Author: Sean Barth
Just be yourself."
"You do you."
"Follow your heart (gut, Zen, etc.)."
"You can do anything if you work hard enough."
"I'm doing it on my own terms."
Ctrl C the following question and keep it floating in your head while you read this post:
Do you think happiness lies in doing what you want to do?
Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), aka "the Angelic Doctor" and arguably one of the smartest people EVER would answer this question with a great big, "YES and NO." Not helpful, you might say. St. Thomas has a very different understanding of the substance of the question. Let's dig in.
We are living in an age of rampant unhappiness; even though freedom, personal liberty, and the importance of individuality are at the center of our culture. This isn't new news. It's the way things are and for the most part people are cool with it. But the wise person knows that human beings ALWAYS have to have a Master. FYI I'm not saying we need to bring slavery back to the US, but in a culture where the individual is the centerpiece who is the Master? It seems like we can answer this by saying, "I am my own master," but I disagree. Example: Put a kid in a candy shop and give her free reign to "be herself" and "follow her heart." In 30 minutes you'll be dealing with a sick child. Advertisements, celebrities, friends, etc. seem to be what drives our decisions. But we have more control than some hypothetical kid and our experiences tell us what we should and shouldn't do, right? But how often do we choose THE Good? Not what we think will get us through the day or what will get us more likes/follows - but THE Good that will get us into Heaven?
Remember that God will never force us to choose Him. If we are aren't choosing what is Good because we want to, then we aren't as free as we want to be; nor are we as free as God wants us to be. This is like something I heard all the time when I was a kid: Sometimes you have to do what is good even though you don't want to. But wait: Doing what I don't want to? That's not freedom! Here is where St. Thomas Aquinas comes in. In dealing with this question he asks, what if someone has bad desires? If that person acts on those desires because he/she wants to, is that person free? Will those actions result in happiness?
St. Thomas once again answers: Yes and No.
Sure he's doing what he wants to do; so he's free in that sense, but he isn't doing that which is the deepest desire of his own heart. He isn't doing what he is made to do, but is instead a slave to his disordered desires. So he is both free and not free. Both master and slave. This is the world without constraints.
Here's the thing: When we let the deepest desires of our hearts become our conscious desires we will be truly free. In doing what we want to do, we will be doing what God created us to do. Paradoxically speaking, real freedom is doing what God asks us to do as His loving servants. We were given freedom of choice so we could choose to be ourselves. Our true selves. Can you say "I'll do it my way" and mean "I'll do it God's way?" If not, try repeating "Thy will be done" as a prayer to the Father throughout the day for a week. See what happens!