A Personal Plan

Question 1.4

God's plan for each of us is fully personal. We are not means to an end, but each of us is willed into existence by God for our own sake.

1.4 A Personal Plan

Unique and Personal

1. God does not divide his attention between everyone, so that each of us only receives a small portion of God's loving care. Rather, to be a person means that God's full attention is given to each. Our imagination cannot picture this. But it means that God gives just as much attention to each person's individual vocation as to God’s plan for the whole of creation. We are not cogs in a machine. Each of us is directly willed and loved into existence by God for all eternity, so God takes infinite care of each of us.

Losing Ourselves

2. Due to the disorder which has entered into human existence, each person is in a sense ‘reduced’ in status, to become a ‘mere’ individual. None of this is God's doing, rather, we do it to ourselves and to each other, often unknowingly. This problem sets the scene for an ‘intensification’ of God's care for each of us. It is not God who becomes distant, but we tend to lose sight of God through a haze of distortion. To some extent we can even prefer to feel distant from God, so we can ‘be ourselves’. This is based on a sense that if God is too close he must be smothering me.

A Space to Grow

3. Paradoxically, God responds to this ‘distancing’ on our part by, in a sense, giving us more distance. Yet before doing so God gives us a new capacity to recognise his presence in creation. This means that God only seems to have become distant. In reality God has become more present, just more subtly. We are familiar with how a child wants to become independent. The parents realise that this is necessary, but they also know that the child has innate abilities that will be developed by trying to do things independently. (You would not leave a child alone in this way who was handicapped so as to be unable to do those things.) Of course the parents are watching from further away, or just out of sight, so that they can be there in case of trouble. A child who is loved knows this and has the confidence to grow in new ways. Each person's vocation has something of this character. Yes, we need to figure a lot of it out seemingly on our own, but faith enlightens us. We are not alone. God is allowing us the space to develop the capacities we need so we too can help him in watching out for others.

A Mere Individual

4. In spite of this, people can pursue their ‘individuality’ in such a way that it comes at the expense of others. It is not seen as a stimulus for one’s development for the sake of others. No, the talents we have been given room to develop can be thought of as something we have merited, essentially because of our own efforts. We lose sight of the sheer gift that lies behind them. Being more talented can lead us to pride. Being less talented can lead us to reduce ourselves even further, through fear, resentment or depression. (The parable of the talents.)

Vocational Personhood

5. Vocation takes on its basic shape in response to the needs of others. God does not give us an individual vocation primarily for our own sake, but as part of his plan for weaving the tattered cloth of humanity back into a beautiful tapestry. Because of suffering, division and the seeming intractability of circumstance, God calls each of us to work on a particular part of the whole frayed picture. This leads to the image of vocation as the different attributes or tasks that make up the whole project. As St. Paul says, we are one body with many parts. (Reference.)

A Cog in a Machine

6. This particularity of vocation is a confirmation of our uniqueness and irreplaceability in God's overall plan. But it also contains the danger that we will start to see ourselves constrained in a big ‘machine’. I might recognise the necessity of fulfilling my own small role, and enjoy the feeling of helping others, even being seemingly indispensable. But since vocation is primarily for others I can come to resent constantly having to pick up the mess that others create with no real hope of the situation ever changing. Or of doing tasks I do not particularly enjoy, while others are doing the ‘easy things’. From my own position of strength, the weaknesses of others seem more irksome. But this is blindness. I do not see my own weakness, and how others are compensating for them. (Cf. Ref? The speck in the other's eye.)

Lose Yourself to Find Yourself

7. God's plan has a further dimension, that of emptying oneself more completely, a more interior poverty. This can seem like just more of the same of what has just been outlined (6). If this call to renunciation is seen in that light, it feels not like a gift but an imposition. (‘No good deed goes unpunished’!) What makes it possible to recognise it as a gift, a grace? Mainly the companionship of others who have discovered the joy of service. It is not an attitude we are meant to attain through yet more effort, but a gift received from the graciousness of others who have already received it. The disciples of Jesus received this gift and have passed it on. We need to go and spend time with those who have also received it. It will rub off on us, and then we can be the means by which others too will receive it. If we think of God's plan in this way, we avoid the notion that God is smothering us, or regimenting us, or using us. On the contrary, God is leading us by stages to a deeper freedom, which leads to deeper communion, and joy, in spite of sacrifice and suffering. This joy is more unshakeable because it has already seen the worst. In letting go of all the reasons I could have for resenting a life of service, letting go of so much of what seems to be my particularity, my spontaneity, I discover the deeper particularity and spontaneity of being loved by God in the fully personal way that previously eluded me. In a way we come full circle back to the beginning, the recipient of God’s full and undivided attention, that which was always our deepest longing anyway. Paradoxically, by giving my full attention to others I become more fully myself. This is not a pious platitude but something that can be discovered step-by-step in following God's unfolding plan for me.

The 'Self-Made Man'

8. If we do not recognise this emptying of self as a gift and a joy, we will tend to get locked into an attitude of redoubling our efforts, accentuating even more our own strengths, and ultimately being self-serving in more subtle ways. Blinded to the graciousness of God's plan we will serve only to compound the problems we aim to solve. Alternatively we might just give up even trying to see it from God's perspective, and drift, or despair.