Sunday, August 20, 2006

God's will

Currently in my inbox I have about 29 unread messages from different e-groups that I'm a member, plus 215 more, daily devotionals that I'm too lazy to read.

Anyway, I was deleting old emails to free some space when I found this very beautiful and funny article by Bo Sanchez which I never bothered to read until now. It's quite long, but it's really worth it!

My Long, Convoluted, Complicated Torturous Process of Knowing God's Will for My Life That Lasted For 18 Years And The 7 Keys I Discovered On Discerning God's Will

I am, without question, the Top World Authority and Expert in Discernment.

I'm also the Top World Authority and Expert on how to eat peanut butter in 181 ways - but that's another book.

Let me tell you why I consider myself an expert in getting heavenly guidance when you make the big decisions in life: Because I made the most mistakes.

Specifically, 18 years of wonderful mistakes.

It all began when I came to know God at age 12.

I enjoyed serving God at a young age - giving talks, leading retreats, conducting seminars, producing musicals, traveling all over the country. You know, regular stuff.

But I also did some really, really special stuff. Like for these same events, I also cleaned toilets, swept floors, arranged chairs and washed dishes. All-Around Janitor by day, Big-Time Speaker by night.

I fell in love with what I was doing.

So I told myself that I'd serve God for the rest of my life. Obviously, I thought of becoming a priest - or at least a celibate person.

I mean, how could you not think of it?

My Wild Journey to Singleness

Gosh, every big-name saint is celibate.

Every single one of them.

Married saints are awfully few and their popularity rating sucks. (They need a PR firm to pull their numbers up. I've recently volunteered for the job.)

You've got to admit. Heavyweight saints are priests, nuns, bishops, theologians, popes and founders of congregations.

So here was my thinking: If I'm serving God, I might as well go all the way.

My first attempt at celibacy was when I formed a small group of men to live together in a ramshackle house.

It was really more like a bodega - but we lived there for five straight happy years.

St. Francis of Assisi was our hero, and we wanted to live like him, talk like him, eat like him, look like him and smell like him. So for five years, we slept on old cardboards laid on cement floors, wore the most worn-out clothes, fasted regularly, prayed two hours in the morning and went off to do God's work during the day - until we arrived home in the evening for more prayer and sharing - tired, poor, smelly and happy.

All of us wanted to be celibate. But one by one, all the guys with me discerned that they were for married life. (Still, I look back at those five years as one of the most fantastic seasons of my life. We still see each other and work together.)

Why Are You on This Planet?

My second attempt at celibacy was joining the Servants of the Word, an international celibate brotherhood. I lived in their house for one year - and was overjoyed to be not the leader - but just a member this time.

Again, the daily schedule was similar. We also slept on floors, ate on tin plates, had a limited set of clothes, prayed long and fasted a lot. We also had lots and lots of fun. The Servants of the Word brotherhood was an incredibly rich blessing to my life.

But after one year, I knew in my heart that I wasn't meant to join them.

A very simple reason: If I joined the Servants of the Word, my first ministry would be the brotherhood. And theoretically, they could assign me to go anywhere in the world - and I needed to leave the organizations I founded.

But deep within me, I knew that God wanted me to serve the groups I founded - Light of Jesus, Shepherd's Voice, etc.

Here's Key Lesson #1 on Discerning God's Will: Identify Your Sacred Personal Mission.

To me, the organizations I birthed were part of my original sacred mission - and that mission has not yet been lifted from my heart.

Let me explain. I pioneered a lay community composed of thousands of people spread all over the country, plus a media ministry that was touching the lives of hundreds of thousands more... potentially millions. And I was their spiritual father. Does a father abandon his children?

No, he doesn't.

Tell me: What is your personal sacred mission?

Never Make Decisions at Night Time

So with a heavy heart, I left my wonderful friends at the Servants of the Word.
Now, I was on my own. Again.

After praying and thinking over it for a few more months, I decided to get married. I told myself that I had tried celibacy. And nothing worked. So this other road must be my path.

I zeroed in on one of the young women that I was attracted to in the prayer meeting. I dated her. I gave her flowers. I even composed a song for her.

But by the third date, she gave me the words of death all suitors dread to hear.

"Let's just remain friends." (But of course, guys would translate these words to mean, "You look like a yellow toad, so bug off, you creep.")

