Some thoughts have been tumbling around in my head lately, like clothes in the dryer. Blogging is a great to get this stuff out of my head and try to make some sense of it. So here goes…
If we grow up in church, we’re told, ‘God wants to do mighty things through you!’ So we imagine exotic mission fields, stadiums full of thousands and best selling books. Our culture teaches us that bigger is better and that lives are measured in accomplishments and accolades. We’ve been conditioned to think that serving God will create the same kind of rewards that hard work creates- wealth, feelings of success, a life of ever increasing praise and respect from our peers. Many sermons today make it seem like church is not much more than a spiritualized version of a Tony Robbins seminar.
In reality, the Gospel is not about me becoming the very best version of myself. It’s about becoming less like myself and more like Jesus. And while there is nothing wrong with a good work ethic, hard work done for the Kingdom does not always equal the rewards of the American Dream. The American Dream is about upward mobility, climbing the ladder, gaining more, being a winner. Often the Gospel asks us to do the opposite. Jesus asks us to be servants and oftentimes to be losers. He asks us to let go of our culture’s definition of success in exchange for a Kingdom where the poor are blessed and the meek shall inherit the earth. Virtue is not found in strength but in weakness.
What does this have to do with calling? Well, one of my worst habits is comparing myself to others. I am guilty of thinking that other people are doing better, more important things than I am. I often think that I would be further along on my path if I had not been so self-absorbed in my twenties. I have many regrets. I want to know that I am living my best life, living in the center of God’s will. Sometimes it seems that God’s will for other people’s lives is so much cooler and more exciting than mine, and that my life would be cooler and more exciting if I hadn’t screwed up a whole decade of it.
I think the pep talk I would be given by American culture (and many churches) goes something like this: ‘Cheer up! Your life can be cool and exciting if you decide what you want and go for it. Don’t let anyone get in your way. Believe in yourself and you’ll do great things. Imagine your best life and then take the steps to make it a reality. God has a plan for you. He loves you and wants you to be happy. He has amazing things in store for you!’
Except what if He doesn’t? None of that stuff is bad advice. In fact, it’s pretty good advice and I live my life based on some of those principles. But it’s all focused on self-aggrandizement instead of bringing glory to God. I believe God does love us and want us to be happy, but true happiness is found in service to others. In losing our lives we will find them. I do believe that God puts desires in our hearts and he delights in fulfilling those desires. I believe that God wired me to love travel and adventure and justice and that he will put those things along my path. But they may only be in small doses. I may be called to a very mundane life most of the time.
You see, what we consider mundane is often the most important work with the most eternal results. Take a kindergarten teacher, for example. I had the very best kindergarten teacher in the whole wide world, Ms. Janice Willis. Do you think she has been asked to speak at conferences or won a Nobel Peace Prize? Nope. She gardens and walks on the beach these days because she’s retired. She isn’t a celebrity and no one celebrates or cheers for her. But her job was unbelievably important in the lives of literally thousands of children. Mediating our disputes and celebrating our sometimes minor achievements gave the kids in her class a positive view of school that we carried with us. She made us feel safe and welcome and important in our little corner of the world. Was it mundane? Probably. Was it important? Absolutely.
I think I have turned this idea of a calling and a ‘best life’ into an idol of sorts. The best life is one that is lived in service to Jesus. Period. Not Jesus plus a best-selling book, a wildly successfully blog, a speaking tour, a mega church. Just Jesus. A life lived for Jesus is not guaranteed to be anything like the American Dream. It is not guaranteed to give you a feeling of great accomplishment. It doesn’t come with a pension plan or a Roth IRA. It is not necessarily safe or particularly comfortable. Worst of all for someone like me who craves adventure, it may be rather mundane.
Like I said before, I do believe God gives us the desires of our heart, BUT only after we align our desires with his will. I would like to let go of my need for personal achievement and be content with a life of service if that’s the plan for me. Instead of the bucket list of accomplishments, I’d like to stack up the small kindnesses that are done out of the overflow of a pure heart rather than the need to check something off my list.
The prayer I prayed today was this, ‘God, please help me not to compare what you’re doing in my life to what you’re doing in the lives of others. Please help me to be content with serving you, even if it means that I live in total obscurity and never get to do some of the cool stuff that other people are doing. Help me to live for your glory and not mine.’
It’s a hard prayer to pray for a Type A chick like myself, but a very necessary prayer.