“In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” (Ex 17:3) The third Sunday of Lent recounts the Exodus, where just after being freed from over 400 years of slavery, the people who have just seen God deliver them through the 10 plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea and who is taking them to the promised land, now complain against Moses, doubt God’s presence, and even want to go back into slavery in Egypt!
I sum up this passage in the book of Exodus this way: the people were unhappy before their Exodus, and they are unhappy after! The only difference is that after their Exodus (deliverance from slavery), they are free. As free people, they have no reason not to be happy. However, now free for the first time in their lives, they have not yet learned how to “use” freedom. Instead of accepting responsibility for their lives and seeking happiness in freedom, they find it EASIER make excuses to justify why they are unhappy. They blame Moses for freeing them, and say they would rather return to Egypt to be slaves again! Being slaves again would at least give them an excuse for their unhappiness.
Our lives are not much different. We are born in slavery. As infants, and youth, we are born into this world totally dependent on others. As we mature, we long to be free, but once having reached maturity, we often still are not happy in our new freedom. Rather than learning how to live in freedom and be happy, we often act like people in the above passage from Exodus; we blame others for our unhappiness, and seek to return to slavery. We often blame our parents for how we were raised, or we blame others who might have harmed us. We become enslaved by seeking happiness in consumerism, materialism, excessive work, in drugs, alcohol, sex. We seek happiness and become dependent on others through unhealthy relationships. We seek happiness and become enslaved to our passions through pornography, social media, excesses of food, etc. Like the people in the above Exodus passage, our blaming of others and submitting ourselves to these slaveries, is because we really don’t know how to use our freedom.
What is freedom for? Scripture does tell us. In St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians 5:13 we read; “After all, brothers [and sisters], you were called to be free; do not use your freedom as an opening for self-indulgence, but be servants to one another in love, since the whole of the Law is summarized in the one commandment: You must love your neighbor as yourself.” We were created in God’s image and likeness (Gn 1:27), and “God is Love” (1 Jn 4:8). We therefore were created to Love. But to truly Love, one must have the option not to Love, because Love is a gift freely given. So, this is then why we have freedom; to be available for Love! Love is choosing to do what is best for another, not counting the cost, or seeking gain for yourself. To choose to love, requires that we be free to choose not to love, or, that is to sin. The only proper use of freedom is to choose to love and serve others. Nothing else will make us happy. Freedom can be abused, as we seek to find ways to be happy, but it only leads to slavery unless we choose to Love and serve others.
We all have a common purpose in our lives; to Love and serve one another. Our unique purpose, or vocation, is the specific way we love and serve others, using the gifts and talents God uniquely gave us. Finding your vocation is simply finding your way to love and serve others. Finding that vocation requires that we accept our freedom, and use it for love and service, and avoid slavery. Therefore, finding God’s will in our lives, requires detachment from slavery, so to be free to love and serve in the ways guided by the desires God has put in our heart. How do we do this? Well the above passage also shows us “the way” to the promised land. Let me explain.
If you examine the lives of the saints, a common element that has enabled them to find God’s will in their lives was solitude. St. Francis was a prisoner of war, and after that forced solitude, spent many years in the solitude of prayer. St. Ignatius of Loyola found his call while in solitude recovering from a war injury. St. John of the Cross and Catherine of Sienna developed much of their deep prayer life through both forced and chosen solitude. In the Exodus story, the desert represents the need to journey through solitude, on the way to the promised land. Why is solitude such a great teacher? Because it forces us to detach ourselves from slavery, and discover the right use of freedom; love. In solitude, we have nothing! We can have no unhealthy attachments to others, or to things. We are forced to survive on only the one thing that is necessary (Lk 10:42) sitting at the feet of Jesus, gazing on him, loving him, and receiving His Love. This fills us, and empowers us to love others. As we then seek to love others, and listen to the desires of our heart, we discover the ways of serving that touch our deepest desire, and we find God’s will for our lives.
To go about finding our vocation, or finding God’s will for our lives, then requires we live a life of detachment, free from slavery, free to find the way of service that most fills us with Joy. We must live chaste lives, free from unhealthy relationships. We must live simple lives, free from slavery to materialism, consumerism. We must live lives free from sin and slavery to our passions. In short, we must first seek holiness, to be free to find our call. Otherwise, we are slaves, wondering in the wilderness, never finding the promised land. Seek not your vocation to become holy, rather, seek holiness to find your vocation!
Lent is a time where we focus on detachment from slavery, through “the way of the desert” that is prayer and solitude, to be free to follow God’s will in our lives. I pray you continue to have a blessed lent.
Consider coming on our next Come and See Experience, April 28-30 in Castro Valley, CA to learn more about discernment and the Franciscan way of life. Click here for more details. Peace and All Good!