In our parents' day, if a woman wanted to be recognized as a good mom, she had to lay down all of her dreams, ambitions, and friendships and not think about them again until her children were launched. I'm not arguing that selflessness is a horrible trait; I just think that good moms know how to balance.
When the real estate sign got jabbed down into the pebbly dirt at the end of our driveway, we knew it was time to really decide. We could stay or we could go, but which one was best? What was the Lord leading us into? Which choice would he have us make? He led us this far, but now he’s strangely quiet, expecting us to choose the next move.
The path diverges. Racing heart. Sweaty palms. Churning belly. Holy Spirit. Sure, we can take that dim road because Christ is our strength. But wait! I don’t want to go down that way. It looks scary and uncertain, this ribbon-thin trail through the trees. I can’t even see what’s around the bend. The paved path screams for our attention. Look! This way is clear and easy. Follow this road to the Ladder and then climb it all the way to the top and the world will be yours! Forget the Gospel Way, it’s much too narrow. And then a quiet, sure whisper: This world isn’t your home, dear one. Be not afraid.
We sit down at our rickety old kitchen table, catty corner from each other and with the baby in between us. The kids chatter and forks plink against plates, but our eyes meet, his and mine, and we silently agree to give ourselves some time before we have the hard conversation. To stay would mean continual housecleaning and interruptions on the spot, but we would still be in our own home. To go would mean becoming indefinite house guests. I wouldn’t choose either if the choice were mine alone. But God.
The Spirit fills every space around me until I can’t even get breath. The tension hums and crackles, power yet unleashed. A whispered, “Yes, Lord.” Air whooshes into my lungs. Tension snaps and ushers in powerful peace. I have space to breathe and move once more. I baby step down His untidy but certain trail. Trusting but not seeing. Over my shoulder, my own rose-lined pathway looks so promising, so easy. Covered in hidden thorns. Clutching faith to my chest I keep on walking, looking neither left nor right, choosing to step into the freedom of obedience. Until the path splits once more and I must make the decision all over again.
The opposite of control is not chaos.
Next steps are hard, aren’t they soul? For much of my life, I've spiritually scrambled to make sure that I was doing what God would want me to do – you know, making sure my next move is God’s will for my life. That’s what all the good church people said I should do, and so I tried. It seemed like a good, Christian thing to do. But do you know what that pious plan-making was disguised as? Control.
I had debilitating need to know every next step, and to be certain that it was the right one because a wrong step must mean that I’m not walking with God. I thought the opposite of control was chaos. I thought the opposite of right was wrong. I thought the opposite of sin was making the right choices. And so I clung tightly to my control, sought hard after rightness, and labored anxiously over every life choice I ever had to make, all in the good name of Jesus, of course.
Stop worrying about understanding God’s will
In all my wrestling with rightness, I never did get the upper hand on God. He is still a mystery to me. But I've learned to hold the mystery sacred. It's much like falling free and knowing that your parachute absolutely cannot, will not fail. It's all the fun and none of the anxiety, and it's something you can choose. Did you hear that? You can conquer spiritual anxiety by choosing to experience God rather than trying to understand it all.
It's really a matter of obedience, isn't it? Such an antiquated word; and I know, obey brings up all the feelings about free will and equality and empowerment, not to mention a slew of questions about hearing from God. Hear me out.
I have this definition of obedience that I sort of just arrived at one day. One day when I was anxious and agonizing and imagining that God was probably so disappointed in me because I couldn’t figure out what he wanted me to do next. There was no voice, no pillar of light, no burning bush. How can you obey when you aren’t given a command?
Because, quite simply and also not simply at all, obedience is acknowledging the promises of God, and then living like you really believe them.
All of this pandering, this wandering, this searching for a smoke signal from the heavens, it’s really just fear isn’t it? It’s really just the fear of making a wrong choice, of disappointing God, of being judged by your people for it. Isn’t that what you feel, right there in the center of your chest, just behind the gold cross you wear around your neck? Oh girl, please know this truth: That cross was for your freedom. You are loved so tenderly, so fiercely. You are no disappointment to God. He’s not sitting in the heavens with a stubbed pencil and a tally sheet, putt-putt style, marking down your inadequacies. He’s a much sweeter father than that. Just look at all he promised you.
