By Kay Wakaruk
In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah 29:11, God says, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”. God has a plan for each of us; a purpose for our life. And the great adventure in our lives is discovering what that plan is.
However, as we strive to figure out God’s plan – the thing that confuses us most of the time is that we are usually thinking about ourselves and asking, What am I going to do with my life? This is the wrong question. The question we should be asking is, What is God going to do through me…if I let Him…if I cooperate with Him…if I submit my will to His…if I open up my heart to Him…if I trust Him…if I surrender my life to Him…if I follow Him?
When we ask the right question, we begin to see that my life is not about me – my feelings, my wants, my needs, my time, my money, my body, my choice, my pleasure, my fun, etc. It is my life, but it’s not about me. Remember: God can’t fill us with His grace if we are full of ourselves. Rather, the purpose and goal of our life is to do what God is calling us to do; to follow God’s plan for our life and do God’s will.
But how can we know what God’s plan for us is? How can we know what God is calling us to do? How can we know what “level path” (as David says in the Psalms) God is trying to lead us on? First we must remember that this is a life long process and journey. It is something we will continually work on and strive to do every moment of every day for the rest of our life. But it might be helpful to keep in mind the following 5 suggestions.
1) Make a choice and a decision for Jesus each day. Accept that He will be the most important person in your life – the center of your life – the Lord of your life. Ask Jesus to be with you at work, at school, at soccer practice, standing by your side as you do the dishes and fold the laundry, etc. Seek His advice and help in all things. Let Him be your constant companion throughout the day. Surrender your life to Jesus and put your trust in Him. Put yourself under His authority and be obedient to His teaching and His commandments. Imitate Jesus – strive to be like Him. In other words, do things His way and not our way.
2) Stay close to Jesus and strengthen your relationship with Him by spending time with Him each day in prayer and reading the Bible. The Bible is God’s love letter to us, and (as St. Jerome said) ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Christ. Your Bible readings don’t have to be long – just two or three verses. Start with Mark’s Gospel: it’s the shortest. The Orthodox Study Bible has great footnotes to help you understand what you’re reading. And if you have questions that the footnotes don’t address, write your questions down and ask your priest, deacon, youth director, church school teacher, etc. Keep your prayer time short as well. And if you find that during your prayer time you are sleepy, distracted, hurried, etc. – that’s ok – do it anyway so that it becomes a habit and part of your daily routine. Use an icon to help you focus in your daily prayer. Don’t worry about what words to say; it’s the attitude of your heart that matters. End your prayer time by spending one or two minutes in silence, just to be with Jesus and hear His voice speaking to your heart.
3) Fellowship: Get to know the saints, and especially our Blessed Mother, the Theotokos. They exemplify how to do God’s will and become holy. And they are our great intercessors, always praying to God for us and always cheering us on and encouraging us to keep trying and not give up. Also, surround yourself with other people who are on the same journey you are, striving to follow Jesus and do God’s will. Then you can support and encourage each other. Let go of relationships that pull you away from Jesus. And avoid being in situations where you might be tempted to sin – such as certain parties, certain work situations, conversations involving gossip, etc.
4) Learn what the church teaches. Follow the teachings of scripture and tradition, such as the 10 Commandments, the Beatitudes (and all of Christ’s sermon on the Mount, in Matt 5-7), etc. Use the help that Jesus gives us through the church. Attend church services and participate in the life of the church, the feasts and fasts, and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and confession. The sacraments are like seven power lines that connect us to the love and power and grace of Christ that we need in order to be able to do God’s will and become holy.
5) Persevere. Keep trying, don’t be distracted and never give up. When we “mess up” and fall into sin, we need to go to confession and receive the forgiveness and healing of Jesus and begin again. What about our feelings and emotions when it comes to doing God’s will? In a wonderful little book by Mother Angelica called Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality, she writes the following: “It doesn’t matter how you feel, it only matters what you do. Jesus Himself said that when He told the story of the man who had two sons whom he asked to go into the vineyard. One son said no, but he went. The other son said yes, and never went. Who did the Father’s will? The one who said he didn’t feel like going, but went anyway. (Matt. 21: 28-31) That is the example we must follow.”
If you are doing all these things and are still unsure about what path God is leading you on and what God’s plan for you is, pray more for Jesus to give you light and direction and then move forward in faith. If it turns out to be a mistake, then God will somehow make good out of your mistake and redirect you.
What are some of the ways that God might use to “speak” to us and guide us and show us the way we should go? Sometimes God shows us the way through prayer, through an icon, through a verse or story in the Bible, through the advice and insight of another person (a friend, teacher, priest, etc.), through a song or a book, through our parish community, etc. Remember: God can work through anyone and anything. But God always shows us the way in His good time …and only one step at a time. God is a good and loving Father, and He knows that we can only handle one step at a time.
How should we respond when God answers our prayers and “speaks” to our heart and we have a sense that God is guiding us in a certain direction? To answer this question we can go back to the words of David’s prayer in Psalms 27 and 143. When David asked God to “lead me on a level path,” David also said, “Teach me the way I should go …and teach me to do thy will…for I am thy servant”. In other words, David was open and receptive to God’s teaching, trusting in God to lead him in the right direction and surrendering to God as a faithful and obedient servant who was willing to follow God. We must also be willing to be taught by God, willing to be led by God and willing and obedient to move from where we are in order to follow Jesus and do God’s will. Remember – do not ask the Lord to guide your footsteps, if you are not willing to move your feet.
During this Advent season, we are reminded that our Blessed Mother, the Theotokos, is a wonderful example of someone who was receptive and trusting and surrendering to God in order to do God’s will. When the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she had been chosen to be the Mother of the Savior, she accepted God’s plan and calling. And even though there were risks involved (Mary could have been accused of adultery and been stoned to death), she trusted that God would watch over her and make it all work out. And she surrendered her will to God’s will with the beautiful and obedient words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word”.
Having said all of the above, it must also be acknowledged that striving to discern God’s plan for our life and do His will can be very difficult and scary and even painful. Everyone is dealing with a hardship of some kind, and we are all struggling to figure out how our particular hardship fits into God’s plan for our life. On a personal note: I was recently laid off from my job after 20 years with the company. So I am striving to follow the above suggestions and make the decision each day to trust that God will guide me to whatever new adventure He has planned for me. However, I confess that there are days when the fears and doubts and anxiety are overwhelming.
But let us be lifted up and encouraged in our struggles by remembering once again the reassuring words from Jeremiah that we began with. God does have a plan for our lives…plans for our welfare…to give us a future and a hope. O Lord, help us to trust that you will be the guiding light in our lives, and that you will lead us on a level path that brings us ever closer to you.
 Raymond Arroyo, ed. (New York: Doubleday, 2007)