We read it in scripture, hear if from the pulpit, church small groups study ways to do it, Christian bookstores are filled with titles that will tell us how: "Seek God to find ...." You can probably fill in the blank. "Seek God to find Happiness"; "Seek God to find Peace"; "Seek God to find Security". The list might be a long one: Consolation ... Meaning in My Life ... Comfort ... Security ... Wealth ...Joy.
We trust that God will be the answer to — or provide an answer to — what it is we seek to find, what it is we think we need. It is good and healthy that we realize God is the source of all that is good. We trust that if we are searching, we should look to God.
If you've read some of my Reflections, you probably realize that I'm going to take issue with those thoughts, or at least suggest an alternative. You'd be partially correct. In this case, however, I think I'd only suggest a caution.
And, you might also guess that I'll throw in a little scripture. You'd be right. This scripture comes after Jesus tells us not to worry about what we should eat, drink, and wear: "... your heavenly Father knows that you need them ... "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness ... and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matt. 6:32-33 NIV; Luke 12:31 says about the same thing, but leaves out righteousness.) My caution is that in our seeking, the goal should be to Seek God. Leave off or de-emphasize the "to Find."
Perhaps, rather than, "God, help me find happiness," our prayer might better be, "God, help me to know you, show me your ways, help me to see as You see." Seek God to see and better understand the Big Picture. And, with a better understanding of God's Big Picture, we may see — and experience — the Divine Happiness, Peace, Security, and all that we seek to find. "... And all these will be given to you.
Frequent readers might predict that now I'll throw in a Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote or two. But, you'd be wrong on this. I won't. I do need to confess, however, that my oft-quoted preacher/theologian did provide the stimulus for this Reflection. In his Life Together he writes of the promise of meditation, which concludes with, "Seek God, not happiness — that is the fundamental rule of all meditation. If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness." (I guess I did sneak in a short quote.)
I think there is also a very practical side beyond the spiritual to leave off the "to find" and simply Seek God. I see the latter as our giving God space to work. I may seek God to find happiness, but perhaps God has something else in mind to give me. When I identify happiness as what I want to find, I may not even recognize a gift or blessing God chooses to place in front of me. I miss God's gift to me because I had already decided what I needed was happiness (or security, or consolation, or ....) So, in disappointment, I end up thinking, "I sought God for happiness. God must not have heard or answered my prayer."
In similar manner, we often err by deciding ahead of time where we will find God. "I will go to the mountain top to find God." ... "I'll go to the Men's Retreat; I know I will find God in that experience." ... "I need to hear God speak; I will go and sit by the brook." All good things to do. But, in a way, I am deciding where I will find God, where I will hear God speak. Perhaps, though, God is trying to show Himself in the gas station attendant where I stopped to fill up on my way to the mountain top. Perhaps God wants to speak to me not by the quiet stream, but on the busy, noisy streets of the city. And, I miss seeing and hearing God. God wasn't where I looked; the Divine voice wasn't speaking where I expected to hear it.
I believe in seeking God we need to hone the skills that allow our eyes and ears to encounter God where and when God chooses to be revealed. We don't set the appointment; we don't choose the place. It may be helpful to consider the Jesuits' signature component of Ignatian spirituality: "God is active in our world; Find God in all things."
This Advent and Christmas season may provide the opportunity to focus on a basic quest: Seek God. These special seasons may put us in a mindset to see God in the unexpected, in the unanticipated. I always wonder: The scriptures don't say, but did the magi have any idea the king they were looking for would be found in a stable, with common folk as parents? They must have had their minds and hearts open to the unanticipated. God may not be where we choose to look. God's gift to us may not be what we thought we wanted. God's message to us may not be what we've hoped to hear.
May we grow in our trust of God to receive happiness and the peace that passes all understanding ... by simply Seeking God.
Again, regular readers probably are thinking: "Ok. Here's where he should stop; but he won't. He'll add some other thoughts — often good ones — but make his Reflection too long." Well, they would be wrong. I have more I could say, but I won't. Besides, I have some Christmas shopping to finish. Well, maybe one last, tiny comment.
I may go to Midnight Mass and in that setting expect, or at least hope, I will hear God speak to me. I pray, though, that my heart and ears may be attuned to realize that God may choose to speak to me through the department store's harried clerk when I do my last-minute shopping.