Walking with God: Trusting in God’s Providence
Many changes have swept over Dartmouth College these past couple months. Spring term was moved online; trips, sports, and studies abroad were cancelled; and the Provost just announced that the 2020 Summer term would follow suit. Graduating students may be wondering how to best move forward after college; some people may be in the midst of a job search; and some students may simply be trying to establish a reasonable course of study for the next couple terms. With so many required adjustments and with no clear end to them in sight, it can be daunting to try to plan for the future. One may become discouraged or feel lost amidst so many uncertainties, but the Gospel today reminds us that we are never alone in our discernment and we can trust in God’s provident care. Our Lord Jesus wants to walk with us and show us the way forward, and if we let Him into our lives, He will reveal Himself to us and lead us to fulfillment with Him.
In Luke’s Gospel today, we encounter the famous story of the two disciples who meet Jesus on the way to Emmaus [Lk. 24: 13-35]. At first they don’t recognize Jesus and they share with Him how disappointed and confused they feel about having lost their master who was crucified in Jerusalem. After listening intently to their story, Jesus responds rather surprisingly, saying, “How foolish you are!” [v.25] He doesn’t deny their reality, but He points out how limited in scope it is, how forgetful they are of God’s saving love. He then reveals to them the layers of significance of their situation, how the death of Christ was prophesied throughout the Old Testament and part of God’s designs [v.26-27]. As their day draws to a close, the disciples ask the Lord to stay with them and they eventually recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. When Jesus vanishes from their company, the disciples return to Jerusalem filled with zeal and share this experience with others [v. 29-35].
The Gospel reveals that Jesus journeys with us and doesn’t merely observe our lives from afar. He is a fellow sojourner, interested in what we have to say, and ready for a frank conversation. He speaks into our reality, addresses us personally, and offers insight, direction, and meaning where at first we could see none. He reminds us of His unfailing love and surprising designs for us. However, we have to be willing to travel with Him, speak with Him from the heart, and listen to His response, just as the disciples did. They had to spend time with Jesus before they recognized and understood His plans, and the same goes for us. We cannot force our lives or our ideas along, we must let them grow with the patience that the Eternal Gardener has for us.
In my own life, I’ve found these lessons to be true: at times I may lose sight of God’s providence and feel it’s all my responsibility to figure things out. I have often not recognized Jesus in my midst, desiring a conversation and wanting to offer His grace. How often have I not thought to ask God for help? How often have I doubted that He will guide me? Sometimes in hindsight I can see how God was at work and begin to understand His desires for me, but I’ve also learned that discernment is not a one-time experience and is firmly rooted in the present.
The truth is, God always calls us to greater life and wants to deepen our trust in Him. He sees how small our faith is, how weak our trust, how narrow our perspective, yet He doesn’t reject us. As St. Peter writes in his letter today, from the foundation of the earth the Triune God has known us and desired to bring us to believe in Him through Jesus Christ [1 Pt. 1:18-21]. He loves us and wants to lead us to the fullness of life and joy in His presence forever, if only we’ll keep His company [Acts 2:28; Ps.16:11]. Therefore, we can move forward in confidence, trusting that our Father will bring good out of our decisions. We can trust that if we walk with Christ and listen for Him, rather than try to do everything on our own, He will show us the path to life. In the end, if we are walking with God, then we need only do the best we can with what we have and leave the rest to Him.
So wherever you are in your life journey, whether you’re looking for a job, deciding on a major, or trying to plan for post-graduation, bring God into the picture: ask Him for light and guidance, ask Him what He thinks would be good, ask Him to reveal to you your own desires. Cultivate a habit of daily or weekly prayer where you have a heart-to-heart with God and let Him know where you are at, what you are deciding, what you desire, and what you fear. Lay it all on Him, He wants to hear it from you. And then set time aside to listen: talk with trusted loved ones and consider what they say; read the scriptures and ponder its relevance to your situation; set aside quiet times to listen for God’s voice, and above all don’t worry. You can trust that He is with you and He will not abandon you to figure it out on your own. Over time, the pieces will come together, the small practical steps you take will open up doors, and your prayer with God and self-reflection will tune your soul to hear His call. Then, like the disciples, you’ll realize at what times your “heart was burning” [v.32]– burning with zeal, love, hope,– and you can pursue what is truly life-giving for you, what makes your heart burn with inspiration and joy.
Each of our lives look very different right now, and these unprecedented changes may be causing challenges, revisions, and outright cancellations in our plans. But we need not be disheartened. Jesus Christ sojourns with us as He did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus; the Holy Spirit dwells within us and will inspire our hope; and the Father will provide for us, as He has from the foundation of the earth. If we remain God’s companions and rely on His Providence, we can trust He will bring about what is best for us. So in faith we sing with the Psalmist that the Lord is always with us and He counsels us along the way [Ps. 16:7-8]. We believe the Lord has great plans in store for us and will not abandon us. Therefore we can be glad, trusting Him in confidence that He will show us the paths to joy and fulfillment, now and forever [Ps. 16:9-11].