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I choose the second place to gain the first

I wrote a post last week entitled “Going away from myself is going toward myself.” It was based primarily on Jesus’ teachings in the gospel that “the last will be first” and the humble “will be exalted.” Yesterday I found the almost perfect Course expression of this idea.

It is Lesson 328, “I choose the second place to gain the first.” It is clearly based on the parable in Luke (14:7-11) in which, at a marriage feast, you are supposed to “go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher'”-to a place of honor. Luke’s punch line to this parable is one of the lines I was focusing on: “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Lesson 328, with its notion of voluntarily choosing a lower “place” in order to gain a higher, is clearly a reference to this passage in Luke. Also, in its idea that the second will actually be “first,” it is echoing (as Greg pointed out in our Workbook class), the line “the last will be first.”

But what does the lesson mean? It’s really a lesson about who is in charge, whose will is getting done. We can see this as a process that has three stages. Initially, we want to be in charge of our lives. We want to do our own will. This is what it means to us to be first–to be alone, at the top of the mountain, the master of our fate. This attempt to be first, however, actually bumps us to the bottom. We end up, as the lesson tells us, with “sickness, suffering, and loss and death.”

So we have to move from trying to be in the first place to voluntarily taking the second place. The second place is being a follower, following God’s Will, rather than our own. As the prayer for Lesson 233 has us say, “Be You the Guide, and I the follower, who questions not the wisdom of the infinite.”

To put ourselves in this second place, to be His follower, means admitting that what we would do on our own is different than what God would have us do. In other words, there is a clash between our will and God’s, and we have decided to follow God’s. This puts us in a quandary, for even though His Will tends to work out better than ours, we still feel as if an alien will is imposing itself on us. We want to follow our agenda, but this outside agenda keeps coming in and saying “Follow me.”

The way out of this quandary, however, is to carefully observe the results of following His Will. When I do that, I find that doing His Will leaves me with a happiness, a sense of fulfillment and even freedom, that following my own will does not. I may feel free while following my own will, but the result is that I end up feeling frustrated and empty, which means imprisoned. And I may feel imprisoned while following God’s Will, but I end up feeling happy and fulfilled, which means free.

This observation should lead me to an earth-shaking conclusion. Since will is the faculty in us that reaches out to take hold of our happiness, what I call my will can’t be my real will. For when I let it do its thing, it doesn’t actually take hold of my happiness. It takes hold of the opposite of happiness. But when I follow God’s Will, lo and behold, I really do take hold of my happiness.

Maybe, then, His Will is actually my own true will. Maybe I have dissociated my will , thus making it appear to be outside. And so, when I hear God’s guidance, I seem to be hearing an outside will, but I am really hearing my own true will being transmitted to me, appearing to be external because I have dissociated it. And maybe-and here’s the scary part–when I follow “my will,” I am actually following an alien will, an outside agenda, one that is actually against my best interests. Maybe I have taken in the serial killer and thrown out my best friend.

So I start out saying, “Not my will but Thine,” but I end up saying, “Oh my God, Thy Will is mine.” This is the opposite of saying that whatever superficial impulse I have is really God’s Will. Rather, it means that whatever holy, all-encompassing, and all-powerful inclination God has is simultaneously my own authentic, natural will. Following His will, then, means being completely true to myself and serving my own interests. It means, for once, reaching out and actually taking hold of my happiness.

And now I’m in the first place. Because my will is in charge. Further, my will is not a petty little finger of self-absorption and meanness. It is a river of unconditional love and universal goodwill, a river without banks. And since one’s will is a direct expression of one’s nature, that my will is God’s means that my nature is God’s. To accept God’s Will as mine, then, is to lift myself up into an exalted place, the most exalted place there is. I may have chosen the second place, but I truly gained the first.

As I practiced this yesterday, it seemed like such a key. It’s really the same truth I was seeking by practicing “Going away from myself is going toward myself.” I have been so stuck on this idea that I have to somehow balance my will and God’s. I have to follow His Will some of the time, but make sure I don’t follow it too much, or else. I have to carve out space for my will, and make sure that my will can add its little contribution even at the exact moment I am following of God’s Will, to make that following palatable. I see now that I have really been stuck on this issue for a long time. I have been trying to take the second place while at the same time doing it my way. I have been trying to juggle the two.

The idea that I have simply misunderstood my own will changes everything. It holds out to me complete deliverance from the uncomfortable position of trying to juggle the two. And it makes such total sense. When I say “I choose the second place to gain the first,” it feels intuitively right. It means “I choose to follow God’s Will to realize that His Will is mine.” It means “I choose to be a follower in order to be lifted on high.” In saying it, I have a sense of His Will flowing through me and then me realizing His Will is my own ancient, forgotten will. What a concept!

So today I am practicing this idea again, with greater intensity, as the real focus of my day, asking God to help me really get it. As I’ve said a few times recently, if I could just get this one idea…