Tag Archives: life path

Does God have a plan for your life? Ralph Waldo Emerson has a compelling answer.

Path of Life, Christopher Michel, San Francisco, USA

Path of Life, Christopher Michel, San Francisco, USA

God’s plan for your life isn’t a map you see all at once, but a scroll unrolled a little at a time, requiring faith. ~Rick Warren, pastor and author

In Christian circles, it’s common to believe that God has a plan for your life. It’s an idea called predestination (aka religious determinism) and, as hinted at by the quote above, it basically means that all the events in your life have been predetermined by God. To back up this claim, the following Biblical passage is frequently cited:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declared the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11

Now this may be comforting to some, but for a lot us this idea has a couple of issues. Problem one: What about free will? Don’t I get a say in what happens in my life? Problem two: How do I know what my plan is? Do I need to live my life on autopilot waiting for my plan to reveal itself?

Well, there are answers to these questions and they come from the person who I believe is our all-time greatest American spiritual philosopher: Ralph Waldo Emerson. It should be noted here that Emerson is a former Unitarian minister who left his post at age 29, as he could no longer live abide by the church’s rigid dogma. So his ideas are not solely Biblically-based. (See more on Emerson’s spiritual philosophy here.)

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson was convinced we all had a preordained path in life, but also thought that you and I play a vital role in calling the shots. According to noted Emerson scholar Richard Gelhard, RWE believed in a “subtle order of divinity which lay beneath and behind the manifest world.” This meant that “human beings don’t have power…the universe does; it is full of power; flowing, waiting and accessible.

Yet Emerson also believed that “an individual who understands the laws of power can move into its flowing and allow it to wield its instruments.” In other words, by engaging with the flow of life, we can tap into this power source and use it to help guide us down the proper path.

In an essay titled Spiritual Laws, Emerson wrote that there was “guidance for each of us” that could help us “hear the right word”. He believed this higher power was self-evident if we stayed alert to our surroundings:

A little consideration of what takes place around us every day would show us that a higher power than that of our will regulates events; that our painful labors are unnecessary and fruitless; that only in our easy, simple, spontaneous action are we strong, and by contenting ourselves with obedience we become divine.

In another passage from the same essay, Emerson more passionately states his belief in a higher power that can comfort and guide us:

A believing love will relieve us of a vast load of care. O my brothers, God exists. There is a soul at the center of nature and over the will of every man…it has so infused its strong attachment into nature that we prosper when we accept its advice.

Like Emerson, another noted American spiritual philosopher, Ram Dass, also has a belief in the power of intuition to guide us. In this passage from his book Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita, Ram Dass instructs us to use this inner sense of direction to our advantage:

Begin paying more attention to the inner voice of our intuition, because that’s the clue to what we should be doing. We start to listen to the tiny, intuitive whisper that the Quakers call “the still small voice within”.

My take is that Emerson’s ideas ring true: there is a personal plan for each of us to follow. If we listen to our intuition and the divine guidance we can find within, we can steer ourselves in the right direction. To help us, signposts, clues and coincidences appear along the way to verify we are on the correct life path or to help point us to a new one.

Of course, there is still free will, so you can always choose to make decisions that are strictly based on your own brain power and whims. But for me, it’s a little more comforting to know that assistance is available when and if you want it.

This post previously appeared on my Patheos Wake Up Call column, January 14, 2015.

Finding your way on the winding path we call life.

Winding-Road-150x150How do you walk through life? Are you sure-footed with a specific destination in mind? Or do you meander, unsure of your direction or where you’re headed?

Several months ago, I wrote about finding your path in life, or what’s also known as “finding your calling“. I thought this quote by David Spangler did a great job of summing up what a calling meant:

We all possess a gift or talent that we are attracted to and enjoy doing…this gift ultimately connects us to others. This is our calling.

Yet, while at first glance this may sound easy, finding the “gift or talent that connects us with others” can be hard. In fact, I believe it may be one of the most difficult tasks we tackle in this lifetime. Because there can be a lot of questions that come with our quest for calling or purpose:

  • What exactly is my gift or talent?
  • How do I incorporate it into my path in life?
  • How can I be sure I’m on the right path?
  • What if my calling makes life more difficult?

