This year I have started out trying to live all my waking moments in conscious listening to the inner voice, asking without ceasing, “What, Father, do you desire said? What, Father, do you desire done this minute?”Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic (p. 4)
It is clear that this is what Jesus was doing all day every day. But it is not what his followers have been doing in very large numbers.
What shall I do? What is the best thing to do? How shall I make best use of my time? These are perennial human questions.
I have written before about the question people ask God: “What do You want me to do?” This may be posed in a grandiose way, “What do You want me to do with my life?” The last time I wrote about this question I suggested that if we are going to presume that listening to God is a good way to get an answer, then this question is not the right place to start. You have to know God – to be in relationship with God – before you can know what God wants. And, because you are not separate from God, knowing God goes hand-in-glove with knowing yourself.
The experience of being human is to live as multiple personalities. Our thoughts host competing voices from several sources. Discernment is a life-long, often heart-breaking process of careful sifting to identify the authentic voice – the voice of God that speaks in us and as us.
When we ask, “What does God want me to do with my life?”, we set up an impossible conundrum. The question is based on the old, worn-out model of a god, an alien will somewhere out there, with a plan for all of our lives. If only this god would let on what is in his (sic) plan then we would know what to do.
The world is not like this. God has desires for us, desires for life, for happiness, for joy. A universe in which a god had a plan for every life would be a universe in which everything was foreordained. But God is more like a flow, a flow in the direction of life, love, and joy, a flow that constantly shifts with every turn of events – like a river running to the sea and flowing in response to the lay of the land. Then one day there is a landslide – a divorce, a death, illness, loss of employment – and the flow is blocked, for a while, and has to find another way.
Of course, it can be worth making long-term plans in life. It can be worth thinking about the unique person you are and the unique calling you may have. But oftentimes we will struggle to know what we want in the long-term, we cannot know what our lives are for, and we will never get to the bottom of who and what we are.
In line with Frank Laubach, I propose a different question.
What do You desire now?
When I ask myself this question I experience a kind of relief as time and space collapse into a point located in my chest. I am connected to God here and now. I stop thinking about the future. I stop worrying about outcomes. It is like I come home to myself. I no longer have to have a plan and think of the long term. I stop obsessing about ‘my’ life. All I am asking is, “What now?”
I have found that we can establish ourselves in a sense of the presence of God by continually talking with Him.Brother Lawrence, Practising His Presence, p. 42
Immediately the whole thing becomes simpler. I am able to listen more intimately to myself, to what I really want at this moment. I am not burdened with worries about whether I am doing the right thing and what other people will think of me.
Life becomes an exploration, more playful, a set of experiments, trial-and error/trial-and-success. I ask the question, “What do You want me to do now?” I listen briefly for an answer and then I act. Sometime later I assess. How do I feel now? Was that worth doing? Did that seem meaningful? Do I have a feeling of satisfaction? Was I loving? Do I feel more or less satisfied by how I spent my time? Do I feel more or less enlivened, centred, content, present to God?
This requires a kind of trust in God, in the Universe, in Life – whatever you want to call it. It is trusting that I am part of something greater than little old me, something that has a better perspective that I can ever have, the “affirming source”. If I just ask about what comes next then I inhabit something beyond myself. I can go with the flow.
(For more on trust, read this and that.)
It is also trusting that it is ok to play and to make mistakes. So much rides on the answer to the question, “What does God want me to do with my life?” The fear of getting it wrong is potentially catastrophic and we can be petrified into inaction for years. The question, “What do You want me to do now?”, has very little riding on it. Made a wrong turn? Readjust the course. Said the wrong thing? Apologise and try again. Wasted your time? Do something more satisfying now.
(To hear God speak about play and mistakes, read this.)
To me, the question “What do You desire said or done (or not), now?” is less narcissistic, less of the grand narrative, more grounded and ordinary, more humble, less about how I look to others and more about an inner authority, less about comfort and more about contentment, less striving or soothing and more satisfaction, and frequently less about getting things done and more about simple presence. It is less about Heaven (a future destination and reward) and more about Eternity (a present reality). It is just about now, doing this with love and presence.
(To read my thoughts on meaning and purpose, go here.)
It is trusting that if I do the next thing and the next thing and then the next thing, that a thread will emerge that will carry me into life and into You. Little by little I become more sensitive to the authentic voice inside me, the voice of God. Little by little God becomes my constant companion.
5 thoughts on “What shall we do?”
Heaven is future and eternity is now – that’s quite a thought.
Thank you Julian, very real and helpful. I have long loved the image of Brother Lawrence sitting with God whilst peeling potatoes in the kitchen.
Thank you, Paula. Nice to hear from you.