That was when I said, "Wow, perhaps I'm really called to celibacy!

I mean, gosh, how can a human female in her right mind turn down a great catch like me?"

Okay, that's not what I said.

I wrote that down to make you laugh.

This is what I actually told myself, "Gosh, she's right. I am a yellow toad."

And after some time later, I was somehow thinking of celibacy again.

Looking back, I realized this choice was caused by the deadly mixture of a genuine passion for God and the sadness of a broken heart. If romance doesn't want me, I don't want it either. So celibacy, here I come!

Of course, at that time, I didn't know all this. Which brings me to Key Lesson #2 on Discerning God's Will: Never make decisions when you're discouraged.

Make decisions only when you feel good about yourself.

Figuratively, don't make decisions during the night of confusion. Sleep over it, and make decisions when you wake up in the morning and feel better.

That's not an original from me. St. Ignatius of Loyola shared these same thoughts when he said, "Don't make decisions during times of desolation. Make decisions during times of consolation."

But again, I didn't know all this during that time...

The Craziest Thing I Thought about In My Entire Life

I continued to pursue celibacy for three more years.

During that time, I founded Anawim, a ministry for the poorest of the poor.

I actually lived in a bamboo hut (without electricity and any kind of plumbing) in the boondocks for three years together with a bunch of like-minded friends. We took in orphans, abandoned elderly, drug addicts and mentally handicapped people. It was a wild adventure.

You see, I had a plan.

With my stint with Servants of the Word, I realized that if I was to live a celibate life, it had to be on my terms - that is, become a priest but still be able to serve my organizations.

So my only option was to start my own congregation of priests. (Don't laugh. I was dead serious.)

And I was imagining it to be right there in Anawim, living with the poor, and serving the different Lay Communities I founded all over the Philippines.

So I talked to Bishop Teodoro Bacani and asked him, "Bishop, can I form my own congregation of priests?" The good bishop probably received crazy proposals like this about 12 times a day.

He simply said, "Let's talk about it some more."

Check What God Has Given You

But after two years of trying and thinking and praying, I shelved the entire idea.

One big realization: I didn't have the gifts of "forming" men one-on-one, which is essential to forming a congregation.

I thrived (became most happy and alive) when I preached in front of thousands or when I wrote my books to millions of readers - not when I was in front of one person- wrestling with emotional issues, giving spiritual direction, counseling personal problems. Ugh. That kind of work was death to me. I simply wasn't made for it.

Here's Key Lesson #3 on Discerning God's Will: Identify Your Raw Materials.

When God designed you, He gave you the raw materials you need to do His will. So you need to study these raw materials well - and you'll find out what He wants you to do. God's not a sadistic taskmaster that will force you to do things you don't want to do. In fact, He gave you your specific gifts, temperament and personality precisely because He wants you to use them to bless the world.

Saying all that, I must warn you that it takes time to discover your happiness. What may give you so much happiness later may, in the short-term, give you misery. So discern well.

Going to a Retreat

So when the option of forming my own congregation went up in smoke, I was already 30 years old.

I knew I had to make a choice.

So I went up a mountain with nothing else but a Bible and a wise Jesuit priest. For seven days, I holed myself on that mountain. I was determined that when I went down, I would already have a decision.

I recall that my first three days on that mountain was pure torture. I wrestled with God and found no answer. He wasn't telling me what I should do with my life.

But on the fourth day, my spiritual director said that his fellow Jesuit Fr. Manoling Francisco, the composer of Hindi Kita Malilumutan and many other beautiful songs, had a concert at the parish church nearby. Would I want to listen?

I told him that Manoling was my friend. Yes, I'd love to go.

So I went there and listened to his lovely music.

But in between his songs, Fr. Francisco said these powerful words that blew me away, "We think that God's will is found out there, somewhere in the stars. That's not true. God's will is found within. Ultimately, God's will is your deepest desire."
What did he say?

Searching Within

Wham! It was like a missile that had my name on it.

My gosh, what are my deepest desires?

What do I really want?

No, not my shallow desires.

But the desire from the deepest core of who I am.

What do I really, really want?

Everything made sense to me. Of course, God's will is my deepest desire!
Sometimes, it takes years to discover this. But through the sharp scalpel of discernment, you peel away your superficial desires, layer after layer, until you touch base with the deepest desire of your heart.

