08/29/2013 05:28 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Discerning God's Will in Three Questions

"It was God's will."

We hear this trope a lot in many situations.

A child dies. "It was God's will."

A child recovers from a deathly illness. "It was God's will."

A storm blows away our house. "It was God's will."

Unless our house was spared. "It was God's will."

We use the phrase so much, for so many wildly different situations, it has become almost impossible to figure out what "God's will" is all about. Is it about disaster, joy, or something in between? No matter what, we seem to believe that "God's will" is about something personal, and specific in our lives. We happen upon the terrible accident seconds before it happens and remember that momentary delay that put us behind. Was it "God's will" to spare you with that momentary setback? Was it "God's will" that those who did die in that terrible accident end their time on earth that day?

I have to admit I am flummoxed about what "God's will" really is at any given point in life. However, I have met plenty of people believe they are experts at discerning God's will, especially for my life. As a lesbian, I am often faced with people who are certain that I am living "outside" of "God's will" for my life -- simply because of my sexual orientation. They believe that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is sinful.

They are so convinced that I, and others like me, are living "outside of God's will" that they will take drastic measures to try to force us back "inside" that "will," by working to deny us marriage, workplace protections and a safe haven in the church.

One of the most common tactics, however, is to compare our lives with other things that are clearly sinful. You've heard it so much you can say it with me: "We love homosexuals (or transgender people). Their sin is no different than the thief, the adulterer, or the murderer."

What they fail to understand is this: sexual orientation is not a sin, but how we use it can be. Using or abusing others and ourselves sexually is always wrong -- no matter whether the object of our use or abuse is the same or opposite gender.

What they also fail to understand is what "God's will" really means. For them it means being a heterosexual married to someone of the opposite gender in order to have kids. Really? Is "God's will" that specific? I don't believe it is.

In his book, The Evolution of Faith: How God Is Creating a Better Christianity, Philip Gulley devotes an amazing section to the idea of God's will. He writes about how many people come to him deeply worried that they are not living "God's will" for their lives. They believe that God has a unique plan for them and they must follow it to a T or they are definitely living "outside of God's will."

Gulley marvels at this belief because, "it seems contradictory to speak of a God who has given us free will and at the same time has devised a precise plan for our lives that must be followed for us to be blessed. It suggests God is double-minded, extending the gift of human freedom one moment, then punishing us for exercising that freedom the next moment."

Gulley suggests that God is a generalist, not a specialist, and really means it when She granted us that free will.

"Seeking God's will," Gulley writes, "means giving careful attention to the ultimate priorities of God, which are love, mercy, wisdom, justice, and integrity. It is to keep these priorities ever before us, letting them inform our lives so that all we are and all we do serves to expand these virtues. It is to consider such questions as these:

"Will what I am about to do result in the growth and betterment of others?"

"Will this action increase love or diminish it?"

"Will humanity's wisdom be expanded by my efforts, or am I appealing to ignorance and narrow-mindedness?"

I believe these questions are especially pertinent to LGBT people who are struggling with the idea of "God's will" for their lives.

Let us ask this: "Does living into my identity as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person with integrity and love result in the growth and betterment of others?" Yes, it does. We improve society by educating them about the reality of our lives -- that we long for the same thing all humans long for -- love, companionship, and joy. The world becomes a better place when we realize that we are all connected, all deeply human and in need of that deep connection with one another across cultures, generations, races, and even sexual orientation and gender identities.

If we ask the same about thieves, adulterers and killers, we cannot answer in the affirmative. Even if you are the best thief, adulterer, or murderer around, living into that identity will never result in the growth and betterment of others.

We can also ask: "Does living into my identity as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person with integrity and love increase love or diminish it?" It certainly only increases it. When we live into our authentic selves as LGBT people we bring more love into the world -- even for those who are against us.

Again, thieves, adulterers and killers can only diminish love in the world.

Finally, we can ask: "Does living into my identity as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person with integrity and love expand humanity's wisdom, or are we appealing to ignorance and narrow-mindedness?" Again, we have an affirmative answer. Living as God created us increases the wisdom of those in the world, and we must guard against becoming narrow-minded to those with whom we disagree.

Thieves, adulterers and killers, however, appeal only to ignorance and narrow-mindedness. Our detractors, too, seem bent on continuing to spread ignorance and narrow-mindedness when it comes to their LGBT brothers and sisters. So, I think it's fair to ask who is it that can really be best lumped into the list of "sinners" in need of "compassion"?

In the end, when we talk about "God's will," we are not talking about the specific things God wants us to do in our lives like our jobs, who we marry (or what gender they are), or where we live. That's not how it works. Instead, "doing God's will" means living a life that increases love, that increases justice, that increases mercy, that increases wisdom, that increases our connection to all humans. If we do that, then it doesn't really matter what job we have, or who we marry, or where we live.

Instead of pointing fingers at other people and telling them they are "outside of God's will," we must concentrate on our own lives and ensure that we are doing everything we can to live our own lives as God truly wills it -- as loving, merciful, and wise people ready to extend compassion and care to everyone, friend and foe alike.