for the spirit to lead the way and the humbled heart to follow. I say “humbled” heart because while many believe the heart to be some pure, untainted essence of ourselves, in truth the heart of mankind is subject to the habits of the mind and the points of view taken by one at any particular time in their lives. It is stubborn, non-transformative, and fickle. This is hardly God material. The human heart needs transformation; one that leads it to acceptance and willingness.
“It is not that we make ourselves out to be less than what we are, but that we try for a change to stop making ourselves out to be more than we are.” Anthony Esolen
While there are many ways to acceptance and willingness, I am going to suggest but one at this time. In encountering external influences into your mindful and/or bodily realms – those that bear no immediately understood danger – just let that influence exist in cohabitation with your habits and viewpoints without judgment. Listen. Do not discriminate. Do not sort. Have no expectation or belief that the immediate assessment of a new experience into acceptance or rejection is of any benefit. Follow no path that asserts that righteousness comes from formed and fixed knowledge. Rather, accept that the careful and patient reflection upon the new experience is a discourse that leads to wisdom. It is not in the acceptance or rejection of experience by which we gain wisdom; it is in the willingness of discourse and process that we gain wisdom. It is the temperate virtue.
So when one says so-and-so restaurant is great, and such-and-such a movie was so deep, and your experience tells you the so-and-so restaurant can’t boil a potato, and that movie was so shallow, permit your willingness to let the bubble-up of the good discourse rather than the immediate, intemperate judgment. That very act is wisdom, and wisdom begets itself in abundance when used to the point of habit.
He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
One cannot ‘choose’ to act as Jesus has called us to do. Choice is a single event that must jostle its way into human experience in the manner that children rush to line up for recess; subject to the habits and views of individuals in mass. In this case, choice leads us to judgment of our place in line and thus onto dangerous ground. Christ asks us to empty ourselves out of the pride of mankind and put on the humility of servant hood. As the Centurion had noted and Jesus responded:
The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
Jesus is acknowledging the willingness of the Centurion as faith. The Centurion’s life is bound in his willingness to the necessity of authority, and not in the choice of his personal point of view. For us, the authority is God.
Brother Lawrence sums this up in his assertion that, “I know that for the right practice of it, the heart must be empty of all other things; because God will possess the heart alone. As He cannot possess it alone, without emptying it of all besides, so neither can He act there and do in it what He pleases unless it be left vacant to Him.”
God is humility; a humility that shines brightly through Jesus Christ, and He brings this into full focus in John 5:19:
“Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished.”
We all have many choices to make in this world, and I for one, hope and pray that the choices I make bring me and others some measure of happiness and the surety of love. Having said that, choice is of this world and as such it can never bring me into right standing with God all by itself. That attainment requires the overlay of willingness; of the constancy of our submission to God’s presence and will in our lives. Recognize that we own nothing. It all belongs to God. When we rely upon anything, other than God, as a source of sustenance and happiness, we naturally face an uncertainty in our lives. It is by human choice in which we walk with uncertainty, doubt, fear and faithlessness. Through willingness we accept God’s love and guidance which leads us to hope, faith, charity, and heaven.
I’m going to end here with the confidence of Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
If Christ can do this, does it not show us the way for our own lives?
2 thoughts on “Choice or Willingness – Part Two”
Near the beginning of my newly opened eyes years ago, I longed for wisdom to come swiftly. When I look back, I see some has arrived little by little, but the longing for Sophia as my close friend is still there.
“And now that we have this faith, we have a responsibility to act on what we believe.” Quoted from Bishop Jason Gordon at the Interactive Connections conference I am attending in Orlando this week.
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