Trust yourself as much as you trust God
It's kind of easy to trust God; because then, as long as you don't hear from him, you don't have to actually do anything. You can say that you are waiting on the Lord, that you are praying about things, that you are sure his timing will be perfect. You can convince yourself (and sometimes everyone else) this way that you are good and obedient and faithful. But you still haven't done anything; you haven't even moved. I know nothing about this, of course.
Its much harder to trust in your own self, because then all of the potential for failure and blame rides on your own self's shoulders. If I call the shot, then I can't point to God and shrug my shoulders when things go south because this was all his idea and who am I to question God.
Failure is the mouse that morphs into a lion in the shadows of my mind. And the lion is hungry, always roaming around looking for what he can devour; crumbs just won't do. The lion wants meat. Substance. The weighty satisfaction of consuming real nourishment.
Our souls are a bit like lions then, aren't they? Hungry for wholesome bites, we wander about tasting a bit of this and a morsel of that, looking for that one thing that satisfies. What on earth am I here for? Maybe the lion is always hungry because we are always feeding her crumbs. Maybe we're always anxious, frazzled, worn because we're working so hard to reach a finish line that was never ours to gain.
Trust yourself. Trust his spirit within you. Stop wavering. Stop wandering. Make a choice. Take a step. Then take another one. Step back and go left a bit. Then another step. And then another. Keep going.
Do the next right thing in love
Every Thursday morning, I wake up extra early. Sip my coffee, write some words, read the Word. Before my babies open their sleepy eyes, I'm in the garden cutting collards and arugula, plucking turnips and oranges. I wash and pack the veggies, cook the breakfast, check the email.
A few minutes of snuggles and then we're out the door for the preschool program with our favorite librarian. Stories and crafts and goldfish for the letter G, then its home for lunch and rest time. In the afternoon, I load the car with kids and vegetables and we deliver our grown-with-love food to the customers who believe in this dream with us. Cook supper, finish barn chores, bathe my babies, kiss my hubby, and we all fall into bed tired but content.
For a long time, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be doing with my life. Where was the purpose, the meaning? What does God want from me? Surely it's not wiping noses and bottoms and skipping daily showers forever and ever amen. Surely there's a reason I'm obsessed with food and poverty and kids and business and creativity and women. Surely I'm not supposed to feel so torn in two between the right now days and the someday days.
And now, somehow, after lots of wandering in the wilderness but no pillar of light, I feel purposeful. Not like I have my life figured out, but like I'm just getting on with the task in front of me. Maybe that's all God ever asks of us, to just get on with the work that's right there. Perhaps obedience is just doing the next right thing, and then the next one. Could it be that God's will is simply for us to cut away the parachute chords and free-fall right into Him? This is faith; just trusting and stepping and sometimes jumping into the next right thing.
What decision have you been putting off? What dream have you avoided? What next right step will you take?
I bet it will be the right one.
You know that you're missing something, that there is some incredibly essential piece of your puzzle yet to be connected in to the rest of your life, and you're scrambling to find it. You know that you have a calling, you just can't quite discern what it is. Well, then this guide is for you.
The low hum of the refrigerator sang an artless backup to the pitiful cacophony inside my soul. Slumped over my sewing-table-turned-desk, swollen belly pressing into the edge of it, I rested my forehead on the slick pages holding the gospel of Luke and let weary tears seep over all that red print.
If you’ll just tell me, Lord. Tell me what to do.
More humming. More wailing. More tear-stained gospel.
What am I missing? Should I read the Word more? It’s probably because I don’t pray enough. How have I been a Christian for so long and I can’t even pray the right way? I would surely know God’s plan for me, my calling, if I knew how to pray well. I should find a bible study about prayer. And I’ll start praying about praying better.
