The Simplicity of Intention

Discerning the will of God would be a simple matter, if life itself were simple — “simple,” meaning uncomplicated, easily understood, consisting of one dimension.

If the particulars of our lives were nothing more than a series of choices that arose out of circumstances orchestrated by God — if the choices made were nothing more than a direct “yes” or “no” to the work of God in our lives — then the task of discernment would not be nearly as difficult.

The choices might not necessarily be easy.  We might be challenged to let go of vain obsessions.  We might be challenged to make courageous decisions.  We might be called upon to sacrifice.

But the moral and spiritual clarity of those choices would be inescapable.

In fact, life is almost never “simple” in that way.

The choices we face are not cleanly delineated.  The results are almost always mixed.  And, more often than not, the choices we are forced to make are necessitated by circumstances arising out of chance, nonsense, error and cruelty.

Discerning the will of God is, then, by definition a conditioned enterprise.  It is not something done in a vacuum, where the choices are one dimensional, the consequences unmixed, and the decisions a clean, obvious “yes,” or a “no” to God.

Recognizing that this is the case won’t save us from struggle.  But it will keep us from waiting for conditions to change.

What can be “simple” is our determination to draw closer to God and others in love.

If you are waiting for things to get easier, forget about it.  If you are waiting for circumstances to become simple, you will be waiting for a long time.

The only simplicity on offer is the simplicity of intention.

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 Rueben 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, as well as several books: 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), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an Episcopal priest), live in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and five grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, Sophie, and Drew, with a sixth on the way.