Friday, February 11, 2011

Answering the Call: Daring to Dream

For quite a few years now I have sensed that there is a call on my life. I’ve wrestled with questions like:

· What do I feel God calling me to do and be specifically?

· What’s is my unique role to play in advancing the Kingdom of God?

· What is it that would bring my heart alive and provide a compelling dream or vision that would help guide my life?

· What would it mean for me to: “become what I was born to be”?

I feel as I made some progress answering these questions over the past few years. I’ve studied the topic of calling extensively, attended retreats, and even participated in an on-line “Make a Living, Have a Life” group through Lumunos with others seeking to discover their own calling.

But there is still hesitancy within me, an anchor that drags behind me and slows me down and holds me back from moving full speed ahead toward answering the call.

Sometimes I think the difficulties and distractions in my life are the anchor. My family has certainly had more than its fair share in recent days[1]. And there is certainly no denying that the external circumstances that impact our lives can create barriers that make pursuing one’s call more challenging. But recently a trusted friend said that he felt you could take all the “external stuff” away and I might still struggle to discover my purpose, pursue my dreams, and live life with passion. It was a little jarring for me to hear, but I know he’s right.

It would be convenient to blame external circumstances for stopping me from living out my call, but I believe the single biggest anchor lies within me—in the depths of my own heart and soul.

From the time I was very young, my mother struggled with mental illness. It’s difficult to understate how much impact this had on my childhood. My mom was extremely overprotective and sheltering of me as a child. I wasn’t really encouraged to try new things growing up. My mom’s fears and anxieties about life were projected onto me. At every turn the message I received growing up was rather ambiguous: I’m not sure if you have what it takes to succeed or not. I have carried that lack of confidence in my competence into adulthood.

Not only was I sheltered, but I think that so much of my dad’s energy went into compensating for mom’s limitation that there was precious little left for my brother and me. The family environment always had to be carefully controlled to keep my mom (and my dad) happy. You can imagine in that kind of environment, that more often that not, I was not asked what I wanted but rather told what others expected me to do and expected to conform. That’ kind of environment doesn’t encourage you to dream. In fact the message my brother and I had reinforced over and over again (whether spoken or implied) was that expectations should be severely curtailed—i.e., don’t waste your time with dreams, because they can’t come true; you might as well deal with reality. We learned not to ask for much growing up so we wouldn’t be disappointed. Sometimes we were even shamed when we wanted something—i.e., the message in short was: it’s wrong to have desires.

I used to think my wounds didn’t matter that much, but now I see that this is a fallacy the Enemy used to hold me in place for years. The fact is, my wounds were very real, they mattered a great deal, and had a huge impact on the person I have become.

Open your heart

I am calling you

Right from the very start

Your wounded heart was calling, too

Open your arms

You will find the answer

When you answer to the Call

—“The Call”, Celtic Women

I believe that reckoning with my past has been a first and important step to unlocking my future and living out my call. I now realize that the impact of my wounds extends well beyond me and impacts the people that I love most. Sometimes my wife becomes so frustrated with some of the things I do over and over again—and my actions (those things I do almost without thinking about it) arise out of my warped and wounded heart and soul. Sometimes my relationship with my children is not what I wish it was—and when I think about why, it often comes back to my wounds. In fact, I would venture to say that my wounds have had some adverse impact on my entire circle of relationships.

As I have come to understand the wounds of my past and the impact they had on me it’s not surprising that I find it hard to dream, give expression to my desires, and even decisively answer a simple question like, “What do you want for dinner tonight?” much less a more profound one like, “What do you want out of life?”

On the other hand, while unearthing my wounds are has helped me make progress in clarifying my calling, simply knowing what they are has not allowed me to discover and embrace my call. Something more is needed…

God is showing me is that it’s not really my wounds that hold me back from living out my calling—it’s the power that I choose to give them. That is to say, I have allowed my wounds to anchor me to my past and prevent me from living fully in the present and pursuing my dreams and desires for the future.

Throughout my life I have felt a bit like a dog on a choke chain. It always seemed like whenever I tried to “stretch” too far in pursuit of my dreams and desires, sooner or later I was always harshly jerked back to reality. Stretching myself and failing proved painful and so, over time, I learned to carve out a life that worked within the “limits” I imposed on myself. Now, don’t misunderstand me; I certainly I enjoy many blessings in my life. I have a wife and family that I consider wonderful gifts from God. I love them deeply and they teach me much about how I want to live. I have a good job that at least partially connects with what I love to do (writing) and I make a decent salary doing it. I love God and I passionately want to see the Church be all God intends it to be; I love study of God’s word and teaching others.

All these things bring me happiness, prosperity, security, etc.—and all of them make me feel good. But still, something seems to be missing in my life… and I think that elusive thing is joy.

If I am honest, I would say that most days my life feels more like a series of chores that need to get done than it does a great adventure to live. I try not to let the world know just how much my wounds hurt me and “limit” me. I plod along from day-to-day sometimes laughing, sometimes shedding a tear—but I am always guarded. I don’t want to let on just how bad I feel sometimes—after all, faith in Christ is supposed to help us feel good isn’t it—but the truth is my wounded heart languishes, and I feel like I may never live out my God-given calling. From my current vantage point I see parts of what God wants me to be, but I can’t “complete” the picture—and God often seems frustratingly vague (even silent) about the rest of the details. I wonder what it would it take for me to “see” more clearly and fulfill my calling? I’m honestly not sure…

God whispers to me and says that the secret to living life to the full lies in rediscovering my dreams and desires. To discover joy and bring my heart fully alive, I must be able to name and claim what I truly want out of this life.

I confess that my initial reaction is one of fear—I can’t do this God… I didn’t get much practice dreaming growing up, and sometimes I felt shamed when I expressed desires, so the prospect of doing so now is intimidating. I don’t think it’s so much that I don’t have desires and dreams, it’s more that I have never given myself permission to express them, so it’s hard to do something you’ve never really done in 40 years. It also feels like once I “go public” with my aspirations, I risk having my dreams and desires thwarted once again and opening up my old wounds—and I suppose I do…

Nevertheless, I sense that if I ever hope to discover a guiding God-given purpose for my life that will allow me to transcend the “light and momentary” difficulties of this life, I must be willing to risk naming and claiming my deepest dreams and desires. It’s only by doing this that my heart can come alive, and I can finally experience the deep and abiding joy that Christ promised everyone who follows him.

[1] Since the beginning of October, my wife and I have been displaced from our home by flood, lived in a hotel for two months, moved to a new, home, had a trusted employee betray us, had one of my wife’s churches burglarized on multiple occasions, and lived through the loss of my wife’s father after a long battle with dementia.

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