Friday, December 17, 2010

Free will...choices, consequences and faith

One of the greatest – and most difficult to manage – gifts God granted us was free will. Oh, you and I enjoy this gift tremendously. This gift allows us to choose for or against a host of things to do, act, think, and be. Sometimes, though, it would be so nice to not have the choice.

I recently had a conversation with a woman struggling with this very thing. She had a vision for how things should be, her will, you might say. And, as these stories often go, she lacked the influence to impose her will so that things could, perhaps, turn out as she had planned.

I am thankful for the gift of childhood, as I think on this. I am thankful for boundaries set and maintained, for efforts made in these early years to help me choose the better path. The problem, if it can be called that, is that childhood ends much too soon. Adulthood sets in way before we are ready, way before we can understand our actions and their sometimes opposing re-actions…or consequences. I do appreciate deeply the steps my own parents took to minimize the false steps that would tempt me in adulthood.

And yet…it didn’t quite work out the way my fairy-tale inspired thoughts led me. And, once again, I find myself faced with the choice….my imposed will or acceptance that all is as it will be. I’m truly not happy at the options, especially those available through the latter. At the same time, I recognize that my will is often discarded and not followed by any other than my ownself.

I’m fine with free will as it applies to me. I struggle with it when I have to rely on someone else. After all, they may choose a different path, a different direction, a different outcome. Just ask anyone who has ever lived into their adult years and tried to be an adult before their family. Or, ask anyone who has experienced life, the ups and downs, to describe how they felt when their perspectives weren’t considered as the free will of another was imposed.

What we do…or don’t do, does indeed impact others. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, as someone who has had to deal with the ramifications of someone else’s choices. It sucks, to use the modern vernacular.

My vocation, that as a pastor in the United Methodist Church, by definition implies implicitly if not explicitly, that I am held to a higher moral, ethical, spiritual standard. Our Scriptures point to the need to have control over our family as we strive, rather desperately I might add, to achieve this lofty goal. But what to do when life implodes and the ashes, caused by another, are clogging your throat?

It goes back to that free will stuff. Will I allow myself to be governed by an emotional reaction to someone else? Many of us are strong and independent, eager to scream, “No!” when presented with such an option. I count myself among this strong, independent group. Which, of course, makes it harder to handle the emotions of “now what?” when all my ideals and thoughts and plans have been overshadowed by something larger…something more evil than benign.

Bottom line…no. No to letting someone else dictate my emotional responses. No, to letting someone else dig and strike until I bleed, either from protection or pride.  No. And yes, it is that simple.

I am grateful for the gift of free will. For the ability to choose to follow God, as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am grateful that others possess this free will and can choose a path other than the one I think is most appropriate.

The downside to free will – and there’s always a downside, right? – is that I cannot hold someone else to my expectation. I cannot enforce my vision of the future, of right or wrong, on another.

Free will is what allows us to meet others, and ourselves, wherever they (we, us) are. Free will tells us that God wants an honest, chosen relationship with us. Free will holds us to our choices and either strengthens or weakens us.

And then faith takes over. At least, it does for me. Thank you, God, for loving me enough to allow me free will. And thank you for holding me when I face the impact of my own, or someone else’s, choices.