Have you ever been in a tight situation and made a promise to do or be something else if only the hard circumstances would ease and the outcome turn out in your favor? Did you follow through when all was said and done? In other words, did you keep your promise?
Interesting thing about promises is that they are almost always toward a higher good, aren’t they? I mean, think about it. A child who promises his parent that he will behave or clean his room or stop pestering his little sister is actually promising to rise to an already assumed expectation of that which he knows he should be doing anyway. A kid never promises to be a liar or a thief or a bully, does he?
So, cutting to the chase, we know right from wrong instinctively, even from a very young age. We know what God expects of us, if we are willing to admit it. So it isn’t much of a stretch to promise that we will conduct ourselves appropriately when our finger is caught in a ringer. We also know when to be sneaky and to lie to protect ourselves from a chastisement that we fully understand would result from being caught. Just like kids.
We are children who already know what their parent wants from them. What we don’t understand is that, like a good parent, God not only wants what is best for us and He wants us to trust that He knows what that might be, He also wants us to grow up spiritually with grace so that we will easily recognize and make the good choices that are in our own best interest. Thus He wants us to truly want what He wants, not merely identify what it is. This is a subtle distinction to grasp, but important, nonetheless.
However, wanting what He wants always means giving up certain things, and that might be the crux of our obstinacy. First of all it requires forfeiting our right to ourselves, and tuning in to what we know to be true about the higher good. Secondly it means leaning on Him without reservation and accepting that what we had planned might not have been the direction He wanted us to take and then willingly leaving it behind without lingering doubt. Did He not admonish Lot and his family to not look back? Remember what happened to his wife when she just had to take one last sentimental look?
What is asked of us is abandonment of our free will in exchange for His will. Letting go of free will means surrender, to be sure, but it is also blind acceptance and faith in the supernatural power of God to know, better than we, what path we should be taking. He wants us to not only choose the higher good, He wants us to experience the sheer joy of truly wanting the higher good.
This, then, is the conundrum of free will. God wants us to choose to come to Him, to choose His way, so He gives us opportunities to decide, yes or no. But He wants us to do so willingly, not simply because we don’t want to get into trouble. Taking the high road by cowardice may keep our hands clean, but it won’t instill in us the nature of God. Goodness in and of itself is only a veneer. Only the deep solid grain of God’s genuine goodness dwelling in us can last against the ravages of time and adversity. Desiring this is the only way to get it. Getting it means not looking back to your old ways with sentimentality. It also means practicing. We have to exercise our faith muscle in order for it to grow. We must be ready to listen and obey, without question the small promptings in order to practice listening and obeying the life altering prompts.
But, like children, we still want to have choices. We want to be the captains of our destiny. And, like children, when we make our bad choices we still want our loving parent to come to our rescue. So, we get in our tight spots and boldly make our promises to be and do what we knew we should have been and done in the first place.
I’m so grateful that He is patient and has all the time in the universe but I am painfully aware that we are the ones who run out of time.
Reprinted from I Was Just Thinking - Essays From the Edge of All Light by A. Fields
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