In the book of Psalms, David speaks of contenment with one’s lot in life:
The lines are fallen unto me in goodly places: for my inheritance is goodly to me. (Psalm 16:6)
In modern society, there is often a strong separation between our spiritual lives and our practical lives in the world. Sure, we may go to Mass, say our prayers, and so on, but when it’s time to deal with “real life” issues–education, college, career, business, and so on, there seems to be little relation between what goes on in our “spiritual life” and what goes on everywhere else. We just go with the flow, doing what others are doing, considering anything else to be “weird”.
The problem with this divided thinking is that our spiritual life is, actually, our “real life”. The moment we die, and God recalls our soul from its temporary place in our earthly bodies, all that will exist is our spiritual life, and a history of deeds done in the flesh. After death, we will stand alone, before God, and be judged. The only thing that will matter is whether we did God’s will or did not. If we die in the state of grace, absolved of the guilt of our sins through Baptism and Confession, we will have eternal life, but will be forced to pay the debt owed for any temporal effects of sins committed while we lived. If we do not die in a state of grace, we will be punished in hell, forever.
Whether or not we were “weird” will not matter and we need to learn to think spiritually about our lives and live soberly. We need to make decisions based not on what others are doing or what we, in our wild, carnal thoughts, “want to do”. We need to see ourselves as God’s creatures, made for His glory, and submit our lives, plans, vocations, decisions, etc., to His will.
Contrary to the popular message that’s taught among Christians, that God’s will is a confusing mystery, God’s will is very simple to understand. God has given us commandments to direct our lives and those commandments reveal His will. The questions we have to answer, if we think spiritually, are not, “Should I go to law school?” or “Shoud I get married?”, but, “Does this require me to sin against God?”
That’s the only question we need to ask if we would know God’s will in our lives. It’s very simple.
Now, in the context of our everyday lives, if we think spiritually, with God’s commandments as the “light for our path”, we will learn some very interesting things, which the people around us don’t seem to realize. We will find that God’s commandments mark out for as, as individuals, a specific “lot” or inheritance in life, for which there is no alternative. God’s commandments set a hedge about us, in which we may live happily with God’s blessing on all that we do. If we attempt, however, to move out from that place, God will chasten us and drive us back where we belong.
“For whom the Lord loveth, he chastiseth.” (Proverbs 3:12)
The problem we face in life is that, when we are young, we look out at a world that seems to offer endless opportunities. The teenager stands looking out into the world like a kid in a toy store. Those who are not spiritually minded deceive young men and women, telling them that they can “do whatever the want to”. That may be true, but it may also lead them to hell. The reality is that, within God’s will, there is actually only one thing that we can do in this life–and that is our lot.
Unfortunately, almost every person must learn of his lot the hard way–by attempting to do things that are not God’s will, and being chastised for them. I’ll offer my own experience as a good example.
After my conversion as an 18 year old, my life enjoyed almost non-stop success. God provided me with a beautiful, Christian wife. I was successful in my college studies and won awards at a great university. I was offered my first full-time teaching job before I even finished my degree studies. As a Christian classics teacher, God provided me with a brand new home for my family to enjoy. My children were born and lived with perfect health. In 2008, I started the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, and it exploded in two years’ time. I was, at that moment, settled in my lot, blessed on all sides, living a happy, devout Catholic life.
Then, I was tempted to do something that would lead me beyond the hedges of my lot into a work that was not God’s will. In my prosperity, I listened to people who asked me to consider doing something bigger–starting a private school. This invitation came from Catholic parents around me, from family members–even from priests in my life. Doing so required me to borrow a great deal of money, take a number of great risks, and depend on the help of many others. I prayed for wisdom in making the decision and choice to go ahead and pursue it.
The next 8 years of my life would be miserable. I was distracted from my life’s true work, which caused it to decline. I was overwhelmed with tasks and problems to deal with every day. I was not helped by people who promised to help me. I was distracted from the devout life of prayer and worship I had enjoyed before. My family was disturbed and struggled to deal with the stress of the work. This went on and on until I finally learned my lesson–and shut everything down.
Once the decision was made to return to my former life, it was as if the Lord commanded the winds and waves to stop–“Peace, be still!”. Over the past 2 years, my family has been returning to the simple life we enjoyed before, and all of the blessings of that life have been restored to us. This was–and is–my lot in life and God chastised me when I attempted to depart from it. Some would argue that, objectively, I did nothing wrong. I prayed for wisdom. I listened to counsel. I trusted in Christian people. I worked as hard as I could. I even helped several boys enter religious vocations. Despite all of these things, the work of the private school was not my lot, and that was made clear to me in a million ways.
