Guest contributor: Ed Trego
As a child growing up in small town Kentucky along the Ohio River there were many times we would find ourselves at the river on a weekend, picnicking and swimming. Swimming in rivers isn’t as popular today but in my childhood there weren’t a lot of options. I’ve since found that, in some ways, we can compare God’s will for us to swimming in a river. You can choose to stand on the shore and watch it pass you by or you can get in the water and take part in life.
As we enter the river of God’s will we begin to feel the gentle tugging of God, urging us to follow him. If we stay on the shore and never go in the water, we will never feel this pull, we must enter the river and take a chance on trusting God.
In ankle deep water the tug is quite weak; we may barely feel even feel it. As we go deeper into the river we can feel the tug of God strengthen. At the knees, it’s a bit stronger but still easily ignored if we choose. In waist deep water the current begins to feel stronger and we may experience some fear and uncertainty. We might find ourselves pushing back against the current for fear that we will be swept away. As the water rises to chest level it’s even harder to resist the current. If we fight it we may lose our balance, fall and go under water for a moment.
Once we reach the point where we can no longer keep our head above water by standing on the bottom we have to make a choice:
- We can go back to shore, pack up our stuff and go home.
- We can go back to shallower water where we feel more in control.
- We can tread water.
- We can swim against the current.
- Or, we can choose to swim with the current and accept God’s will for us.
If our decision is to go back to shore, God will not interfere with that decision just as he will not interfere with any decision we make. That is the blessing, and in some cases, the curse of free will. While this decision will get us out of the river and back onto solid ground, it will also cost us our relationship with God. If we refuse to engage, then God can’t share his many blessings and guide us to the ultimate happiness that he desires for all of us. Even though this decision will remove us from the pulling of God’s will, the fact that we have felt that will and rejected it will change our life forever. We will always question what would have happened if we had let God take us where he willed.
Going back to shallow water isn’t really much better than leaving the river altogether. At some point we will almost be forced to revise this decision. How can we feel the gentle pulling of God’s will and ignore it? We will eventually either have to choose to participate in His will or leave his will entirely. There are some people who may linger in this half-way state for most of their lives. They never fully experience God’s love for them, but are still longing for that love. What a sad, unfortunate position in which to spend a lifetime.
Treading water will allow us to fully feel the pull of God’s will for us, but we are hesitant to submit our will to his. We want to wait and see, we don’t want to commit. Treading water will work for a while but sooner or later we will tire and be forced to make a decision to either fight God’s will, accept God’s will or ignore God’s will and return to shore.
I sometimes think treading water is the place Satan wants us most. We can pretend that we are living in God’s will but at the same time we are resisting or are indifferent to it. We haven’t completely rejected it but we have refused to fully accept it. By failing to make a decision, we have already made one. We have chosen to reject the will of God for he would have us follow him, not remain indecisive. In the book of Revelation we read God’s message for the Church in Laodicea. “Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16) They were treading water, failing to decide one way or the other. God wants us to make a choice.
Many of us make the choice to swim against the current, at least at first. We recognize the will of God but we aren’t ready to follow it just yet. We want to push back and follow our own will. In his journey to the Catholic faith St. Augustine knew what it was to swim against the current of God. In The Confessions of St. Augustine he wrote, “O Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet.” And again, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” He knew God’s will but wanted to continue the life he was living rather than accept and follow. When he finally made the decision to accept God’s will, he wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Too many times we, like St. Augustine, know the will of God but resist due to our own personal, usually selfish reasons. We can only swim against the current for a short period of time. The effort is too much to sustain indefinitely. Satan stands on the shore and laughs at our futile efforts to resist God’s will. There will very quickly come a point when we must either choose to respond to God’s will or give up from exhaustion in fighting it. If we continue to fight, we will drown and Satan will have won. He will claim our souls and we will never know the joy of living in God’s will.
Of course we still have all the other options available. We can go back to treading water, but not for long. We can go back to the shallow water and never experience the many blessings God has in store for us. Or we can leave the river, pack our things, go home and reject God entirely.
Hopefully we will choose the right option; swim with the current of God’s will. Anyone who is familiar with swimming in a moving body of water knows that once you figure out the current and use it to your benefit the effort is much less demanding. In many ways choosing to follow the current of God’s will is the same. However, even when we choose to follow God’s will, we can still expect difficulties and challenges. Satan doesn’t give up just because we’ve chosen God. He will continue to tempt, to challenge and to push us in every way possible to make us change our mind. He knows that simply because we chose to follow God’s will there is nothing to stop us from changing our mind. The free will that God has given us will allow us to turn from him again should we choose to do so.
There will be times when we can easily float with the current of God and there will be times when we will have to challenge the rapids Satan places in our path. Our security and our salvation rests in God. As long as we are willing, he will give us the strength and grace to resist Satan and continue to follow his will. Whatever the challenge, God can give us the strength to get beyond it and remain in His will. All we have to do is ask and be willing to accept the help God wants to provide us.
The next time you see a river remember the will of God and pray that he will help us to swim in His blessed current and place our trust, our lives, and our souls in His faithful care. It will be the most important decision you will ever make.