By Peggy Hahn
Last week, my 3 year old granddaughter wanted to play with water in the kitchen sink. When I told her no, she looked at me with her big blue eyes and said “But I REALLY, REALLY, WANT TOO!” When I told her no again, she took a firmer stand by putting her hands on her hips, looking at me straight in the eyes. Then she said “But I REALLY REALLY REALLY Want to – Please!”
I love her strong will and I recognize it is part of what kept her alive when she was born three months premature, but I also recognize that I am not doing her any favors as a loving adult in her life, if I give in to everything she really, really wants – even if I might make her mad!
Let’s face it, it is a lot easier to keep people happy than it is to help people grow. As the Director of LEAD, our synod’s new start-up, focusing on growing leaders with a deep, bold, consequential faith in Jesus Christ, I am constantly faced with this challenge – do I tell people what they want to hear or do I tell them what I know will help them grow in the their faith?
I think pleasing people is one of two things that stop us from fully embracing the questions, “What is God’s will? Even specifically what is God’s will for my own life?”
The second thing that stops us from growth is even more personal. It has to do with wanting our own way. Let’s face it, most of us have an inner 3-year-old and we want what we want!
Still we find ourselves praying, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” As people of faith, we live in the tension between our own will (like wanting things our way) and God’s will. We can blame original sin, but we can also take responsibility for maturing in our own faith in order to align our lives a little more each day to be like Jesus.
So, how do we know God’s will for our life?
It can seem hard to tell if our will and God’s will are aligned. Maybe you are wondering if the voice you are hearing is actually your own. Maybe you are feeling like God is not saying much.
We do have practices that help us with listening to God’s voice. To get a deeper understanding of what God wants for your life is to take spending time with God seriously. We can do this in many different ways, but these are the practices that I have personally found helpful:
Silent Prayer (quiet time)
This is different from asking God for stuff. Silent prayer is really about opening up space in our hearts and in our heads for God to talk to us. I started this by first noticing times when I was already in solitude, like when I was taking my daily walk, driving in the car, home alone, or even at the gym for a workout. Silent prayer means consciously bringing to mind your intention to pray, but while staying quiet. It means listening for God, and not me. When you try this, don’t be concerned if nothing happens. Like anything new, it takes practice.
Examining God moving (Ignation Examen)
The second way I have discovered God’s will is by examining God moving in my life. They say hindsight is 20-20, right? Examining God moving in your life is kind of like that, and we can do this every day. We can make time to reflect on where we have seen God today. This makes great dinner or bedtime conversation for families. Once you get used to seeing where God is moving throughout your day, you can actually start to see this in real time. Some great reflection questions are to ask, “What am I most or least grateful for today? When did I feel energized or exhausted? When did I notice God in these times?”
Conversation with others (Accompaniment)
A third and favorite way, I have clarified God’s will for my life has been through a conversation with a trusted friend or even a spiritual guide. Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out how God is moving in ways that I may not see alone. Many times God speaks to me when I share my thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams with the people I trust. The way in which they respond, the questions, and the very words they choose help me to listen to God beyond my own world view. Try it!
Look for people to talk with that have different perspectives, maybe some from other cultures or those who think unlike you for the biggest growth. Who can you trust to be fully present when you talk? Who can stretch your thinking and help give you a wider view or challenge your assumptions?
One reason I love traveling out of the country, going on international immersions, is precisely because as I am in conversation with people who live in a very different context than I do, I can hear God’s voice the loudest. I’m always surprised that even though I may not understand everything the people around me are saying when they are not speaking English; I can still absolutely hear God’s voice.
These three practices are free and easy to do. They don’t require much training but they do take intentionality. If you are an introvert, silence will feel like a gift to you – for the extraverts in the room, you may find the examen or conversation to be more helpful.
Definitely try this yourself. Use this handout with these three simple practices described, helping you can increase your own capacity to hear God’s will for your life. One thing I know to be true is that God’s will is always about making our world larger and about creating a stronger dependency on God. God loves us and much like we want our own children to count on us to be there for them, God wants us to turn to God for all of our needs.
There are a ton of faith practices: labyrinths, Stations of the Cross, journaling, praying in nature, Lectio Divina and many more. You can find more resources on LEAD’s website. When we use our own free will to spend time with God, we can hear God’s plan for our life – most likely one step at a time. The will power to make open space in our heart, soul, mind, and body to deepen our faith is already within us in the form of the Holy Spirit. A growing faith is available for everyone because a child-like faith is a beautiful thing, for a child.