“Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
At one time I was contemplating the priestly and religious life. I considered what it would be like to take on the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. I remember having a conversation with someone at the time who asked if I could handle a life with no or little material possessions and never having physical intimacy. I said that that might be a struggle. But the real problem for me would have been the obedience.
Growing up was not an overly rebellious child. I did not act out against my parents in ways beyond the typical teenage tropes. But I will say that, as my mother puts it, I marched to the beat of a different drum. Or to put it more plainly: I was weird. When I became obsessed with Billy the Kid, I wore toy six-shooters wherever I went in public, even when my parents took me shopping (I should mention I was older than you are probably imagining). Once at a junior high dance while everyone else was acting normally, I decided to start a game of tag with my friends instead. When my mother insisted that I didn’t wear sneakers to go see The Nutcracker, I put on dress shoes: one brown one and one black one.
My point is that I very much like to do things my way and in my time. I don’t think that I am unique in this, but doing simply because I am told has never been my thing. That is why the thought of religious life was such a challenge. In my studies of the saints, they would often be told to do things by their superiors that were downright stupid. But they would have to obey.
I remember reading the story of one saint in a convent who had a nun in higher authority who did not like her. So, the superior ordered her to sit on a table while the older superior nun cleaned the kitchen. The sitting nun was forbidden to explain that she had been ordered to sit and do nothing under the constraint of obedience. When other nuns walked by they saw a scene of what appeared to be a young, able-bodied woman watching uncaringly at her much elder fellow sister humbly laboring. The older nun wanted to make the younger nun look badly and wanted to make herself look humble and selfless.
This story filled me with indignation. I don’t think I could endure such a shaming. But the young nun who went on to become a saint burned with charity for the older nun. She prayed for her, not in a judgmental way, but in a sincere desire to deliver her from her false humility. And the saintly nun was grateful to the Lord for the opportunity to exercise obedience.
When evaluating someone from the religious life for possible canonization for sainthood, they look at how they followed the vow of obedience. If there is a case of unrepentant disobedience to a superior, the cause of canonization is thrown out. This is how seriously obedience is taken.
But why? Are we not meant to think for ourselves and choose for ourselves? Is that not why God gave us a free will?This objection makes a great deal of sense. That is, it makes a great deal of sense if we ignore the reality of Original Sin.
Because of Original Sin, our nature has been broken. Our hearts and souls are corrupted, not beyond redemption, but corrupted nonetheless. I am turned inward and begin to worship my own ego, the self. I place myself on the throne where God should sit.
If my compass is broken, how can I expect it to lead me in the right direction? If my heart is broken, how can following it get me where I need to go?
As I said, were are not completely depraved as John Calvin thought. We still are made in God’s image, though the imaged has been scarred. And we have His voice in us through the presence of the conscience. But the draw to selfish, rather than Godly, ends is often too strong.
If you tell a child to do whatever he or she wants at all times, do you think that child will grow to be a happy adult? Probably not. Because children need guidance from those who are wiser. As adults we think we are the wise ones, but we must remember Wisdom Itself is with God alone.
And so we have to give over our will to God. We must surrender.
When we say in the Lord’s Prayer that we want God’s will to be done “on Earth as it is in Heaven,” we are acknowledging the difference between life in both places. In Heaven, there is only goodness and love. No sin can enter the presence of God in Heaven. When we are in that place, we will do God’s will without hesitation or restraint. There is no impediment between His will and our living it out. But here on Earth, we do not have this unity. We know what God wants of us. But His will is not done by us because of our sin, our selfishness, our pride, our greed, our lusts, our laziness, and any other vice.
When we pray this part of the Lord ’s Prayer, we are asking God to help us remove this impediment in our own lives. We are asking Him to make it so that we will obey His will now the way we will in Heaven. In other words, we are praying to have the will of the saints.
Obedience is the key to salvation. Christ gave us this model in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed “Not my will, but They will be done.” (Lk 22:42) Unlike us, Jesus did not have Original Sin. And yet, He took on some effects of that sin, including suffering and death. And when faced with the horror of Calvary, in His humanity Christ desired a way out of suffering. It is okay to wish to avoid suffering. Christ did too.
But do not confuse the desire with the will. You can feel fear, but courage is the choice to act in spite of that fear. Jesus felt a desire for safety. But He willed Himself to do the Father’s will.
The Virgin Mary was the same as she said to Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) This is not a passive receiving of the will, but an active reaching out in acceptance. “Yes, Lord! I want Your will in my life!”
Why must we give over our will? Because God wants us to be happy. If we simply follow our desires, they will lead us to destruction. But if we follow the will of the Wise One, the One who loves us most, they we will find the path salvation.
CS Lewis put it best in his novel, The Great Divorce:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”
Copyright 2016, W.L.Grayson