Saturday, May 11, 2013

What I Want

Have you ever stopped to think about what you really want?

If I’m honest, it’d be easier to count the moments in the day when I’m not thinking about what I want. During a given day, a sample of my base wants would go something like this: More sleep. Less traffic. More coffee. More time to myself. Lunch. A minute to relax. Can I get a nap? Where’s that email I’m waiting on? Get me out of this meeting. Afternoon junk-food fix. Less traffic. More time with Laurin. More hours in the day. More sleep.

But these wants and “needs” are really just cover for a deeper battle lying beneath the surface. Sometimes our battle is for core desires that everyone shares. We all want to be loved, to be known, and to give our lives away to something bigger than ourselves. 

Other times, our battle is for things that God wired us specially to desire. God has given us talents, skills, personality, and temperaments. These will usually dictate what activities, what work, and what relationships we’ll seek out. That’s one of the reasons one person can be utterly happy in a certain job, while someone else is completely miserable.

I have a friend who looked everywhere for a teaching job straight out of college. When he couldn’t find one in time for the school year, he took a job behind a desk, in a gray cubicle, doing some joyless, repetitive task on a computer. After a day of processing something like TPS reports, he told his boss he didn’t think the job was a good fit and resigned. 

When he got home, his answering machine light was blinking. (This was back before everyone had a smartphone in their pocket and people instead had messages waiting for them at home.) It was the headmaster of a Christian school in the area. He had called to extend a job offer to my friend. No sooner had his unemployment started than it ended. He walked away from what he considered a soul-sucking, life-taking job and into the exact kind of position he had been seeking. The teaching position lined up with his personality, his gifts, and above all, his desires. 

For a long time, I hated that story. I spent a number of years doing jobs I hated, and how I would have loved to come home to that blinking answering machine light telling me that my time in purgatory was over. But that never happened for me. Instead, I’ve moved slowly out of one career into another. And even today, I can’t say that I’ve arrived at my dream job. I still have my share of TPS reports to complete.

It’s not that corporate life is “bad” and something more ministry-minded and creative is “good.” For someone out there, as hard as it is for me to imagine, TPS reports actually make their heart smile.

Praise God for that. The world needs TPS reports. I think.


But I’m learning to enjoy the good things in my job that line up with how God has wired me, and I’m also learning to see the things that don’t line up with my wiring as proof that God has indeed made me special. I’m trying to use my hours outside of the office to seek out those things that bring me joy. And I’m still nudging my way toward those places that my heart desires to explore. 

It was a turning point when I realized that my feelings were not merely the selfish cravings of my sinful nature; they were indications that God had indeed created me differently than everyone else. That’s good news—I have a purpose and an adventure to look forward to.

Life, at an Average 20 Miles per Hour

I have a new job. For this, I am thankful.

The job is with a Christian non-profit organization outside of Atlanta. Their focus is on discipleship, and the focus of my job will be on the written word. I love the Bible. I love writing. I love the church. And I love discipleship. So, all things considered, this should be right up my alley.

The job comes with the usual benefits: health, dental, vision, paid time off. But it comes with one more add-on I’m not so excited about: traffic. My commute can take me anywhere from 45 minutes (if I leave my house wicked early) to two hours and change (if there’s a drop of rain). And these times are the best I’ve been able to do thus far by avoiding all the major points of congestion. These times are the back-road, shortcut-after-shortcut, get-creative, drive-through-farm-land times. Needless to say, this has taken some getting used to. And I’d be lying if I said I was doing okay with my new life-is-a-highway reality.

I start my day each morning praying for a helicopter or a teleportation device, but when neither machine is in my driveway, I get on with my drive. I listen to music and audiobooks, and I try to catch up with old friends on the phone. No matter what I do, though, I now have big chunks of time Monday through Friday where my life is forcibly put on hold.

