In a book or film, the protagonist is the central character in the story—the story is the protagonist’s story. Without the protagonist, there is no story, just a set of circumstances. This is also true of the story of our lives. We are the protagonists of our own lives. It is our story. But it’s also God’s story. God brought us into being, provides for us, and guides us as closely as we’ll allow. So God, too, is the protagonist of our story or rather, God and I are the co-protagonists of our story, which is the story of my life.
If we truly believe this—that the Holy Spirit is our Co-Author and Co-Protagonist—then how do we describe our role as the human co-protagonist? We know we aren’t simply passive spectators to our own lives. The Church unequivocally reminds us that we each have free will and the dignity of exercising that freedom. The question is how do we exercise our freedom, to make a choice, to step forward in faith, while letting God lead?
Letting God take the lead and our making a free choice are not mutually exclusive; in fact, just the opposite is true because ideally, they happen together! God invites, and we respond with faith and loving action. Our full, wholehearted response is absolutely essential to fulfilling our purpose, vocation, and mission in life.
For me, perhaps the best image of discernment as a way of life—even better than the image of co-authoring!—is that of a couple dancing together. Certainly one dancer usually takes the lead, but the other partner must choose to dance, take each of her own steps, occasionally choose her steps more independently when they are not hand in hand, and follow her partner’s lead when they are moving together. True dancing partners—even when across the room from each other—are always aware of each other, always seeking to harmonize or synchronize their movements. If not, there’s no dancing.
Growing in our relationship with God means that our partnership, this “dance” of our lives, enables us to understand always more the intentions and desires of God. Just like partners who have danced together for years can anticipate their partner’s next move, so when we live in communion with God, we start to understand God’s invitations and we can respond more easily and quickly—almost before God extends his hand in invitation.
Each step we take—whether we are intentionally following God’s lead or simply moving forward with our lives by doing the best we can—is a step we take freely. God respects our free will, works with our missteps, and wants us to grow in freedom. Just as partners who have danced together for years feel greater freedom—they trust so much in their partner’s support that they can take riskier moves—so the greater our spirit of discernment and union with God, the greater our freedom in living our deepest identity.