And here is Key Lesson #4 on Discernment: God's Will is your deepest desire.

Because when He created you, He planted it there - deep within your soul.

No Luck Came

Armed with this knowledge, I went back to my retreat with vengeance.

For the past four days, I was asking God, "What do you want me to do?" Now, I had three more days to ask myself, "What do I want to do?" I was confident I could answer the question in a few minutes.

I went to the chapel.

The few minutes turned to an hour.

The hour turned to two hours.

After three hours, I was sweating.

After four hours, I was in pain.

I was still stumped as ever.

Why? I realized I wanted both!

I wanted marriage. The intimacy of marriage. The joy of children. The hugs. The quiet evenings and noisy mornings.

But I also wanted the freedom of celibacy. The missionary that goes off to wherever. Alone. In prayer. At work. And with other buddies as passionate for God as I was.

So for the next couple of days, I was as torn as ever.

False Alarm

By the sixth day of the retreat, my brain was fried. Micro waved, grilled, poached, baked and re-fried all over again.

And then all of a sudden, I had a brilliant idea.

I solved my dilemma!

I rushed to my spiritual director, knocked on his door, and said, "Father! Father! I've got it!"

He pulled a chair and we sat facing each other.

"Okay, what is it?"

My words came bubbling out of my mouth, "I know now what to do! I'll remain celibate for 25 more years - serve to my heart's content - and get married when I hit 55!"

He looked at me, startled. And then laughed. "Bo, anything is possible. But don't you think you'll be unfair to your kids? You'll be playing basketball with your 10-year-old when you're 65? Bo, you're not making a choice."

Rats. He was right.

I had one more day to pray.

A Truth that Rocked My World

I remember that day very well.

I went to God and said, "Lord, this is my last day. This is your last chance. I like both. Is it celibacy or marriage? You've got to help me..."

And that day, it happened.

I cannot fully describe to you what took place that fateful morning. Except to say that it was one of the most mystical experiences of my life. But mind you, without the Hollywood pyrotechnics. (If Steven Spielberg interpreted that scene into film, he'd have laser lights shooting wildly from different directions and I'd be levitating with translucent rainbows crisscrossing my body. Nope, it didn't happen that way.)

On that day, I "met" truth. A truth that was like a golden key that unlocked heavy chains that wrapped around my body for so many years - and they all fell, and I heard them crashing on the chapel floor. I was simply asking God to resolve whether I should marry or be celibate. But He gave me a truth that would rock my entire world.

Here's what happened.

I was alone in that chapel, and it was as though everything around me - the entire universe - was speaking to my heart.

And I heard two words.

I Saw God's Perfect Will In a Totally Different Way

The two simple words were: You choose.

I was stunned.

I answered, "But God, I need to know what is Your perfect will!"

And that was when I realized the craziest, most insane thing: At least in my own life, single life and married life are both in God's perfect will.1

For all those years, I had a limited view of this thing called God's will.

It's not so narrow after all! It could be very, very wide.

And it made all sense to me - God's will is as big as God Himself!

Of course, I could choose any of those two options - and I'd still be in His perfect will.

Here's Key Lesson #5: God's will is bigger than we think it is.

Fruit Salad, Anyone?

We think God's will is narrow - and woe to you if you fall to the left or to the right! Today, I see many Christians who are like struggling tightrope artists. It's a pathetic sight. We get this idea because Jesus said the way to the Kingdom is narrow. But the context is all wrong. He was talking about moral issues - good and evil. Not about decisions that are both morally excellent.

Tell me: In the Garden of Eden, how many fruits could Adam and Eve not eat? Answer: One. And how many could they actually eat - and eat as much? Answer: Everything else.

I've discovered that this is the perfect picture of the human life God has given to us: All the fruits are for my picking. Only one fruit isn't in God's will - and that fruit is called Evil.

This Universe Is a Wild Place of Blessings!

That's why I now believe everything is sacred.

The universe is such a beautiful, wonderful, phenomenal place filled and overflowing with His blessings.

Marriage and celibacy included.

But that day, I still heard a huge part of my heart complain, Noooooooooooo! This cannot be! My old programming was kicking in. My mental software didn't want to be upgraded.

But slowly, the truth took root in my heart.

