Submission to the Holy Will of God
My wife is ready to give birth: her belly is full and taut with the baby girl within. It’s a sacred time of waiting for us. My wife struggles to rise from the couch and, once up, shuffles from room to room. All her movements are intentional as any movement is difficult. My parents are here to watch the kids when the baby arrives.
We wait. The days move slowly, shuffling from dawn to dusk. Each day is pregnant with expectancy. Each night we lie down in bed, and in the morning we begin waiting again.
We go to bed on New Year’s Eve and, after a fitful night, are fully awakened by the urgency of birth in the New Year. There is no more wondering about our readiness for this moment. There is no more time for cleaning, rest, or preparation. It is time for a child to be born and all of life makes room. It is time! The will of the moment fastens onto our lives with a nonnegotiable intractability. A girl is going to be born today. But first there is pain and labor.
Our baby arrives and our hearts are full with her, with our family. And then we rest and wait again. Though the anticipated moment has passed, a million more stretch out before us and Routine must still wait in the wake of its own sweet rupture.
The next day I make my way home to see the kids and eat dinner with them. My mom calls me when I am five minutes from home and tells me that one of my other daughters has fallen and broken her tooth in half on the family room floor. It’s Friday afternoon, of course, on a holiday weekend. Dentists are with their families. So my daughter and I spend the evening in the emergency room four floors below the room where my wife and new daughter rest. An emergency appointment is scheduled for the next morning. And at bedtime my daughter worries about whether going to the dentist is going to hurt. I try to reassure her, and I speak softly to her about God’s will and thankfulness. I don’t know what lies ahead.
The pace of life becomes a blur and my heart grows anxious as my daughter and I make our way to the dentist’s office for a temporary composite, wondering if the eleven o’clock appointment will allow us the chance to get to the hospital by noon, in time for my wife’s discharge from the hospital with our beautiful new baby girl. I pray for peace to joyfully receive this dental appointment as God’s will, to embrace it and dedicate myself to it. It all falls into place. The next day the grandparents leave and we get our older girls ready for the new school they are starting the following day. And as we get them ready, our toddler begins to feel hot to the touch and begins vomiting.
Life sometimes avalanches over us. We do our best, knowing that the frenetic pace of it will slow and that eventually some normalcy will return. In the meantime we endure. We pray. We offer thanks. We are not allowed the luxury of running in circles at the base of these hills, pondering whether we ought to go forward. With a deep breath, we lean in. There can be no hesitation. This is the course. We run it.
The will of God is mysterious. But there are some things we can do that we know to be his holy will. For instance, Paul writes, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18). We know it is God’s will that we live in Christ. And when situations arise, as in my story here, we know that these things are God’s will—that, as the Prayer of the Optina Elders says, “All eventualities fulfill Thy Holy Will.” The circumstances of our lives into which we are thrust, good or evil, are somehow used for our good. How this is possible, I don’t know. But as I encounter life, Christ shelters me in his side and, found in him, I discover how to live. I discover what life is. And who. Good and suffering ebb and flow like tides, but he is terra firma. He asks of us, as we grow in him, to be men and women who move forward in faith, knowing that however we step, he steps with us. Not, of course, always knowing in advance what his will will mean for our lives, but finding peace in the knowledge that it is his will. And thus we can receive it with joy and thanksgiving.