Let me fill you in.
I recently went on leave to the UK. I have never really had a desire to go back, until recently. Something in me wanted to return to the muddy isle and visit my roots, see family, reconnect with old friends, and perhaps feel a sense of belonging to a place.
I have moved about so much in my life; never anywhere longer than a fews years. In fact I joke with my friends that I am starting to get the ’3 year itch’ and feeling the need to move on. This subconscious timer runs like quiet clockwork.
I’ve always felt a degree of guilt about this ‘traveling circus’ existence. I have a thousand friends and little real community, and I never feel I’m anywhere long enough to build anything of lasting meaning. So part of my desire to head to England for my leave came from a need to feel like I belonged somewhere, even if it was on the other side of the world.
Anyways, I had my bags packed and was going through the motions of my last day at work before jetting off, when I was called into a back room and told that today would in fact be my last day in this job altogether. I knew there were problems, but to say this ‘blind sided’ me was an understatement. I was left with the awkward job of cleaning out my studio and saying goodbye to everyone, knowing I would have to explain the finality of each goodbye. I had to change their happy hugs with, “Oh my word, have an awesome time. Take tonnes of photos!!”, into tearful embraces with “What do you mean you’re not coming back? Why?”
So needless to say, getting on that plane I had very mixed feelings. I sat in my cramped economy class seat, my 6 foot frame smashing my knees up against the tray table in front of me, thinking, “I’m 33 and I have no roots, no work, no community, and I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
There is, on the one hand, an incredible feeling of power and possiblity that comes with this, like I could really do anything because I have absolutely nothing to lose.
On the other hand though, I had to fight off the comparisons which surfaced with all my friends who have ‘successful’ careers, burgeoning families, and real homes.
I felt incredibly irresponsible that once again I was sitting with an entirely blank canvas. Obviously I wanted direction in that moment, but there wasn’t any. I had no bright ideas, no back up plans, and no energy left to dredge any up.
Many times during my month long trip I sat in coffee shops, or on trains whizzing through London, wondering what would be next. I wanted a road map. The scared part of me wanted the next move spelled out. In those moment I had a particular theological crisis which is very familiar to me at this stage of my journey, and one which I still have no real answer for.
Does God care very much about what I do next?
I know the immediate gut response is, “Of course He does”. We throw cliched Jeremiah 29:11 bumper stickers at people (tearing the verse from it’s context) and tell them to relax and wait for ‘divine sky-writing’ to show us the next step. Evangelical theology holds to this idea that God has a book where He’s planned your life out; all that’s left is for you to go through the motions of living the thing out.
But I don’t buy it any more. If I’m honest I haven’t for a long time. I don’t believe He does have our lives mapped out for us in minute detail. I think He wants us to listen closely, but also to use our brains, and get on with life when we’re not sure… which in my case is often.
I remember my first encounter with the idea of ‘calling’. I was leaving High School and I had applied for a ‘year of your life’ program with a traveling music team. I thought the interview went well. They seemed to like me, and I didn’t sing too terribly, despite the nerves. So I waited for the phone call to let me know I had been accepted. I hadn’t even considered I wouldn’t make it. I had no back up plan, which is why it came as a shock when I recieved a call telling me, that even though I had every skill and talent necessary, I didn’t have a ‘strong enough calling’.
Not being ‘churched’ I had no idea what this ‘calling’ thing was. Of course I subsequently found out that my interviewers expected me to produce a verse of scripture which God had ‘sent me’ to tell me that He definitely wanted me on this team for the year.
I didn’t have one.
No words had lept off the page while I was reading. So maybe that meant He didn’t want me doing this thing.
It had been one of the teachers at the school who had suggested I join this team for the year; he’d even helped me get the interview. So when I put the phone down I ran to his house to tell him the bad news. He asked what they had said, and so I told him I didn’t have a ‘calling’. He just smiled and told me we were going to sit down and write them a letter back. He was good at this stuff, and so he bascially helped me ‘fake a calling’. I say ‘we’, but my participation was limited. I sat there in his office and watched as he typed out a letter. My contribution was ‘not talking to him so he could concentrate’. Luckily, he knew some verses which would pass for ‘calling-type scriptures’ and he threw them in there to give the appearance of the divine stamp of approval.