It took another ten years from that day for this truth to break down all my theological arguments and emotional biases. (I probably still maintain a few guerilla stragglers fighting in my brain.) That's why it took me this long to write this book. I couldn't make myself teach these things to others.

Perfect Love Casts Out What?

But that morning in the chapel, I noticed something remarkable.

All of a sudden, fear was gone from the equation.

I could now discern without fear - which I realize is very, very important.
First, the fear of displeasing God had disappeared. (If I chose marriage, He'd be happy. If I chose celibacy, He'd be happy too!)

Second, the fear of being cursed for choosing the wrong thing also vanished from my heart. (Through the years, I've met lots and lots of people who feel God has cursed them because they've chosen wrongly. This cruel lie has robbed them of years of happiness.)

Third, the fear of choosing something wrong - and settling for God's second best - being trapped forever in a second-class life. This fear was also gone!

I could now choose without these useless fears.

Which is Key Lesson #6 of Discerning God's Will: Never choose in the presence of useless fears. First banish fear - and then choose out of love.

The Historic Phone Call that Changed My Life

If I had nothing to fear, what would I choose?

I closed my eyes.

And found the answer.

I lay flat on the floor of the chapel - and it was as though all my tension and stress drained from my body. I began to laugh.

It was a beautiful feeling to finally know what to do with my life.

I stood up, went to my room, quickly packed my bags, walked to my spiritual director's room and bid farewell. I told him all my Lessons of Discernment I mentioned above. He smiled. "Great discoveries. So you have made a decision."

"Yes, I have. Thank you very much, Father."

Going down from the retreat house, I whipped out my cell phone.

I dialed a number.

"Hello, Marowe?"

The Chair in My Office

Let me tell you the background of that story.

Five years before that phone call, I met a beautiful young woman at my office - applying for work. We hired her and she ended up becoming my secretary.

But as I told you, I was at that time still seriously considering becoming a priest.

So I brushed romantic thoughts aside and decided to look at her the way I looked at a piece of furniture. So to me, she was one of the Monobloc chairs in the office.

This strategy worked.

I'd be rarely in the office anyway, preaching and travelling around the world. We'd have very brief phone calls, perhaps once a week, and it was purely business. Do this. Do that. Go here. Go there. For those five years, not once did I show any hint that I was attracted to her. Not once did I show any special treatment towards her.

But I must be honest. In the rare times that I was in the office, I'd sometimes find myself secretly gazing at this Monobloc chair for no apparent reason. I was attracted by her simplicity, her steady relationship with God, her pretty smile and her no-none-sense attitude towards work. But again, I pushed this at the backburner of my brain.

I knew I was attracted to her - and enjoyed knowing that I was human.

But I knew it wasn't something to focus my attention on.

Which brings me to the final Key Lesson #7: Enjoy the Journey Of Discerning God's Will. All the zigs and zags. All the bumps and jumps. All the twists and turns.

It's all part of this package called Life.

The Decision

Five years later, going down that mountaintop, I phoned the monobloc chair.

It was the very first time I called her on her cell phone.

"Yes?" her voice sounded perplexed, wondering if there was an emergency.
"Oh nothing, I just want to say hi!"

Obviously, she was as surprised as a cat in front of a truck's headlights. She couldn't speak for a while. Her boss had called her to say hi. His brain wasn't functioning normally, she must have thought. Must be the altitude in the mountain.

"Uh... hi too. Where are you?" she finally thought of something to say.

"I'm here in Mindanao and I've just finished my retreat. I'm going home now."

"Oh, uh... okay. Was it a good retreat?"

"Yes. Very, very good. I'll tell you all about it."

"Uh... okay."
"I'll see you soon, Marowe. Bye!"

"Uh... yeah. Okay, Bo. Bye."

That was to her one of the weirdest phone calls she had ever received.
But to me, it remains the sweetest.

Going down the mountain, I felt good.

I felt very, very good.

For the remainder of this book, I will now tell you how to find your One True Love.

I remain your friend,

Bo Sanchez

1Note: I'm sure there are some people who - because of their personality, character, history, strengths and weaknesses - are fit for either single life or married life. But my point here is that there are people who can choose any - and will find that God is pleased in whatever they do.

21 John 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.

1 comment:

Jeff Pioquinto,SJ said...

good reflection

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