Wanting What God Wants

“What God asks of us is a will which is no longer divided between Him and any creature. It is a will pliant in His hands which neither seeks nor rejects anything, which wants without reserve whatever He wants and which never wants under any pretext anything that He does not want. …Happy are those who give themselves to God! …placing our will entirely in the hands of God, we want only what God wants, and thus we find His consolation in faith and consequently hope in the midst of all suffering. …Happy are those who throw themselves with bowed heads into the arms of the ‘Father of mercies’ and the ‘God of all consolation’.”

Francis Fenelon (read here)

This kind of prayer has been very important for me, and still is, in the discovery that what God wants for me is that I learn that it is safe to have an absolute trust in a loving God, that consenting to submit to God’s will leads to me knowing my own worth more, that it means I will be growing in confidence and strength, being much less influenced by what others might think of me or expect from me or who they would like me to be. I know who I am in God’s eyes, and I doubt myself much less when faced with unjust criticism or blame or guilt games than I would have before.

It’s not what I expected to find, and it’s been important that I did.

The slow discovery that God wants for me what I want for myself, and therefore that I indeed want what God wants for me… I learned what love is by learning to trust God, based on the experience that God will not leave me under any condition and that God will not force me, ever, into anything. God basically is not who I was taught he is. There is space all of a sudden to figure things out for myself. “Come and see” indeed… Instead of being told who to be, God keeps asking me, “Tell me who you are. I want to know. I want to know you”. So I have to figure it out for myself, all the while being surrounded and sustained by God’s encouragement and affirmation and acceptance of how and where and who I am. That’s what consent to the will of God is giving to me. And I return to this experience over and over, being reminded, being held, being protected, being loved.

It took me a long time to relax into this relationship. It still takes effort to dismantle words like “submission” and “obedience”, having been raised in a conservative, patriarchal, co-dependent and at times abusive family. The language I need to meet God is different than this. Because what I need to submit to is God’s delight in me. What I need to deny myself is doubting that I can be so loved.

We have to be careful that the language we use in religion does not produce the opposite of what it is meant to offer. The bible is supposed to help us access ways into the relationship God wants to have with us. There are so many women struggling with low self-esteem, lack of confidence, especially after experiences of abuse and also after growing up in societies where women are still perceived as the less important half of the population – what we really don’t need is consecrated men telling us to submit to and obey more meekly the will of a male, domineering God. And I think neither do men. 

So it takes work. The will of God is for us to know ourselves loved and accepted and cherished without condition. I wish that was the mantra of all the churches. It’s called the Good News for a reason.

What is our image of God? Who is the God that is preached in churches? Do the preachers know what it feels like to be freely and uncompromisingly loved? If they don’t, they are making it harder for others to know God’s love, reinforcing the negative beliefs so many of us have been taught about ourselves. The “God loves you, but…” tradition.

God is love. I’d be happy with that being the sermon every Sunday of the year. I’ve never heard it preached as it is. I cannot remember any occasion on which a sermon was all about how much each and every person present is loved by God. Just about that. Not once have I heard that. And if we cannot say that, and let it stand as it is – how will we learn to believe it?

We spend Sunday after Sunday discussing what we want people to act like (who will go on the flower rota and why have the weekly collections gone down and can someone be responsible for clearing up after tea and there will be a special collection for this and that and the other – and apart from all that, how is your “prayer discipline” and are you working on that flaw of yours and all the other “why-are-you-not-who-I-think-you-should-be”s), but we cannot say, “God loves you”, and leave it at that? Do we think we can make others into the people God would like to see in church?  And what God would that be? And what people? 

God’s love makes people into who God wants them to be. No act of will and discipline achieves that. It’s messy and confusing and rarely fits into institutional structures or purely intellectual analysis. People are not furniture, stored in some corner of the church to be used when needed. It’s not another person who gets to decide who develops what and how and when and for what purpose. There seems to be very little trust in people’s individual relationship with God. During the process of vocation discernment alone this seems to be more important all of a sudden, only to disappear again once the candidate has more or less suitably been slotted into one of the available roles.

