Unfulfilled dreams can be some of the hardest things to overcome. They can hit us like crushing weights that we fear will never let up. In those moments, it’s easy to feel that God has no plan, no will, no desire for us.
I remember applying to be the music and worship leader for my denomination’s summer camp. I desperately wanted this position. In fact, I had been preparing for this position for an entire year. Everything I did in my denomination was aimed at obtaining this job. I sat on committees so that I could connect with the people who would hire for the position; I cultivated relationships and tasks aimed and increasing my credibility. I went to seminars and training sessions to hone my liturgical, musical, and leadership skills. By the time the position was advertised, I felt I was at the top of my game.
You probably see where this is going. The position came, and went, with no change to my life. I was gutted. I felt as if God had yanked the carpet out from my feet, that everything I believed I was heading towards was shown to be nothing more than unrealistic fantasies.
It can be easy to pray “thy will be done” without realizing what this petition truly says. Being open to God’s will in our lives necessarily involves being open to the “not-will” of God. If we want God’s will to come about, then we must also allow God to define that which is not part of God’s will. This calls for humility, patience, and resolve. Furthermore, it demands we affirm that we are not the author of our lives. The apostle Paul experienced this. He writes about a desire to preach in Asia, only to have the Holy Spirit prevent him from doing so (Acts 16:6).
The not-will of God can be a hard reality to accept, even harder to live out; yet ultimately, the fact that God’s will is beyond our individual preferences or desires is a good thing. God’s vision for our lives is not based on our prowess or ability. God’s will comes to us according to God’s purposes. We don’t force God’s will; we don’t manage it, wield it, or manifest it. This truth means we can step away from forcing ourselves into a mold not designed for us. It allows us to stop our striving, and to trust that we live our days in the context of God’s pleasure and delight.
This is the way Jesus lived. Jesus lived his life from the standpoint of God’s will and plan for him. Instead of forcing his will upon the world, Jesus remains steadfastly obedient to the Father; he allowed the Father’s will to direct him, and to hold him still. Whenever someone urged Jesus to push an agenda or force an action, Jesus simply responded that his time had not come. Jesus firmly embraced the not-will of God.
Do you feel you are trying to force yourself into a box that, despite your best efforts, will not open for you? Do you feel that you are trying to walk in a way that seems contrary to your very soul? Are you exhausted and discouraged from having to force a vision of yourself on the world?
God has a will for your life; God also has a not-will. If you feel overwhelmed by having to make something happen, then this may be a sign of God’s not-will for you. It is not our duty to ensure that God’s plan comes about. God’s will for our lives should never leave us feeling exhausted or frustrated.
Yes, I was heartbroken when I didn’t get that summer job. But 10 days later I was walking into a church as their summer youth minister. I then followed that position with a 3-year contract at another church. As it turned out, my experiences that summer began a journey that led me to my priestly vocation. Not receiving the job at the camp was one of the best things to happen to me. Because ultimately, the not-will of God, is just as good, and just as life-giving, as God’s will.