There are no road signs that alert us that we’re on the right course—or tell us that we need to make a turn or a course correction. So the fact is we need to figure it all out for ourselves, and determine how we can best build a life with meaning and purpose, and make the most of our own personal potential.

Since my last story, I’ve come across several additional pointers, that may help you get closer to finding your calling—or perhaps offer you some motivation or comfort if you’re already on your path.

Pointer #1. Your purpose can emerge in a number of different ways.

In her book The Wisdom to Know the Difference, Eileen Flanagan writes of an Episcopalian group of laypeople on a mission: they want to uncover the best way to find “God’s purpose for our lives”. To do this, they read through a ton of scripture and spiritual autobiographies. Their conclusion? Our purpose can come to us not in one way, but in one of many ways:

It can emerge through a gnawing feeling that we need to do a specific thing. On occasion, it can burst forth as a sudden awareness of a path that God would have us take. (Our) call may be emphatic and unmistakable, or it may be obscure and subtle. In whatever way (our) call is experienced, God has chosen to speak to us and bids us to listen.

Pointer #2. When you need answers, look within.

From John Templeton to Napoleon Hill, the spiritual leaders I admire most believe the answers we seek can be found within. So what’s the secret to tapping into this internal source of knowledge? I start by quieting the mind, through meditation or prayer, and once settled, contemplate what my next best move might be.

But I was recently reminded that there’s another key component to finding the answers we seek: faith. We have to believe the answers are available to us or they’ll continue to remain a mystery. In The Spirit of Happiness, Discovering God’s Purpose for Your Life, the scholar T. Byram Karasu describes faith like this:

To believe—to have faith—in God means trusting there is a reason for the existence of everything in his world and beyond, and there is a meaning in its mystery. It means believing that there is a Holy Purpose (for you).

Pointer #3. You can find help along the way—one way or another.

I recently wrote about mentorship, and how if you don’t have a person to emulate in your own life, you should find a public figure you admire—and study all you can about him or her. You can then intuit how these people might handle situations and opportunities that are occurring in your own life.

I’m a fan of the inspirational blogger and author James Altucher who also recently talked to mentorship and came to a similar conclusion. Our net: we don’t actually need a living, breathing mentor at our side to receive the expert guidance we need. According to Altucher:

Everyone wants a mentor. I picture some old guy saying, “Ha ha, here’s how we did it in my day. Here’s what you should do.” and then he lays it out exactly what is the secret mystical formula for life fulfillment. It doesn’t work that way. Everything in life is your mentor. Think of everything you see or do as mentoring you.

Pointer #4. No one said it was going to be easy.

One of my go-to biblical experts is Pastor Joe Quatrone, Jr. Through his blog, he has brought me a greater understanding of the Bible by talking about how its lessons relate to our everyday lives. Joe points out that we can expect to face hardships along our path.

The journey of life is not paved in blacktop; it is not brightly lit like the “Yellow Brick Road.” It is a rocky path through the wilderness. It is not a linear road where we take one step after another in a straightforward progression. That is not what the road is like. Rather, it is a series of twists and turns, and there is nothing simple or straightforward about it.

Yet once you get past the rough patches, you will always come out stronger on the other side. And while your own path may not move in a straight line, there are always interesting life lessons to be learned along the way. As Byram Karasu points out, the important thing is to keep your destination in mind, and should you ever believe you have lost your way, pause and look within.

Pointer #5. Once you discover your purpose, life becomes easier.

It is the toughest task you will ever face. But once you define your purpose, the meaning of your life will become clearer and all other tasks, no matter how difficult they may seem, will become easier.

This quote, again by Karasu, points out that the sooner you’re able to uncover the gift or talent that connects you with others, the better. Because once your purpose is uncovered, you get to practice getting better at it each day. You can practice being a better coach or mentor, a better veterinarian or volunteer, a better baker or painter, a better whatever your calling may be.

And as time goes by, you not only make more connections, you make stronger connections. You find that you’re not only helping to enrich the lives of others, but that this is the key to your own happiness as well.