But I can’t understand, God. Why aren’t you speaking to me? I’m so willing. I will do anything you ask, if you will just please ask it. I’ll start a non-profit. I’ll go to Africa. I’ll adopt a child. I will do any hard thing in your name; just give me my assignment.
“Ma-ma?” A sleepy little whimper from the other room.
And so I heft myself up from the desk-alter in the tiny little spare room that will soon be given up for a nursery. I find my boy, with his sleep-pinked cheeks and his toothy grin, and I gather him up, blankets and all. Easing down into the familiar embrace of the brown leather rocker/recliner, the one we saved up for and bought to replace the hand-me-down red plaid we had in the first year of our marriage, I pull his little body close and breathe in the sweet scent of his baby hair. I love him so hard it hurts.
I press my toes into the worn carpet and we rock, a slow and creaky lullaby that sweetly replaces all the other noise. Sooner than my tender heart would have liked, he asks “We play?” And he climbs down and toddles off to find a puzzle or a book or some other little thing. Just let me hold you, I want to say. Just sit with me.
And I hear my own Father whisper, “Just let me hold you. Just sit with me.”
Career---from the French word carriere, literally meaning road--- denotes a path, a singular course, a one direction mode of travel towards an ultimate destination.
If only God would give us careers instead of calls. Moses wanted a map and God instead gave him a relationship; pillars of cloud and fire and omnipresence. I want to march onward by the Book and instead he invites me to dance my way down the winding path with the book in my hand. Let me handle concerns of eternity. You just come and be my daughter. But the marching! It looks important, it feels busy. A no-nonsense performance that proves my sincere adoration of the Lord, the marching makes me worthy of that daughter title. You are marching right past Me.
“So what are you?”
The words hovered around us, more accusing than questioning; waiting to be given life so that they might morph into verbal condemnation.
“I’m just me.” A hesitant answer for a bewildering question. I knew what they wanted; they wanted me to align myself with one group or the other. They wanted to know where the line was drawn in the sand of the middle school playground. There were all sorts of groups: the athletes, the girly-girls, the skater kids, the super smart ones, the kids who loved Pokémon, the kids who teased the kids who loved Pokémon, and finally, the country kids who lived outside of town and joined the FFA and knew words like castrate and artificial insemination.
I fell firmly into the latter category, no doubt, but I also identified with some of the others. And I truly thought it was all ridiculous because labels are dumb and we are all just students here and who even said we have to choose one group to align ourselves with anyway?
But those boys, they wanted answers. And the one I gave them apparently didn’t count.
Such was my experience every year. It seemed that everyone was desperate for me to define myself. Nerd or jock? Girly-girl or tomboy? City or country? Honor student or regular? Business track or agriculture? College bound or career ready?
Um, all of it? Or maybe none of it. What do you want from me?
The people-pleaser in me searched for the answer that would make them happy. I knew even at sixteen years old that trying to explain to my guidance counselor yes, I want to go to college but I also want to take shop was a fruitless argument. People need clear boundaries, not tomboy girly-girls who love algebra class just as much as mucking out barn stalls. I learned to present people with a tidy package, wrapped in a bow. Here I am, this is me, neat and contained and easily summed up.
Only that’s not me at all.
You are not easily summed up, soul. You are reckless and beautiful, refined and gentle. You are happy and sad, angry and impassioned. You are tired, strong, energetic, and weak. Reverent and ridiculous, right and wrong, truthful and disillusioned. You are you. Put together by the most skilled craftsman, created to reflect His image to all the world, and purposed to restore His image where it is absent in the world.
Career is too narrow a road to drive that big ole calling of yours down. You need the wide open highway, with plenty of shoulder space for pit stops and breakdowns, and lots of side roads to turn around on. You don’t need a map with boundaries and signs and instructions, you need the mapmaker to ride shotgun. You don’t have to march forward, avoiding sin and doing good deeds, and hope that God is convinced of your love for him. He loved you long before he knew you. You don't have to decide if you are a lay person or a minister, a business woman or a stay at home mama, this kind of a Christian or that kind. You just have to love people well. You don’t have to agonize over your calling, you just need to sit with the one who called you.