I was reminded today of something that used to cause me endless anguish. Actually I feel pretty confident in saying that I was not alone in this either. I’ll wager that this was anguish shared by pretty much all evangelical Christian young adults, especially those in the Pentecostal movement. I’m referring to the idea of “God’s will for my life”. Now if you happen to be unfamiliar with this idea – and really you had to have been there – Christians (young ones specifically) are told that God has their whole lives all planned out. All of it. Where you are supposed to live, what you should study, where you should study, the job you are supposed to do, the person you are supposed to marry, the church you are supposed to attend and pretty much everything else you can think of. The intensity of this idea may vary from person to person but I’ve seen this taken to some ridiculous extremes. I have known people who would “seek the will of God” regarding what clothes they should wear every day or what brands they ought to buy when shopping for groceries. I wish I was kidding.
Now the problem with this perfect plan is that there is a small catch. You don’t get to know anything about it. You get to know that there is a very narrow path you are supposed to walk on, you get to know that you will be disappointing God if you don’t and that you will have to navigate the minefield of a second (or third) rate life if you deviate from it at any point, BUT you never get to know where this path is. This leads the young Christian to constantly, frantically search for this ineffable path. You are left constantly second guessing your every decision – is this the will of God or not? So you start randomly flipping through the Bible, hoping that you will open it on some Divine guidance (or was that just me?), you get in every prayer line hoping for a “word” or a prophecy and you buy every book on the subject that you can (I’m not even going to tell you how many I own...). When I was the leader of young adult and student cell groups, questions regarding “God’s will for my life” was hands down the number one prayer request.
Now apart from a lot of needless mental anguish and constant second guessing, this idea also leads to rampant douchebaggery. Commitment you made turning out to be inconvenient? Maybe it’s not God’s will for you so just quit! (It’s astounding how many Church programs suffer a sharp drop in attendance after the first few weeks) Studies/job/ministry harder and less enjoyable than you originally thought? Maybe that’s a sign that it’s not part of God’s perfect will so you should just drop it and look for something else! However if you want to see doucebaggery dialed up to 11, look no further than the warzone of broken people and hearts that that is the Christian dating scene. Going in there is that douchebag move of telling someone that God told you they are supposed to date you (amazingly, that actually works better than you would think – it happened to a friend of mine). Then there is the super douchebag move to get out of a relationship when it starts getting too real for your liking – telling them that God has revealed to you that you are supposed to date someone else (to my eternal shame and regret, I was the incredible douchebag who pulled that stunt).
What really stings is the fact that all this was for nothing. This supposedly Christian idea that was the source of so much abuse (given and taken) in my life isn’t even Biblical. Here is the thing, the Bible doesn’t leave the question “what is God’s will for my life?” as some vague mystery that we each have to puzzle out with the help of various oracles. Instead it answers that question in a very straightforward fashion:
“what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic 6:8)
Heck it doesn’t just throw that answer out once, it does so again and again and again and again and again. There is no mystery, the answer has been spelled out clearly – do good to others, don’t cause evil and harm, be kind and loving and help those who cannot help themselves. The will of God for your life could not be any clearer!
What then about all that other stuff? What is the will of God regarding your career choices and marriage partner? Well the Bible has something to say about that too! It says: “Dude, whatever!” No seriously, it does! Regarding marriage, God says go for it, marry the person you love and have some kids – or don’t, being single is totally cool too. Regarding a job, God says that you should get one (just make sure it’s an honest one) that you find satisfying, do it really well and make the most of it.
So if I could send a letter to my confused younger self with only one piece of advice, I would tell myself some winning lottery numbers. But if I can send a longer message I would also tell me to chill out a bit and stop trying so hard to find something that just can’t be found. Trying to follow a script that you can’t read leads to nothing but misery for yourself and those around you. All you can (and should) do is to try to make smart decisions, use common sense, take responsibility for your life and make the most of it. What God wants from you is to do your best to leave the world a better place than the one you found. You’ll figure out the rest as you go.