Several years ago my small group went through the book, Experiencing God: Knowing And Doing The Will Of God. The book had a simple premise: as we get to know God, he reveals His will for us by showing us what He’s already busy doing, and invites us to participate in it. I wasn’t thrilled with the book. It was one of those large-print workbooks you’d expect to find in a teenager’s backpack. It repeated key phrases a lot. It had quizzes at the end of the chapter, with fill-in-the-blank questions like “Eve tempted Adam with an _____.” Okay, so the questions weren’t that silly. But I was in graduate school. I read Bonhoeffer and Dostoyevsky. I wanted something challenging. In other words, I was a snob. And you what God likes to do with snobs.
On the week we were studying the section, “Ask God to show you what He’s already doing,” I was working on a TV show. (I apologize if you’re weary of entertainment-industry anecdotes; it’s just what I did for many years). During my lunch break I sat in my dingy trailer, racing through the homework due that night. At the end of the quiz, the book asked me to pray, “God, show me where you are already working, and invite me to be a part of it.” Yeah, right. I was working with a cast of rowdy standup comics. Not exactly a hotbed of Christian activity. But I prayed it anyway. I think I rolled my eyes when I prayed it.
Fifteen minutes later I was standing backstage, when the actress next to me muttered, “This down is crazy. I need to find a church.” God answered my prayer. I think He rolled his eyes when He answered it.
You know the Storyline subtitle: “Live a better story.” If you frequent this blog, you resonate with this idea. You want your life to count. But that kind of ambition can be paralyzing. Maybe you wonder if your idea is big enough, worthy enough. Maybe you don’t even have a clear idea of what it is. Or you do, but you have no resources how to get there. Here are a couple things to think about. Get involved somewhere, because that may sharpen your vision, connect you with resources, or even turn your vision in a direction you could not foresee.
What if you’ve had this amazing idea, and you just discovered someone else is already doing it? Maybe it took the wind out of your sails. You had this grand vision and someone beat you to it. Well, don’t lose heart. The fact it’s already happening shows it’s probably a good idea. If you get involved in the established program, you don’t have to start from Square One. Okay, so your name won’t be on the charter. You may have to start off doing menial tasks. And maybe they’re going about it in a way you never would. But maybe your ideas will make their program better. And at the very least, you’ll learn some skills and what not to do, should you start your own thing later on. Regardless, count on it being messy and difficult. Good things always are.
I’ve seen a lot of Christians arrive in L.A. with a vision of creating an arts group like no one has done before. (Come to think of it, I’ve seen a lot of churches do this.) They have some innovative ideas, but they sputter and die. Why? Maybe they’re competing with other groups. Or they’re unfamiliar with the culture and landscape of the community, and thus miss important connections. We all need new blood and new ideas. But we also need the wisdom of those who’ve gone on before. Don’t crash and burn and abandon your idea altogether. Join with a group that’s already established. Or as that workbook taught me, “ask God what he’s already doing, and become a part of that.”
What if you have no idea what your Big Story is, let alone how to live it? Life coaches and career counselors give their clients a battery of tests to identify their skills and interests. Some of these tests can be mind-numbing, as if they get nowhere near the heart of you or what you care about. “So what if I’m good at math. I do not to be an accountant!” But a good counselor will help you isolate the activity you love from the situation in which you performed it. That way, you don’t need the same situation in order to do the thing you love.
Say you wanted to be a chef. You went to cooking school, and then got hired as a chef for a corporate cafeteria. And you hated it. It was too corporate, unimaginative, and you never knew the people who ate your food. So you tried working at a small restaurant, but the lead chef was a tyrant. You did was do exactly what you were told and nothing else. You went home exhausted, and the last thing you wanted to do was cook. For anyone. Ever. Was it mistake to want to be a chef? Well, what was it that you loved about cooking? Experimenting? Being creative? Maybe you grew up in that rare family that sat down to the table every night and talked to each other. Maybe what’s at the heart of cooking, for you, is being creative and connecting people. You can still bring people together. You can still be creative. You may decide to keep at the job, or you may decide to take an easier job and reserve cooking as your avocation. The word “amateur” is French for “lover.” Do what you love.
Before I met my husband, he had spent many years working in religious journalism. He ran magazines for large non-profit agencies. He reported on religious news around the world. He traveled to some of the poorest places and reported on what God was doing. But by the time I’d met him, the magazine industry had dried up. He was getting piecemeal jobs but not making a living. He finally went to work for a communications agency that creates content for non-profits. He wrote appeal letters that organizations send to their donors. He hated it. He had to go to an office five days a week. He had to wear a tie. Sometimes he had to put on a suit jacket. My husband is a big old hippie, so this was torture. On top of that, he got assigned to groups with which he had no natural affinity: prostate cancer, retired people, small splinter denominations. He got tired of planting the “ask:” that sentence that starts with, “your generous donation…”
But then he got assigned to write for rescue missions – the organizations that help homeless people get off the street and rebuild their lives. He fell in love with the work. He interviewed people who work, volunteer and are going through the program. He wrote the stories like a journalist, not like a salesman. He treated each interviewee with respect and admiration. He did such a great job, that his company assigned him to write exclusively for rescue missions. He now gets to work from home, so no suit or tie.
My husband says he’s found his life’s work. Just about every job he did up to this point – editing magazines and books, writing for seminaries, creating PR material – prepared him for this job. He had to do a lot of things he didn’t like, but he learned a lot along the way. Yes, he wanted to be a magazine editor for the rest of his life. But magazines have died out. Does that mean God didn’t care about his dream? No, he just had to find another way to do what was at the core of what he loved: telling people’s stories and participating in the kingdom of God.
There are more ways to live a big life than to start a non-profit foundation. You may be a mother. Do you home school or send your children to public school? Ask God to show you what’s happening in the lives of the families your children interact with. Do you work at Starbucks? Ask God to show you what’s happening in the lives of your customers, or the company, or the neighborhood around your store. You don’t have to start a book exchange or coffee grounds recycling program. Maybe God just wants you there to be an example of a Christian parent, or a patient barista, or a respectful employee. You never know what spiritual skills God is building in you right now. God is always working. Ask Him to show you, and become part of it.
Take time to write about your dream and vision. What would it look like? What is at the core of that dream? A desire to help the less fortunate? A desire to connect dislocated people? Being creative or artistic? Teaching? Organizing? Separate the activity from the environment. That is, isolate what it is you love doing, from the location/job/environment you have done it in the past or envision doing it in the future. Where else can you practice that gift?
Ask God to give you opportunities to practice your spiritual and vocational gifts. Open your eyes and see where you can apply them now. Ask God to expand your vision to include things you haven’t thought of before. Be willing to do the smallest of tasks now.
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many!” Matthew 25:21