(Acknowledgements: Mark Gungor)
I chuckled (humourlessly) when I saw this little drawing shared on Facebook the other day. The chuckle was humourless because there’s nothing actually funny in the cartoon–just the straight-up, cold, hard truth. I chuckled only from the recognition of shared experience.
When we read Proverbs 3:5-6, we may come away from the passage thinking that if we just trust and seek God, He’ll make our paths easy. Clear. Plain. Smooth-sailing. Non-confusing. Without a single apparent dead end. But the NKJV says it this way: “And He shall direct your paths.”
What does that directing end up looking like?
In this race of life, I often feel as though He’s had me running around and around in circles. For years. Getting visibly nowhere.
And it may be the case that He’s had me running around and around in circles for years, getting visibly nowhere. In the sports’ world, I think they call it a track. The visible nowhere I’m getting is really an invisible somewhere. It’s a place of training; of growth; of greater strength and endurance.
I think of Abraham wandering in circles around Canaan, just wandering and waiting for the promised son to appear. But without that agonizing waiting time, would there have been a Mount Moriah? Would Abraham’s faith have been strong enough to go through with the complete and total surrender of his long-expected son? (Even though God cut short the physical sacrifice of Isaac, the oh-so-necessary spiritual sacrifice was complete.)
I once thought (as most of us think) that I would “be” something when I “grew up.” I mean, “be” one, specific something. We’re trained from an early age to think so. Adults (who we presumed already “were” something) would descend from their lofty heights down to kid level to ask the age-old, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” If we didn’t know, we had to make something up on the spot.
We didn’t realize that a lot of adults have no idea what to say to kids, so they fall back on this time-worn conversation starter. We also didn’t know that most adults still had no idea what they would “be” when they grew up and likely didn’t wear the title “grown-up” all that comfortably. (They all looked ancient to us.) We just assumed it was important that we “be” something someday because almost every adult we knew asked us the same question.
Well, I’m now a hair’s breadth away from forty-five, and I have less idea what I’ll “be” when I “grow up” (if that ever happens) than I had when I was knee-high to one of those lofty, ancient adults. I’m indisputably one of them now.
But the indoctrination that I must “be” something has been deeply ingrained. I don’t think that’s entirely the fault of the lofty, ancient adults in my younger life. I think it also comes from my over-inflated sense of self-worth. Shouldn’t a life as important as mine undoubtedly is (to myself, I mean) have one, great, abiding calling? Some powerfully meaningful task laid upon me that only I can accomplish? Call it a Hercules complex.
Am I alone on this one? Or are you with me?
Yet, when I look around, the polestar of a profession or vocation that gives our lives meaning and purpose and value doesn’t often materialize. The kid who, when he was five, was going to be an astronaut or a fireman or a policeman is now a garbage collector or a house painter or a UPS driver. For now. Among other things. Until something better comes along.
When I was five (or a little older. I don’t know how old, but I was young), I was going to “be” a missionary. It wasn’t my idea. At all. In fact, when I received my “call” at that age, I cried from the sheer terror of the thought. But (in a story too long to tell here) I knew that I had received some kind of undeniable calling. (Receiving a “call” at a very young age may have been a large contributing factor in my Hercules complex, I realize.) In fact, to this day, I don’t discount that experience. All evidence to the contrary, I still can’t quite shake my certainty of this “calling.” I still think I have to “be” a missionary. I just have no idea now what that “being” looks like.
I’m at the tail end of a year in Mexico where I worked with a mission organization in a missionary kid school as a school secretary. I thought maybe it would turn into something bigger. I thought maybe my calling would find actualization and I’d see the next step forward to my life’s “being.” But it hasn’t turned out that way (at present, at least). I now have much less of an idea than I once thought I did as to what the rest of my life will look like. Right now, it looks pretty much like a clean, blank slate. I have to admit, it’s a little unnerving.
Not really in an attempt to find a sense of direction but more because I have a lot of time on my hands and I’ve been doing way too much thinking, I sat down the other day and made a list of all my passions and pastimes. Some that don’t seem particularly significant. And others that have, at one time or another, for one reason or another, pulled strongly at my heartstrings. Maybe I was looking for a common thread, but here’s what I noticed instead: None of the things I wrote down had any apparent relation to any of the others. I mean, if I’m just supposed to “follow my passion” to find my life’s direction or area of ministry, I would have to somehow find a group of poor and disadvantaged, maybe disabled, Jewish-Muslim tribal people in a home-for-the-elderly/orphanage in Mexico to work amongst. Not going to happen. These different tugs on my heartstrings tug in entirely different directions. They can’t all be my one life’s direction.
Similarly, what do writing, language-learning, house-building, acting and word puzzles all have in common? Not a thing except that they’re all different interests of mine.
It’s still taking me time to process, but I’m coming to accept that my life may end up looking a little piecemeal. Maybe I’ll build a tiny house, do some more writing, act in a local drama, keep learning a little Spanish here and there, and sit down to solve a word puzzle or two when I’m bored. And maybe I’m drawn to Israel because I’ll travel there someday. Maybe I’ll someday have a Syrian refugee neighbour to befriend or teach English. Maybe I’ll resume my visits to my elderly friends in a local care home when I go back to my hometown. Maybe some other segment of the population that sits heavily on my heart occupies the place it does in that organ for the sole purpose of causing me to pray for them.
My new understanding? What a person does for a “living” is not what a person is. And what a person does for a “living” (to call a spade a spade, how a person earns money) may change regularly. And for myself, how I end up having enough money to survive (I don’t need much more) may not end up bearing any relationship to what I finally end up doing with large portions of my time. But even when I finally end up doing something, doing should never be confused with being.
Maybe I’ll someday find that one area of ministry that finally ends up looking something akin to some kind of life’s mission. I just don’t know. And I just don’t know what shape that life’s mission may take on. I now suspect it will look quite different than I once envisioned. I still think it will involve cross-cultural ministry of some kind. Mexico, in general, for me feels very unfinished. It still has a very strong tug. I sense a “To be continued…” written over the story of my year here. But for now? I’ll wait to be shown. That’s all I can do (besides building the tiny house, writing, learning Spanish, acting, doing the word puzzles…)