I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.
We are in a constant state of becoming, and the obvious dichotomy divides us into those who are becoming more than what we are (growth), and those who are becoming less than what they are (decay). But there is still another dichotomy, perhaps more subtle, yet certainly of greater importance: the division between those who are intentionally becoming and those who are allowing their circumstances to dictate who they are becoming.
Look upon those bitter souls for whom every human interaction is a matter of inconvenience, for whom everyone is at odds with their desires. They have undoubtedly met with circumstances where they have been harmed by other people. Maybe they were abandoned by their parents as children, or their hearts were broken by a lover. It is possible that they were betrayed by a friend, lost a child, or encountered some other manner of hardship inflicted upon them by the purposeful or accidental cruelty of another. Such people have permitted circumstance to define who they are becoming, and far from growing, their decay alienates them further from their fellow man and detaches them all the more abruptly from the Divine presence of God.
One might protest that we are all defined by our circumstances; we cannot help but to be shaped by them. This is hardly the case. Our circumstances indeed force us into new and different experiences, but the circumstances themselves are merely the external factors of our experiences. Two people may be injured in the same automobile accident, but experience it differently. Their circumstances are the same, but the internal factors that define their reaction to that circumstance more substantively delineates the future recollection and lessons gained from the totality of the experience.
It is certainly possible that there are people who go through life passively from circumstance to circumstance who grow and are becoming more than they are, but this seems not only unlikely, but something rather dangerous to leave to chance.
Our English word ‘intention’ comes from the Latin intentio which means “stretching, purpose” and is derived from the Latin verbe tendere. It is rather apt to conceive of our intentionality of becoming as a stretching process. To be intentional means more than to react to a circumstance in a positive way. It means to internalize the experience and to make it a part of oneself. If we imagine our souls as a global surface on which we affix postmarks of our experiences, then in order to add a new postmark, we must stretch our soul into a larger sphere. This requires conscious intentionality.
Such a process also necessitates a certain level of risk taking. Not only must we take risks in order to be given opportunities to grow (the risk averse tend to be those people in a constant state of decay), but we must also take risks in the context of each experience. We must often stretch our souls in advance of the benefits of a new experience, or to accommodate a new person in our lives, leaving open the possibility that in creating new space, we may ultimately fail in filling it, with the remaining void emerging as a new source of pain. Sometimes our growth must come from how we experience new sources of pain, and so while we may be stretching ourselves in order to gain some particular positive experience, it may be that what we actually learn derives from the failure to reach those expectations.
The beauty of this reality is that eventually, every risk we take will garner us some reward in positively shaping our process of becoming, whether it is the one we were hoping for or not. Quite frequently, it is the unexpected outcome that is the most rewarding.
Nevertheless, there is a distinction between healthy risk-taking and recklessness, and the ability to discern between the two is a necessary spiritual and intellectual skill, one that must be practiced, developed, and honed over the course of time in divers and numerous experiences. It is the concept of discernment that we will examine next.
In the meanwhile, however, let us reflect on our intentionality, how we define who we are becoming, and how we must see opportunities for growth outside of what is comfortable. We will invariably find riches beyond the capacity of our imaginations to conceive if we set ourselves toward growth. The world in which we live is filled with an abundance of options, choices, ways to live, ways to organize our lives, ways to spend our time, many of which are outside the realm of the regular and expected. Setting ourselves toward growth means setting ourselves up to explore these possibilities, wherein we discover the riches of God in the fulfillment of our vocation to become united with the Divine.