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24 - DISCERNING THE WILL OF GOD

DISCERNING THE WILL OF GOD:

Sometimes one gets into a situation when he is unable to take a decision easily. For example, you get accepted into two universities, one in your home town and the other is out of town but is more famous. Or you have a job but you get an offer of another job in another city and you can’t make up your mind. It is these situations when we sometimes ask, “What is the will of God for me?” Knowing the will of God can be very difficult, but not if we follow the methods of the fathers. But, before we get into this, let us ask ourselves, why is it important for me to know the will of God?
Saint Paul tells us in Romans 12:2, that the will of God is good, and acceptable, and perfect. The will of God is perfect, it lacks nothing, it is good for me in satisfying my spiritual, physical, psychological and emotional needs. God knows the future and therefore he knows what will be good for me in the long term.
My own will, on the other hand, is anything but perfect. I probably look for benefit in the short term without considering the long term. And even if I wanted to consider the long term I may not be able to, since I cannot predict what will happen to me even next week. It is for these reasons that a wise person should always seek the will of God in whatever he does.
But, how can I know the will of God? Theophan the Recluse tells us that in order for God to reveal His good, acceptable and perfect will to me, I have to renounce my self will. That means, I have to prove to God that I am really seeking His will.
Sometimes we ask God to reveal His will to us but deep inside we have already made up our minds. Sometimes we seek the will of God, as long as it agrees with our own will. If we act in this way then God will not reveal His will to us.
Theophan the Recluse gives us this “parable.” He says, if you have a glass full of vinegar, and you want to put honey in that glass, you must first throw away the vinegar, wash the glass, put it out in the sun for a few hours until the smell of the vinegar disappears, and then put the honey in it. The vinegar here is our own will which is selfish, short sighted, and unlike the will of God, is not perfect, good or acceptable. The honey is the will of God. And, unless we bury our self will, God will not reveal His will to us, because we will actually be mocking God by asking him to reveal to us His will while our own will is already made up.
How do I do this? There is an exercise for this called neutralization of my will. The theory is this. I always have a bias either for or against anything I am considering. For example, if I get an offer for a job that will give me more money, I may have a bias towards that job, that will make me blind to the bad aspects of this job. Or, I may face a situation in which I am asked to accept something that I don’t like, and that makes me overlook the many good features of that thing. These likes and dislikes are usually based on a first impression, that I usually reenforce by ignoring the other side of the coin, and the remedy is to do the opposite.
Let us take an example. I have been accepted in a good university in my home town, but I have an offer from another university that is far from home. The lure of “freedom” makes me ignore the many negative aspects of going to study far from home. If you really want to know what is the perfect, good and acceptable will of God in this matter, I should neutralize my bias, by intentionally identifying and even magnifying the negative aspects of that far away university.
For one, I will be far from my family and friends. I will feel lonely, with only strangers to talk to. There is no church near that university, but I will have to travel for hours to find a Coptic church. I will lose my Father in confession, to whom I could always come for help, but who will be far away from me, and so on.
Of course these negative aspects are true but you were ignoring them because of “freedom” away from home and parental scrutiny. Any one who is serious can do this exercise in a few days. The result will be that you will find yourself neutral to the two proposals, each one has its good and bad aspects.
The same can be applied to the situation where you get an offer of a job that promises thousands of dollars more, but at the expense of taking your children away from their schools, their friends and their Sunday School, and moving away from your service in the Church and from your Father in confession.
The first step then is to neutralize the bias by seriously identifying the negative aspects and giving them as much weight as the positive ones. Then and only then, you can go to God to ask Him to reveal His good and perfect and acceptable will to you.
The next step is to go to your Father in confession and ask him to pray for you, so that God may reveal His will to you. This act of submitting yourself to your Father in confession is an act of humility, a very necessary pre-requisite for God revealing His will to you.
If you feel afraid that God will chose the one option that you do not favour, then you have not done your home work the right way, the bias is still there. And if you go to your Father in confession asking him to pray for you but, subconsciously, you wish that God will choose one option over the other, then you have not done your homework well. It may well be that God will actually choose the one option you favoured before you neutralized your will, as I will show you in the next example.
A young man that I knew in Egypt before coming to Canada, wrote me a letter complaining that although his parents and his siblings are all in Canada (as immigrants), he has been consistently refused permission to immigrate by the Canadian embassy.
I wrote to him telling him, maybe it is not the will of God that you immigrate to Canada. I then explained to him how to seek to know the will of God and how to neutralize his own bias in this respect. He accepted my advise and started thinking about the benefits of not immigrating to Canada.
He told his wife, if we stay in Egypt, our house will be the place where my parents and siblings come when they want to visit Egypt. And, since we have good jobs here, we don’t have to start from scratch if we go to Canada, writing exams only to be told that we do not have “Canadian experience.” We could always visit Canada and enjoy being with our family, and thus have the best of both worlds. They both went re-enforcing this until they became convinced that staying in Egypt is not such a bad idea after all, especially if this is the will of God for them.
In his next letter he wrote me, “The same day we felt free from the bias and it didn’t matter anymore for us whether we immigrate or stay in Egypt, was the day we received a telephone from the Canadian embassy telling us we were approved and have to do the medicals in order to receive our visas.
The beauty about doing this exercise, is that every time you are faced with the same situation, you go back to the same routine. It will be very easy for you not to think too much about what you ought to do, but rather neutralize or “bury’ your will so that the perfect, good and acceptable will of God may be revealed to you.
There are some words of caution that I would like to tell you. Do not try to cheat!Sometimes we seek the will of God but when God reveals His will to us, we don’t like it. Some people would go to another priest hoping that changing the priest may change the will of God!
The other problem is that we ignore the will of God completely and seek our own will, just praying to God to give us what we want. This can be disastrous especially in the matter of marriage.
The late Bishop Poemen of blessed memory once told me a story about a young man who always came to the Bishop because of marital problems with his wife. One day the Bishop in frustration asked him, “Have you prayed at all before marrying this girl?” and the man told him, “I prayed everyday for six months!” The Bishop asked him, “What did you say to God?” The man said, I said, “God please let me marry this girl!”
Accepting the will of God as the best option for me, is a difficult concept for many young people. One young woman told me once, “I will accept the will of God in every thing except for marriage!” And I asked her Why? She said, “Because I know that the will of God will be that I marry a deacon who teaches in Sunday School who will be boring to live with!” I told her, “Can’t God choose for you a deacon who teaches in Sunday School who will be fun to live with?”
Another young man who attended a retreat where we spoke about the will of God in my marriage, stood up objecting violently to what I was proposing. He told me, “When it comes to marriage, I want to be the master of my own destiny!” I told him in response, “If you ignore the will of God in the process of choosing your spouse, you will become the master of your own disaster!”
I like to give to our young people this parable; your life is like a boat where two people have to work, one has to row and the other has to hold the rudder (the device that directs the boat to turn right or left). A wise person would hand the rudder to the Lord and say, “Lord, hold the rudder and I will row!” Unfortunately, many times we insist on holding the rudder and we want God to row!
One benefit of accepting the will of God as your preferred option is that, whatever life brings your way, you will have no fear, knowing that if God willed this for me, it is certainly good, perfect and acceptable, even if -in the short term-I don’t like it.

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