And it worked.
I got in.
In fact when I arrived for the first day of training I remember the man from my interview coming up to me and saying how impressed he was with my letter, and he had to admit he was wrong; that God definitely did want me on this team this year. I smiled back but obviously felt pretty guilty that he was reading words and verses carefully selected by someone else to make it look like I had recieved “the call”.
That day taught me that we’re supposed to ask God about every move and then wait for Him to tell you what comes next, like a bolt from the blue leaving you in no doubt concerning your next step.
The obvious problem with this is that, if you’re like me, God is rarely clear. For years I continued with this belief and often felt guilty that I made moves in my life without really having a clear sense that what I was doing was divinely ordained. I faked it for a good while though; pretending that everything I did, I did only because I had a clear hot line to God. I sat through many more interviews over the years and became a master at ‘calling’ language, to the point where few people could refuse me because ‘God had told me’, and you really shouldn’t refuse God.
There was, I suppose a great comfort in this belief too. It meant I didn’t have to make decisions any more. I just presented the options and waited for an answer. It really takes a load off when you’re no longer responsible for your choices. If things went wrong I could just make up some excuse about God obviously wanting this mess, and “Him working all things for good”, which seemed to let me off the hook.
I remember the first time an adult in a church suggested that God didn’t have some super-specific path for me to walk. It sounded like heresy. It also scared me. I had settled into this decision-making process now. I wanted to be told what to do all the time. I wanted to abdicate responsiblity for my life, because then I could blame the failures on someone else, and explain away my unhappiness with a martyr complex.
I know people who are stuck in places where they aren’t happy, completely afraid to move on because God hasn’t sent them a clear enough sign. Surely your misery is a pretty good one? They are literally waiting for a booming voice to send them the next set of orders, because at some point they have been told, “If God doesn’t tell you to move, wait for instructions.”
If I’m very honest, there have only been a handful of times in my life where I felt like He has actually actively led me to the next thing. Most of my walk has been stumbling along, through the mist, following some vague inner compass, quietly praying that I wouldn’t make a stupid mistake.
So where does that leave me?
Well, I have to pick myself up and carry.
Make a plan.
Last time I sat in Cape Town trying to get freelance photography going I was waiting tables and still worried about making rent. Now God hasn’t told me to move, but I’m probably going to. I’m not going to sit in the same situation as last time expecting it to be different just because I haven’t heard any booming directions from the heavens. There would have been times in my life where I felt guilty for making such a big decision without a ‘calling’, but not any more.
I believe I have everything I need. I would love sky writing, but if I don’t see any I have to move on and try something. I have a brain, I have a spirituality, I have some integrity and self awareness, and they travel well. I should be able to take them into whatever context arises next and make the most of a new job, a new city, and a new life.
I’ve got lots to figure out , like how to get photography work, where to live, how to keep writing and challenging, and how to find good community. But I can do this on the move.
Does He care if I pursue these here in South Africa, or overseas? Not sure. But if I don’t get any kind of inner leading I am going to go for the most promising option and hope for the best. I’m going to own my life, and view it like an adventure. I refuse to get stuck because of the absence of direction.
I’m not going to stagnate.
Perhaps you’re stuck in a job which makes you miserable because you’re waiting for sky writing.
Perhaps you’re in a destructive relationship because God didn’t specifically tell you to move.
Maybe you’re living somewhere with few connections and bags of lonliness, but you’re too scared to start again somewhere because you didn’t get a verse yet.
Stop being silly. Obviously keep asking. and listening, but use your head too. It’s as God-given. Maybe your discontent is enough of a ‘sign’, and if you don’t hear anything to the contrary, be brave enough to try something new. If God wants to be deliberate then He knows better than you how to get your attention. If you hear nothing: admit it, look around at your options, bounce ideas off your community, and then keep walking.
So pray for me, if you have the inclination. Pray that God would be deliberate with me, because that’s always first prize. But if not, pray that something would work out.
I will aggressively pursue God as always.
I will continue to find ways to challenge the church to be about people, and not stuff.
I will still make space to be creative.
I will strive to find a way to make a practical, responsible living.
And I will hunt down community and meaningful relationships.
But beyond that I don’t know.
And maybe that’s ok.