Now, we can see many examples of this in Sacred Scripture, and this spiritual direction is the purpose of God’s word.
One good example is found in the life of the prophet Jonas (Jonah). It was God’s will that Jonas preach to the people of Nineveh. That was his lot in life, as a prophet of God–but Jonas did not want to do this. He wanted to do something else. Now, there is nothing in the Commandments that say a man must preach to a certain people. Jonas was not breaking the law by avoiding this calling. Yet, when he sought to leave the lot marked out for him, God chastised him. We read:
“Jonas rose up to flee into Tharsis from the face of the Lord, and he went down to Joppe, and found a ship going to Tharsis: and he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them to Tharsis from the face of the Lord. But the Lord sent a great wind into the sea: and a great tempest was raised in the sea, and the ship was in danger to be broken.” (Jonah 1)
Imagine Jonas, seeking some other opportunity or mission, heading out on the ship and, all of a sudden, seeing the weather change–the wind begins to pick up, clouds roll in, the sea becomes rough. At that moment, he could have said, “Nevermind, I have to get back.”, but he didn’t. He tried to press on but the storm became so unnaturally troublesome that the men on the ship knew it was God’s doing. They cast lots, deciding that whomever the lot fell to would be thrown overboard. The lot fell to Jonas. He confessed his fault and was cast out of the ship. Once removed from the ship, the storm ceased–but Jonas’ chastisement did not. It was in this context that the story of Jonas and the whale occurred. God caused Jonas to be swallowed by a whale, transported through the sea, and vomited up on the shore. For the details of this great story–read the book. It’s worth it.
Another example is found in King David. To king David, unmatched grace was given. He was anointed king of Israel while he was a boy. He was given glory by God in his famous victory over Goliath. He was surounded with enemies all his life, and the Lord gave him victory over them all. He was inspired by the Holy Spirit to compose the psalms of Sacred Scripture, which supply the prayer of the Church to this day. Yet, like all men, David was assigned a lot beyond which he was not allowed to pass.
David, after conquering all of Israel’s enemies and establishing peace in the promised land, desired to build God’s temple in Jerusalem. He had the men. He had the resources. He had the wisdom. He prepared everything and was about to begin the work, when God stopped him.
“Thou shalt not build a house to my name: because thou art a man of war, and hast shed blood.” (1 Chronicles 28)
David learned of his lot when he reached its limit. At that point, he could have sinned and pressed on with his plans, but he did not. Instead, he spoke the words we read at the opening of this article:
The lines are fallen unto me in goodly places: for my inheritance is goodly to me. (Psalm 16:6)
When we learn of our lot in life, if we accept it, we can enjoy a life of peace and happiness. If we do not, we will be chastised by God, as a loving father who seeks to keeps us where we belong. If we reach beyond the limits of our lot in life, we will find ourselves tempted to disobey God’s commands and, consequently, disobey God’s will. Even if our works are “good” in and of themselves, they may not be good for us.
As parents, we need to learn this lesson in our own life, as we work out the details of our careers and families. God is ultimately in control of everything, and he sets real limits upon us that we are not able to move beyond without sin and chastisement. In the homeschool world, you have the “Design your own curriculum!” people pumping this message that “anything is possible” into your head, leading so many family into misery. When the saints tell us how to educate oursleves and our children, we need to listen. Remember, when we say “Anything is possible”, we qualify that by adding “with God”. When we act against God, or without God, nothing is possible without sin and punishment. We usually have to learn this the hard way.
Even more so, our children must go through this process, learning that they cannot “do whatever they want” in life without sinning against God and suffering for it. This process of chastisement will usually, in the end, lead our children back where they belong, but they will often spend years fighting against God’s sovereignty in their lives, trying everything they can to do their will until they finally learn that their happiness lies in God alone. Parents need to understand this, be spiritually-minded, and welcome the children back when they return–even if that’s multiple times. Jesus told us to “forgive seventy times seven” for a reason. It’s normal Christian life.
There’s a lot more to say here, but I think that’s enough to chew on for a while.
William C. Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy
Mr. William C. Michael is the founding headmaster of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. He graduated from Rutgers University with an honors degree in Classics & Ancient History and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Mr. Michael has worked in private education as a Classics teacher and administrator for over 20 years. He is a Roman Catholic homeschooling father of ten children, and keeper of a quiet family farm in North Carolina. Mr. Michael enjoys studying ancient natural philosophy, gardening, and running.