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Letting God Lead

Today’s post is by the late Gerald May

There is a huge difference, I have found, between acting as if God were leading—which is what I do when my ego tries to decide and implement what God wants—and really letting God lead, which happens when my ego stops filtering and controlling and begins simply to see and appreciate.

Being alone and free also relieves us from confusing self-questioning about discernment: Is this really God’s leading, or is it just an impulse? Am I responding to the Spirit or just following a whim? I have found nothing more disruptive to my availability to God than my own arrogant attempts to figure out God’s will. Perhaps we have to go through such gyrations in making important life decisions, but in this kind of setting, where we are free for a while to do anything or nothing, there is no great risk and no one but God and us to see what happens.

Recently, we gave people an option to spend a day alone in nature at a Shalem retreat. My basic suggestion to them was “Let yourself be led.” People’s responses to the experience were profound. Some said they had never before been able to risk such abandon. Many described the clear dichotomy, and sometimes the struggle, between personal agendas and inspirations that were “given.” Commonly, people found it difficult even to begin walking without having a specific destination in mind, some place to be going. Others would see a certain spot and think, “I’ll go sit down there,” only to feel themselves led on to another place that they would not have chosen themselves.

One man picked out a beautiful grassy area under a spreading tree but was almost pulled another quarter of a mile into the middle of a dump, where he had one of the most powerful experiences of prayer in his life. A chic, impeccably dressed woman wound up sitting in a mud puddle with a congregation of butterflies. A man who characterized himself as always having to see what is over the next hill found himself led to sit down half way up a hill. He struggled with himself and with God, finally saying, “God, I’m sorry, but I just gotta run up and see what’s over the hill; then I’ll come right back and sit down here.”

Such experiences may sound whimsical, but if I were asked what one thing has been most valuable in my time alone in the wilderness, it would be this exploration of letting God lead. It has given me courage and a deep confidence in God’s goodness and presence. The divine Spirit now seems so intimate, so immediately available and willing to guide that I have trouble thinking of praying to or discerning the will of God “out there” somewhere. The holy other-ness of God remains, but it’s like the promise of Deuteronomy 30: “The Word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.”

This article is excerpted from a piece that originally appeared in the Shalem News, Fall 1993. The full article may be found in the book, Living in Love, available from the Shalem online bookstore.

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