"Can I come out there?"
This question lingers in the air of our hallway every morning around 8am. Our daughter, Eden, recently started sleeping in her "big girl bed" and one of the many perks of this new sleeping arrangement is her newfound freedom. For the first 3 years of her life she had always been confined in her crib but now, anytime she wishes, she can choose to get out of bed. That new freedom poses challenges for all children who now find themselves wrestling with their own self control and for parents whose patience will be tested as their child tests their boundaries.
Eden, in her desire to follow her Mommy and Daddy, has taken to staying in her bed even in the morning. And from her bed her question rings, "Can I come out there?"
I look forward to hearing that question ring out in the morning and to the cuddles that usually follow. But I have to tell you, if she was still asking me this question every morning when she was 16 I'd be a bit concerned.
I've had the opportunity to slow down and breathe these past few months and I've taken the opportunity to reflect, ask questions, be angry, plan, rest, forgive again, and think about the future. Earlier within Confessions of a Recovering Bi-Vocational Pastor I've written about how I followed God's leading into what I thought would be my exodus only to find myself in exile. And this, the following of God's leading or at least what I thought was his leading, has led to many many questions.
How do I know that I'm following God's leading?
How do I know if I'm hearing from Him?
How do I filter out my own bias and voice to hear only His voice and leading?
Since I don't hear audibly from God, what does it mean to listen? How can I be sure not to be swayed by injecting meaning into coincidences?
Am I only hearing what I hope to hear?
And many many more questions have poured out. I don't have an answer for any of them. Sorry to disappoint. :)
But I have had a breakthrough of sorts. And it comes back to that question I hear every morning, "Can I come out there?"
Eden is still learning boundaries and because of that she asks a lot of questions and often tests the strength of the boundaries communicated to her. It is a normal part of development.
However, it would be abnormal if at 16 she was still asking me whether she could get out of bed, whether she could have some water, whether it was ok to empty our pumpkin candy dish of all of it's contents, and the myriad of other questions posed by a 3 year old. In fact, if she kept asking these questions into her teenage years I would not only be concerned but annoyed, even hurt. Of course you can have water, you don't have to ask. All that I have is yours. I've taught you this boundary already.
Yet, YET, I believe, this is how we communicate with our own Father. Throughout all of the years that I've followed Jesus I've constantly asked the same questions that basically boil down to this: "What exactly do you want me to do?"
What is the exact next step I should take? What is the next career step I should take? When is the right time?
And I've depended on hearing His voice, desperate to know I was following His way, wanting to feel that gentle guidance that I believe many of us crave, and I've wanted that so much, to have each step revealed before me as I go along the path of life that it has led me to inject meaning and purpose into every coincidence, every goosebump, every premonition.
And I have to wonder if my own Father looks at me and wonders when I'm going to move on from such childish questions. To learn to live with some autonomy within the boundaries He has already taught me. To be childlike but not a child.
Our Father has set before us freedom. Freedom of choice within boundaries. I know the boundaries. Jesus said to seek first the Kingdom, to love our enemies, to love God with our whole heart, mind, and strength, to love others. We have directives to do all of our work as a work of the Kingdom, to seek the good for the places we reside, to serve others, to do business ethically, to show grace, and to be generous.
My desire to do God's will along with my church experience had taught me to wait. That when the right opportunity came that all the puzzle pieces would fit together snugly. That if I just put my head down, served, and worked hard that it would all work out. That I would fulfill the calling I had thought I heard so long ago.
It taught me that seeking a position or financial stability soiled the work that was being done. Being a pastor can often be like taking on the role of CEO and starving artist all at the same time. It is unsustainable and unrealistic.
And when it all ended I felt lost. In exile. I always had a destination that I was traveling to but suddenly that destination was wiped away. And at first I found myself going back and asking the same stinking questions to God, "what do want me to do? where do you want me to go? what do you want?"
And these aren't the right questions.
I believe firmly that God has shown me something. I'm not in exile. I'm not lost. I've certainly travelled in an unexpected direction.
But as I stand on this hilltop and look out at the expanse before me I don't see wilderness. I see FREEDOM. I can choose my own adventure. I can seek a position. I can seek to do good for my family and community. I can make goals and fight for them.
I can do anything within the boundaries given to me. I don't need to ask about every step. I don't need to painfully seek meaning.
I've taken time off from almost everything in my life that fell outside of the boundaries of work, family, and self-care. I've taken time to breathe. I know my recovery isn't finished and I have more to learn.
But here is something I'm doing with this newfound freedom. As mentioned before, I had believed that opportunities would come as long as I worked hard and waited for it to reveal itself.
But it's not true, at least it hasn't been for me. We all hear stories from other people where it seems it works out that way, being at the right place at the right time. But expecting this for your career and your passion is passive. It won't always just work out.
I'm no longer waiting.
I don't need to. I'm not going to wait for my career to finally happen to me. Instead I'm going to happen to my career. I've made new goals, I've broken them down to bite-sized morels so that I don't get choked on the bigness of it all, and I'm excited about my future. I'm excited about the future of my family.
One of the hardest things to go through is to have all hope ripped away from you. Over the past 7 years I have been relentlessly stripped of hope, self-confidence, and positive outlook.
But now, each day I wake up and I find myself smiling as I soak in a new morning. There is a lot of work that will be required to achieve the goals set before me. There will be big decisions to be hashed out. Sacrifices will be made.
And after all that has happened it would be easy to shrink back from the challenge. To believe that if I work hard and sacrifice that I'll be left in the cold again. But that would be the cowardly way and I would live the rest of my life afraid.
I can't live constantly in mourning of what could've been, dwelling on disappointments, broken promises and failures.
Instead I look at the challenges ahead feeling something that I had lost, HOPE. I'm recouping lost confidence, rebuilding it even. Instead of dwelling on what could've been I dwell on what can be. What will be.
And now, I no longer hope that someday I would find myself in the right place at the right time.
Instead, I move resolutely to obtain the prize set out before me and I will attain it. It is only a matter of time.