Thy Will Be Done

Robbins Milbank - Los Angeles, California
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, October 30, 2009
Robbins Milbank
Photo illustration by Kalandrakas,

West coast advertising executive Robbins Milbank knew great success and great sorrow in his life. In good times and bad, Milbank says he found strength in his belief in the Lord’s Prayer—and the connection it gave him to God.

Themes: family
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I believe it is very easy to build God in your own image and very hard to rebuild Him when you crumble. I was born to see and experience the love of God. I saw Him in my father, whose kindness and wisdom led me through a thousand anguishes of youth. I saw Him in my wife–especially in her. I told my father about her when I was nine years old. “We’re going to marry,” I said.

He smiled. “I’m glad you feel like telling me. I hope you’ll always want to tell me things like this.”

For many years I was rich, seeing and loving and touching these children of God. I knew what I believed, because I believed in them and they in me.

They died. First my father. Then my wife. Why do I still arrange my desk-work in neat piles? Why do I straighten a piece of furniture? Why do I try to arrive at appointments a minute early? Why do I lie down to sleep or get up in the morning? Have you ever wandered through an empty house looking for a purpose? You do a lot of little things automatically.

I’d like to talk about my house. It talks to me quietly in the night of the love it still shares, of the garden that still surrounds it, of the laughter of our children and grandchildren and our pride in them. I lie on my bed pulling words around, trying to understand their meaning. Words like “I believe.”

This I know: I believe in the Lord’s Prayer, all of it, but particularly where it says, “Thy will be done.” For me, that’s one clear channel to God. That one belief, “Thy will be done,” carries me through each act of each day. It teaches me to live with all that is given me and to live without what is taken away. It rescues me from the idea that happiness for myself is either important or desirable. But it doesn’t at all destroy happiness as a gift I can give, miraculously, from an empty vessel.

I believe I’m held here in trust, that I have no right to violate that trust through negation, no right to turn inward or away from people or jobs I can do. What if I do start through habit and finish in a half dream? The belief suffices: “Thy will be done.”

I believe there is nothing passive yielding my will to God’s. It keeps me very busy using the brain He gave me to study fields that need plowing; using the heart He gave me to remember these fields belong to His people; using the faith He gave me to pass up self-satisfaction for doing something I want to do anyway.

I noticed something: you may notice something quite wonderful in most everybody you meet, even in those who annoy you or frighten you. But each, in his way, is truth–neither to be rejected nor run from. If you believe “Thy will be done,” there is less temptation to run away from yourself. You can’t escape, anyway.

A Princeton graduate and son of a prominent New England family, Robbins Milbank worked as a logger in British Columbia for six years. He later moved into advertising, becoming a vice president at McCann-Erickson, and wrote docu-dramas for television.