Always a pilgrim

I had the privilege of addressing the “Gusto!” group at King of Glory Lutheran Church here in Dallas.  As the description of the group might suggest, the class is largely (though not exclusively) made up of folks who have retired.  And the subject that they wanted to explore dealt with God’s will.

One of the people who attended admitted that she really wasn’t sure that there was much for someone her age to gain from a conversation of that kind.  But, thankfully, I did a bit of “profiling” and chose to answer the questions that I think most people have about the will of God at or around the age of retirement.  I don’t have the full text here (though later I will post the recording).

But I can share, in brief, the six questions I raised for the group and the abbreviated form of the answers I gave:

i.  Did I make choices that brought me to this place in life?

Yes.  Many of us talk about having done the only thing we could do, or about God bringing us to this or that place in life.  That’s understandable language, but when it suggests that we haven’t made any real choices or that we bear no responsibility for them, then something is amiss.

We may not want to take responsibility.

We may have too simple a vision of what it means for God to “be in control.”

But when we seemingly claim that God is completely responsible for the events in our lives, then we run the risk of erasing moral responsibility for our choices.  And we also make nonsense of the spiritual gifts that we have been given.  We are free and free to be creative.  Part of the joy and privilege of being a child of God is the gift of choice.

Life is not paint by numbers — it is a blank canvas that God invites us to fill with color.  And the reassurance given us is not that nothing happens that God doesn’t will — the reassurance is that God is with us.

ii.  Did you make some wrong choices?

Yes.  And you haven’t made your last one.

Mistakes lack moral content.  They are often the by-product of a lack of information, growth in wisdom, experience, and education.  “To err is human.”

When it comes to mistakes the important thing to remember is that “you know what you know when you know it.”  Once you do, the only mistake you can make is to continue making the same mistake.  Endless post mortems do neither you, nor the people you love any good.

Sin — the willful choice to ignore God — is a different matter.  But even here, it is important to ask, “what do even sinful choices tell me about the needs of my soul.”  Repentance and amendment of life is not about making us feel bad about ourselves, it is about restoring and repairing the depth of intimacy we enjoy with God and with others.

iv.  Does it matter that I have made the wrong choices?

Not as much as you think.  God’s providence is endlessly adaptive.  Our conception of divine control is shaped by the simple metrics of human control…”If I am in control, then nothing happens that I don’t want to happen.”

But God gives us the gift of choice and can respond creatively and in ways that make for new possibilities even when we “get it wrong.”

In all likelihood, God is probably more often frustrated by our indecision than the choices we make — and all of them figure more importantly as an opportunity for getting to know God.

v.  Do I have choices left and do they matter?

Yes.  Age has nothing to do with the question of God’s will for us.

In the first place, discerning the will of God is not about us anyway.  It is about cultivating an awareness of where, when, and how God is at work in the world.  And that is a process that has nothing to do with our individual lives.  In fact, there is something to say for the wisdom that someone older might bring to that process.

The prophets used to speak of “young men dreaming dreams and old men seeing visions.”  Every generation has light to bring to bear on the effort to listen for God.

To the extent that our individual lives matter — and they do — the thing to remember is that the work of God in our lives is not about the things we do — never mind the things we do early in life.  They are about the person we are becoming.  And the choices we make shape that becoming over a lifetime.

That is why it is far more important to ask, “Who am I before God?” than it is to ask “What does God want me to do?”

God loves you better than you love yourself and you were meant for glory.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.