You Are What You Will

Doug McManaman
Copyright © 2008
Reproduced with Permission

In the first book of Kings, God speaks to Solomon in a dream and says to him: "Ask what you would like me to give you." The fact that this occurred in a dream is significant; for it is in this state, while asleep, that we are least able to interfere with God and thus are more disposed to hear what He has to say to us. That is why God often speaks to us in dreams - not every dream of course. But when a dream is more than a dream, the person usually knows it upon waking.

At the deepest core of the human subconscious, there is a space in which we are alone with God, and it is a space in which no one else is permitted to enter. In that region where we are alone with God, He poses a question. In fact, His very presence there is an enduring question: "What do you want?" What is it that you ultimately want? And the answer you and I give to that question reveals what we love most. Only God knows for certain what that answer is.

Solomon wakes up and has become conscious of this subconscious encounter with God, and he has become conscious of his answer to the question that God addresses to him: What do you ultimately want? Of all things he could have asked for, Solomon asks for a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil, so as to govern well.

And it pleased God that Solomon did not ask for a long life for himself, or riches, or victory over enemies. In other words, he did not ask for anything that has a reference to himself. Rather, he asked for a heart that understands the law of God.

The divine law is nothing other than the will of God. To want a heart that understands the divine law in order to conform to it is to want God. To be moved by the love of God to know more deeply His law is to seek God. To know the will of God, that is, to know God, is to be wise.

We've often heard the expression 'You are what you eat', and the idea is that we should eat healthy. But it is not entirely true that you are what you eat. It is more immediately true that 'you are what you will'. I never tire of telling my students that character is everything, and your character is shaped by what you will and the choices you make. The kind of person that you are (character) is entirely determined by what you will, that is, what you love.

As a teacher, I have found a very simple way to come to some understanding of the students I have before me every year. On the first day, I ask them to take out a sheet of paper and answer a few questions. At some point I will ask them: "What is it you ultimately want?"

There will usually be one Solomon in the class, one student who ultimately wants wisdom, so as to conform his/her life to it. But the vast majority of them want something that has a reference to themselves in some way, i.e., wealth, health, security, a good job, a long life, etc.

And I can have an entire class of great students, all heading to university, who always do their homework, who are always polite, and who have made honour roll every year, etc., but who ultimately want something that has a reference to themselves, like success, long life, good job, etc. Whether the answer they give me coincides with the one they proffer to God at the deepest level of themselves is uncertain. But it does provide a sense of who's who in the class, and to have someone there who desires, ultimately, to be wise, to understand how to discern good from evil, one who loves the divine law above all else, is extraordinary, because it is not the norm.

Each one of us decides, from very early on in life, the kind of person we want to be, and it is a very general decision we make at the deepest level of the subconscious where we are alone with God. That decision shapes our character, and the choices that we make thereafter are more or less consistent with that original decision.

Now character is not the same as personality. One can have a great personality, but seriously disordered character. Some of the most notorious psychopaths had very charming personalities. It is also possible to have a very dull or cantankerous personality, but have pristine character.

Many of our personality traits are inherited or have to do with our upbringing. In other words, we didn't choose them. But our character is entirely determined by ourselves. There is nothing more intimately ours than our character, that is, the kind of person we've made ourselves to be by our choices.

One of my favourite psychologists is Dr. Stanton Samenow of Alexandria, Virginia, a forensic psychologist often hired by courts to interview defendants charged with crimes that the defense usually claims are completely out of character. After about 30 hours of interviews, Samenow always seems to determine that the crimes these people have committed are not out of character at all, but are completely in character. It is the people in the lives of the criminal who have been fooled and made to believe that his character is much better than it actually is. The criminal is more or less an egoist who has made himself the very center of the universe, and everyone else is merely a means to his own ends and has value only to the degree that they are of use in some way. Some criminals are very adept at hiding their true identity and making themselves appear exceedingly noble.

Early on, Samenow discovered that criminals are what they are through their own self-determined choices, and not through bad environment or poor upbringing, as is commonly believed. And those students I've had who were and are involved in criminal activity of one kind or another would often corroborate precisely that point. Some have said to me: "Sir, all I want is the image. I wanna to be feared, I wanna be bad. Girls like 'bad'. 'Bad' is sexy." And they'd acknowledge that this is the course of action they freely choose, despite the fact that their choices continue to hurt their parents. And when former drug addicts speak to the student body as a whole and lend the impression that they were victims, these students are the first to defend the reality of free-will, because they know from within that the choices they make are entirely self-determined. Other students, however, choose to love their parents more than their own image, and so they choose another route.

After 20 years in the classroom I no longer hesitate to tell students that in the end, you will always get what you want. And that's not necessarily something to rejoice over. It really depends on what it is you want. It is good news if you want the highest things. Solomon wanted wisdom, and God replied: "I give you a heart wise and shrewd as none before you has had and none will have after you" (1 K 3, 12). But if you ultimately want money, you'll get money; if you want a leisurely life without God, without having to worry about His will, you'll get that in the end - you will not be happy, because the human heart was made for God, but in the end you'll always get what you really want. And if you want the Supreme Good, Limitless Love, Beauty Itself, that is, God Himself, He'll find you.

Often students will ask: "What's hell like?" There are all sorts of images to use that might illustrate the pain of hell to some degree, but ultimately hell is the abode of those who have chosen not to love God who is Limitless Love, but who have chosen to love only themselves, and everyone else merely as a means to serving the self in some way. And God loves them so much that He will allow them to enjoy what it is they've loved most: the self. Imagine having only yourself to love for an eternity. It would be like having to look at yourself in a mirror forever. That would be hell.

In the Old Testament, Wisdom is portrayed as a Person who goes out looking for anyone who desires her, and she anticipates them and meets them at their doorstep, before they are even aware of their desire (Ws 6, 13-22). If an adult person lacks wisdom, it is because there is something they love more than wisdom. If a person wants wisdom, prays for it, and is ready to conform completely to its demands, whatever they turn out to be, he/she will be visited by Wisdom Itself. The Wisdom of God became flesh in the Person of Christ. He is the pearl of great price. That pearl is yours if you want it. All you have to do is ask for it, search for it, and when you find it, be willing to conform to it entirely, and a joy will enter into your life and lift you out of darkness and anxiety and fill you with the peace of his own life.