In college and afterwards, I went through that traditional, agonizing time of Figuring Out What You Want to Do with Your Life. Relatives, neighbors, and strangers on the street are quick to ask, “What are you majoring in? What are you going to do with that? What is your detailed plan to be sure you are making the most of every second of the rest of your purposeful life?” No one asked that last one, but that’s what it felt like they were asking.
This difficult time was made more difficult because I firmly believed that I didn’t only need to figure out what I wanted to do; I needed to figure out what God wanted me to do. What was God’s will for my life? Does God want me to get a PhD? Does God want me to get a job in politics, since my degree is in political science? Does God want me to go on the mission field? The toughest question I wrestled with was, Does God want me to marry the man I am courting? (Yes, courting. That is a whole nother story for a whole nother post).
I truly thought that as a faithful Christian it was my job to figure out God’s will for my life when thinking about whom to marry and which job to take. The problem was, I didn’t really know how. I would read my Bible, which contained very little specific instruction about my life. I would pray and wait for vague feelings of peace to come over me, but I am not a peaceful person, especially when trying to hunt down God’s will. I would listen to the counsel of wise people, like my parents, who told me to do whatever I wanted, and I would wonder, “How is that even helpful or relevant? I’m trying to figure out what GOD wants!” I would beg God to sky-write his instructions for my life, because apparently I wanted everyone in the greater metro area to also know his will for me.
In the end, I would just go with my gut, and hope that things would work out ok. The whole process was exhausting, but I managed to cobble together a pretty good life in spite of this insanity.
I didn’t realize how insane it was until I read the book Good News for Anxious Christians: Ten Things You Don’t Have to Do by Phillip Cary. Lisa already referenced this book, and we will probably reference it more, because it’s so helpful.
Cary explains in Chapter 3 (“Why You Don’t Have to Find God’s Will for Your Life”) that God has two wills. There is his hidden will, or providential will, which is everything he has ordained to happen. God knows everything that will ever happen, and he will bring it to pass. We usually don’t know a lot about this will, and it’s a lot deeper than we can comprehend. This will cannot be messed with. If it is God’s will, it will happen, period.
Then there is his revealed will, or what he has told us in Scripture. In Scripture we learn what God desires for us to do. When we don’t do those things, we sin. Things like, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, love your neighbor, stuff like that.
But “finding God’s will for your life” is a third thing that is not talked about in the Bible. Cary explains:
So the “will of God” that my students are trying to find is some third thing: not God’s revealed will (because it’s something they have to “find”) and not his providential will (because it’s something they might “miss”). It’s an extra kind of “will of God” that is not found in the Bible. That is to say, it doesn’t really exist. And that’s good news. It means--if only they knew it--that they are allowed to make their own decisions like responsible moral agents--like adults seeking to grow in wisdom and understanding or stewards learning how to invest their talents. They don’t have to find out what God has hidden. (59)
This idea is so freeing! I don’t need to spend all my time trying to find something that God has never promised to give me. Instead I get to be an adult and make decisions and learn and grow. It’s ok to figure out what I want to do. It’s ok to make mistakes (even though I hate mistakes. See: Perfectionism).
And the great thing is, God still loves me and cares for me. In fact, I feel MORE loved when I understand this, because God isn’t sending me on a wild goose chase to find something that he isn’t going to tell me. Instead, I know that God is with me through all my decisions and mistakes and suffering, and he is working it all for good, deep down in his hidden will.