The point of religion is not to create an easily manageable congregation of submissive sheep. The gospel is full of flawed characters, loudmouths and fools, none of them with a 5-year-plan. And it’s all about those people. Not about the building they’re in or the path Jesus takes to get from one side of the crowd to the other or if it was herring or cod they had with the bread.

The will of God and the will of people are two very, VERY different things. God’s focus is unchanged. God’s focus is on being one with us, in love. 

I want to see more of that reflected in the church. 

If there’s a culture in a parish that makes people feel less than loved, then the flower rota can’t possibly be the first priority. If there are families in a parish who struggle to get all the necessary things for their children’s next school year, then why is the Sunday collection for the new organ? If the organisation of the church building is a constant struggle, why can’t things be downsized and simplified to cause everyone the least amount of exhaustion…? I’d love a “back to basics” church. No fuss, no frills. Your living room is at home. Have the frills there. Church is a space where people can pray alone or together, worship together, meet to support, affirm and encourage each other in their faith. And that’s it. And if the focus moves from there to mounting wall plaques to commemorate rich donors to the building or to the correct stitching of the priest’s robes, if the point of the place becomes preaching against a particular group of people or making everyone feel as small as possible so they’ll be docile, or if people go there to make a point of not receiving the Eucharist from a female priest or if a gay bishop has to wear a bulletproof vest for his consecration, if a church is not a place of love and prayer for all, then how can any of us find good news there? If we don’t affirm for one another that the will of God is that we all know ourselves loved without condition and that we learn to love each other as well as we can, if there is little joy in worship or no warmth in our welcome of each other, we are not serving God or each other. 

I do know a few people who are very happy in their parishes, and thank God for that. I wish I could go to church and rest there with God and give thanks and rejoice in the company of others. But when I look at the church, I see work to do and not enough sustenance or support to do it. And that’s in particular from my perspective as part of the LGBT Community. I see people suffering while they wait for the church to realise that they are hurting because of what the church does and says and doesn’t do and doesn’t say, because of the difference between God who affirms us and the church that denies us affirmation. How are we supposed to make sense of that, or live with that without doing damage to ourselves? There are limits to what we can be reasonably asked to do to ourselves for the sake of the church without damaging our spiritual and mental health. This is the difference between obeying God and obeying people – God says, “Believe me when I tell you that you are very deeply loved by me, that you are called and needed in my church”. And the church says, “It’s unpriestly to be in a same-sex relationship”, and every candidate for the priesthood has to agree to the church’s opinions on sexuality before being recommended for the selection process.

We are worth more than what the church affords us. And I don’t believe it is God’s will that we are welcome to serve only under the condition that we deny ourselves the blessing of a loving relationship and a family. I don’t think it’s God’s will that any blessing would be withheld from anyone. That’s people enforcing submission and a different and unhealthy kind of obedience, that too often leads to secret lives and guilt and shame and people internalising the lack of acceptance and affirmation that the church has for them. Even if the Synod can’t agree to love us, can they not be convinced that God does?

“What God asks of us is a will which is no longer divided between Him and any creature. It is a will pliant in His hands which neither seeks nor rejects anything, which wants without reserve whatever He wants and which never wants under any pretext anything that He does not want. …Happy are those who give themselves to God! …placing our will entirely in the hands of God, we want only what God wants, and thus we find His consolation in faith and consequently hope in the midst of all suffering. …Happy are those who throw themselves with bowed heads into the arms of the ‘Father of mercies’ and the ‘God of all consolation’.”

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2 Responses to Wanting What God Wants

  1. debiriley says:

    I hear you! I have been blessed enough in the past where I’d previously lived, to have listened to Sunday messages of God’s love and hope. Filled me with energy! and then been to other churches… not to return!!

    • anyushka says:

      I’m glad you had some good church though :)! I wonder sometimes if I need to start something myself – but I wonder if it really could become something different, since people are the same everywhere…

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