This morning, a Sunday without my commute, I thought about my new stop-and-go life. And I tried to figure out why it annoyed me so. Sure, at six o’clock in the afternoon, I’m hungry, and I want to get to my house or my fiancĂ©e’s to eat dinner as quickly as I can. But that problem can be nullified by a late afternoon snack. I think it’s more than that.

My birthday is in a couple of weeks, and I’m rushing headlong into another year of life. I think my frustration with traffic is really frustration with what seems to be wasted time. I’m not getting any younger, and where I’m at is not quite where I thought I’d be. It seems like I have so much lost time to make up for and so much left to do. My commute is a daily reminder of this struggle I feel.

I know God is in control of my career, my ministry, and every other part of my life. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for what He’s given me. I really do consider myself blessed. But If I’m honest, I have to confess that, by my own standards, I often feel like a failure, that I don’t measure up, and that I’ve not been able to be all that God has called me to be. Instead of being many miles further down the road, I’m staring at a sea of red taillights.

When the fruit of the Spirit is on display in my life, the patience part still appears green—not quite ripe yet. I’m working on it, and I’m thankful that God’s still working on me. This timetable in my head is no doubt a product of the sinful nature that’s still being put to death within me. God is writing my story, and even if this chapter seems to be dragging on, it is His chapter to write. 

In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes this:
“Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them” (1 Corinthians 7:17, NIV).
Paul is not saying that God never moves people, or that He never acts to change a person’s situation. Rather, he’s letting the Corinthians know that God was just as in control of the universe before they came to know Him as He is now. God has called us to live life right where He has us—at least for the moment. He’ll let us know if and when it’s time to move on, but it’s not our job to maneuver our way out of the places He’s put us. We are not behind schedule. The pace of life is in His control.

I will try to think about that tomorrow while I navigate back roads behind a line of cars that never seems to end. I think there’ll be comfort in it.

Oh, Fudge . . .

Yesterday, I said “fudge” on Facebook.

But just like in A Christmas Story, I didn’t say “fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word.

Unlike Ralphie, though, I didn’t actually say it. Tumblr did … on my behalf. I had accidentally liked a photo-stream from tumblr’s staff blog (I have big thumbs and an iPad mini), and tumblr told the world. Late last night, I got a text from my fiancee, Laurin, telling me I’d F-bombed all of my friends and family.

Hopefully, most of the people in my life know about auto-posting and the like, so I trust they know it wasn’t me who had committed a Ron-Burgundy-esque blunder. Still, when I saw Laurin’s text, I scrambled out of bed to my MacBook and quickly deleted the post from my wall and updated my tumblr permissions so it (hopefully) won’t happen again. (If you’re one of the folks who saw my faux pas in your news feed, I apologize.)

This morning, I got to thinking about what comes out of my actual mouth, not just my virtual one, and my heart’s “permissions.” Sadly, my filter does come off from time to time and I let things flow that wouldn’t normally be allowed. Only I can’t blame tumblr. What comes out of my mouth comes from what’s in my heart (Matthew 15:17-20).

At first, this was so hard to think about. As I reflected on my mouth’s track record, I concluded that my heart must be a cesspool, especially when I consider times of frustration, traffic, or what seem to be periods of near starvation. Those conditions, while they might soften the accusation my own words level against me, are nothing more than excuses for what Jesus says lives in my heart: “evil thoughtsmurder, adultery” (Matthew 15:19, NIV) and a whole bunch of other detestable acts. As I continued to think through these things, I felt condemned, ugly, and more broken than I had known.

But like so many things that the enemy uses to condemn us, God uses those same things to convict, in order to draw us closer to Him. And in that, there’s grace.

Think about this for a second. God has designed our mouths to be heart monitors. As deceptive and complex as our hearts can be, we have a fail-safe system for getting at our heart’s health. What comes out of our mouths tell us what lurks below the surface. And by knowing what’s there, we can work to clean things up.

Now, if only that came as quickly as changing my tumblr settings …