Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Discerning God's Will

Emily Freeman reminded me last weekend, "sometimes you have to say 'yes' to the wrong thing to know you should have said 'no.'" I feel like that's the story of my life. I'm so tired of making the wrong decision. In the last year, I've mad a lot of them. Sometimes they're framed in the light of a 'greater good,' yet they still met the ends I desired, as part of my 'master plan.' I said yes to the things that don't matter and no to the things that do.

In hindsight, this sounds just ridiculous. But I was building my kingdom and it was imperative that the bricks were placed just so. Yet the foundation? It was rotting from the inside out. When things fell apart, I saw that everything I'd been doing and working toward was in vain. Temporary. Bitterly fleeting.

For a brief time, I was able to live in the freedom of close communion with God. Then slowly but surely, my heart started to harden again. Priorities shifted, plans changed, life happened.

Today I repent that I've let busy-ness get in the way again. In enjoying a renewed friendship with my husband, I've developed a false sense of complacency and faltered in my attempts to purse friendship with others. I've let my goals sneak higher and higher in my list of priorities to the extent that I lost sight of the present. I didn't think I was holding that tightly to my plans again, until a new opportunity challenged me to feel the weight of them. I repent of trying to do things out of my own strength and trying to make decisions out of my own wisdom.

I look down and see my white-knuckled grip, and I'm embarrassed.

Last week, I turned to journaling, I turned to desperate prayers to God, I turned to my Bible, I turned to conversations with my husband for discernment, and then I turned inward. Deeper and deeper. Like I was watching from the outside as my husband tried to communicate with me and I didn't respond. I saw myself being the person I didn't want to be, but I couldn't silence the conflicting voices in my head. They exhausted me, they kept me from sleeping, and Friday night, they even took away my appetite. (That's when you really know something's wrong with me)!

While I was looking in the right places, I was still trying to apply Godly wisdom to my earthly framework. So Sunday at church, I did what I was always too afraid to do, and I went up to one of the pastors to ask for advice. Of course, he didn't have a concrete answer. It wouldn't be right if he did. But he did give me some great resources and an awesome analogy borrowed from Tim Keller that's too good not to share.

In a nutshell, the three elements of a call are: ability, affinity, and opportunity. Ability is endowed by God as well as life experience through which your skills have been or can be developed. Affinity means you have to want to do this thing. You are acutely aware of a human need and you have a desire to fill that need. This desire shouldn't rise out of immature motives, such as a pay increase you don't really need, a desire for glory, or even a need to be needed. (I definitely struggle here. Are my desires the right desires?) Finally, you must have an opportunity to do this job.

Keller notes that when ability, affinity, and opportunity are all present and pointing in the same direction, a person can discern God's call.

Like so.
When I think about my life, I can see that ability and affinity without opportunity leads me to rush God's timing as I try to force an outcome that I want. This often ends up with me taking an even longer way around to the original destination (or, you know, a one-way ticket to an entirely different destination than the one I thought I wanted).

Ability and opportunity without affinity can feed selfish desires but leads to burnout really quickly. These opportunities are the ones I'm most likely to say yes to and then regret. I think, "well, this presented itself to me, so it must be a sign that I should take it." Ummm no. Case in point: grad school. Untold benefits and a great number of lessons learned, but man those classes are like pulling teeth. My middle brother just started law school and he freaking loves it. Why don't I feel that joy?! I think to an extent, it's okay to do something you don't necessarily love if it leads to an end result that you do feel affinity toward, but I'm not sure what I'm getting this degree for at this point. I digress. Basically, when I'm facing a decision involving ability and opportunity without affinity, I need to remember: just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Finally, affinity and opportunity without ability is going to be endlessly frustrating. For example, I would love to run a marathon. I really love running, it's easy enough to sign up for a race, but my body just cannot handle that mileage. I've tried three times, and every time my body just breaks down halfway thorugh the training cycle.

Emily and me after a half marathon (2 years ago already?!)
In the face of a lot of opportunities, I'm praying for affinity for something... anything... right now.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting thoughts here, Therese.
    How do the things that you feel called to do but dont want to do fit into
    all this ? I have seen how God doesnt always call the qualified but qualifies the called. Hmmmm...
    Please remember also that our Heavenly Father can turn "bad" times into
    "good" results. Everything has a purpose. Let God be your guide. It is amazing what a commitment to daily prayer can do for each of us!