by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
If only we could know what we are meant to do and be in life. Why is discovering our purpose so perplexing? How do we come to realize what God intends for each of us?
A few years ago, a 20-year-old young man said one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever heard, about what he was meant to do in life. It was an Orthodox Christian friend named, Kenyatta Smith, who everyone insisted from middle school, through high school, and then later in college, they knew what his life’s purpose should be. Because of his above average height and devotion to excellence, he was always sought out for his schools’ basketball teams. His 6’ 8” frame, basketball skills, and exceptional character even earned him a full ride basketball scholarship at Harvard University.
One day, while he was at home on break from Harvard, he and I were talking about his basketball career and his life, and I asked him if his plan was to move forward into playing professional basketball, or something else. The wisdom of his answer surprised me, coming from someone so young. He said, “Father Allan, I really enjoy playing basketball, and if that’s what God has in store for me, then that would be great. But if God wants me to be somewhere else, doing something else, then that’s where I’d much rather be…because being somewhere God doesn’t want me to be and doing something that God doesn’t want me doing is the surest recipe for a miserable life.” I learned later, that from the time Kenyatta began playing basketball in middle school, he always had an arrangement with the various coaches who sought to have him play on their teams. He would only agree to play for their team if they agreed that he would never have to be at a practice or play in a game on a Sunday—because he would be in Church on Sunday, where he knew he belonged. Of course, from middle school through college, he endured persecution from some teammates for his Christian integrity. Since he was an MVP, star center, there were some Sunday games his team lost, due to his absence. A few of his teammates would angrily blame him for those losses, accusing him of not being a team player. In spite of all that, because of his outstanding work-ethic, Kenyatta continued to grow in his basketball skills and persisted in standing out as a star player and a leader. More importantly, Kenyatta grew in his faith and in his strength of character. However, Kenyatta’s overarching desire was always that he would walk in Christ, no matter where God would lead him.
As it turns out, it wasn’t in God’s plan for Kenyatta to continue playing basketball. Following his team’s best season of basketball in Harvard history, Kenyatta ended up missing an entire season of play due to chronic issues with a foot injury. Eventually, the door to a professional basketball career was permanently shut. But that wasn’t the end for Kenyatta. Some connections he’d made with people in the movie industry, and his business acumen led him to pursue a career in production for Pantheon Entertainment. There, Kenyatta’s Christianity continues to hold everything together as the central focus of his life, where he continues to grow as a leader.
What’s important to realize about Kenyatta’s approach to life was that he wasn’t looking for some supernatural sign from God’s for where he should be and what he should do. Neither was Kenyatta under the illusion that being where God wanted him to be would magically prevent major struggles from happening to him. Instead, Kenyatta took his gifts & talents, using God’s grace to endure the struggles along the way…but with the purpose of joyfully participating with God’s will always at the center of whatever he does. And doing that, has made all the difference in his life. As he said, “I’d much rather be where God wants me to be and do what God wants me to do…because being somewhere God doesn’t want me to be and doing something that God doesn’t want me doing is the surest recipe for a miserable life.”
Fr Thomas Hopko, of recent blessed memory, summed it up nicely when he said, “Christian spirituality is centered in God; in fact, its very goal is communion with God, which is attainable through the accomplishment of His will. To be what God wants us to be and to do what God want us to do is the sole meaning of our human existence. The fulfillment of the prayer “Thy will be done” is the heart and soul of all spiritual effort and activity.”
So that begs the question: How do we know where and what God wants us to be and do? What is His will?
God is the loving bridegroom, who hopes that we, as His beloved bride, will offer our love back to Him. Like, in any romantic relationship, each person hopes that the other will reciprocate their love in tangible ways. So, what do these tangible ways we love God look like?
The renowned Romanian theologian of blessed memory, Dumitru Stăniloae, offered this bit of clarity: “Because we humans are unable to give God anything except that which we have already received from Him, we learn to perceive the world as gift and sacrament by offering back something in this world for God’s sake—as a sign of our grateful love, and as the vehicle of this love. God for His part offers back to us humans what we humans have offered to Him in the form of fresh gifts, containing a new demonstration of His love, in a new and repeated blessing. “Grace for Grace.” And so, an unbroken interchange between God and humanity in our use of the world takes place, an ever-renewed and growing mutuality of love. The more we discover the beauty and the higher use of created things, and the greater the gratitude and love with which we respond to God, the more God responds with still greater love and blessing, because we are in the position to receive it. We put the seal of our understanding and of our intelligent work upon creation, thereby humanizing it and giving the humanized form of it back to God. We actualize the world’s potentialities. Thus, the world is not only a gift but a task for humanity. We are able to mark the world with our seal because the world as the gift of God’s love for humanity is not the fruit of necessity but the fruit of divine freedom. If it were the fruit of necessity there would be no freedom in it, and it would develop as an inexorable casual process. But it is established in this way, so that divine freedom and human freedom can manifest themselves in an unbroken dialogue.”
So, every single one of us has been called by God to fulfill a certain vocation…which is to be a saint—a person whose whole life is set apart to God, in love of Him. That doesn’t mean that everyone is called to serve the Church as ordained clergy, or as a monastic. You can fulfill this vocation whether you’re a Ditch Digger, or a Lawyer…whether you’re a Farm Laborer, or a Tech Engineer…whether you’re a Stay at Home Mom, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. Just as our saints of old came from every imaginable background and profession…so also each of us can be a saint, no matter what we have done, or what we currently do as a career. But it means that we are all called to take every part of our lives, our jobs, our livelihood, and everything else we do and are, as a gift that has been given to us by God. And we are to transform every part of those gifts in Christ, so that we may offer them back to Him (sometimes self-sacrificially) in praise and thanksgiving. It means that we stop compartmentalizing our lives into, “this is the worship I offer God on Sundays…and this is the part of my life that is my job.” It means that we take our job part of our self and, as an act of worship, we transform it in Christ, praying for each person we come in contact with, “Lord have mercy.” It means that we insist, that there are certain parts of our life, like Sunday worship, where we don’t allow coaches of our children to rob them of the opportunity to put God first, above all else. It means that we take advantage of every opportunity to get to know God better through the reading and re-reading of His love letters to us (the Bible)…and we spend time talking to Him about what He says in them. It means, we look at all of life as a series of opportunities to love our neighbor the way Jesus would love them. It means that we look for ways to draw the people around us into making Jesus Christ King over their own hearts, because that’s what would please our Lord.
As we approach this Sunday of All Saints, where we are all called to be saints, where would you rather be? Would you rather do and be something apart from God (which is the way to misery and decay), or would you rather make His will the motivation for everything you do, experiencing the divine freedom of an unbroken dialogue with Him?