January 29, 2013

Don't you worry bout a thing

Jesus tells us we shouldn't worry.

He says we shouldn't worry about what we're gonna eat or drink or wear. Something about the birds not having to, so neither should we.

I have to admit, I never really saw much application in that. I figured this was one of those parts where Jesus is talking to someone else. I'm not a big worrier, and I was born in a place where most of us, one way or another, aren't going hungry. I've been to a place where I had to ration bottled water because you couldn't just stick your glass under the tap, but that was temporary. For me. As for what we wear - yeah, some of us worry about that. Especially right before laundry day. But even then, it's not so much a naked-in-the-cold thing as it is a style thing. Or for others, a smell thing.

And so I found myself a few months ago unusually stressed out about life in general. It's a shame, too, because I was stressing out in the midst of what's actually a pretty peaceful time of abundance. Well, it was a time of abundance until yesterday, when I took my car in to have the heat looked at and had to get a ride home in a loaner while they held it on $1800 bond to fix my heat, timing belt, water pump, gasket, basket, triscuit, and some other stuff. So it's really just a time of peace, not (financial) abundance.

Even before the car problem, I was starting to worry.

We get used to worrying. Maybe we like worrying. Life is a story, and the story has to have a problem, a challenge. If it doesn't, it's boring. We need something to overcome or work toward. So sometimes we think up new stuff to be unhappy about, to work toward, to worry about. We'll even worry about the stuff Jesus explicitly told us not to worry about.

For me, it's the transition of life and my life purpose that have been stressing me out.

See, I've got this idea that God's got this grand, perfect purpose for my life, with all of these perfect experiences, challenges, and opportunities that have given me wisdom and taught me skills for some unique purpose, just for me.

I've had plenty of time to think about this, to graph it, outline it, map it, describe it, transcribe it, clarify it, add to it, reduce it, boil it, simmer low for fifteen minutes and remove from heat and - oh, we're not making rice?

There's no recipe to figuring out your purpose, I don't think. Because despite all of the thought and all of the process and all of the skill-building experience/challenge/opportunity, I'm still in this period of transition, and I still can't for the life of me explicitly state my purpose.

People ask me, now that I'm back from Puerto Rico, what I'm doing next.

Like I planned ahead or something.

Like I've got a five year plan, or even better, a master plan.

Five years ago (yikes, almost six), I graduated from college. With no five-year plan. Just... find a job. Get benefits. (... profit?)

I still don't have a five year plan. So I really can't tell people what I'm doing next.

For a while, that frustrated me. Stressed me out. Worried me. And I embraced the worry. Loved the worry. Because at 28, being unable to explicitly state my purpose was a wee bit embarrassing. I mean, come on, I was a missionary. I was doing big stuff for The Kingdom. I must have left it for ... something.

When I got home, I found this silly little temporary job (full time, with benefits) that I viewed as a stopping place, an oasis with a paycheck. I thought I might be out of there after a few weeks. Two or three months tops, before bounding off to the next huge, God-pleasing thing.

But then I began to see problems with that thinking. First, I was overlooking the amazing blessing of my current situation. Full time job. Benefits. Relevant work. No, not exactly what I'd pictured, but it was two or three months after I landed the job that I finally realized how much of a blessing it really was, and how thankful I had failed to feel. Second, if life is a story with something to work toward, obsessing over my specific, unique purpose and my next step in that purpose makes this whole story about me. I have to do what's best for me. (So I can best serve God, of course.) I am learning that life - and the story of life - is much better when I am just a role player in God's much bigger, better story.

Now, I don't reject the thinking that God has given me some abilities that I ought to consciously put toward his service. Certainly, it's good to take note of those things and pursue opportunities to put them into practice. But as soon as "finding your purpose" becomes a point of stress - or worry - for you, you have taken it too far. I fear that the focus on passions and purpose can put people (especially college students and twentysomethings) in a place where they are frustrated, waiting on God to deliver some instructions and epiphanies that will never come. Very seldom in the Bible does God yell down instructions from way up above. And they're usually at incredibly pivotal moments.

This whole line of explicit purpose-thinking translates to me trying to plot and produce my own livelihood for tomorrow. Now, I haven't done an exhaustive Biblical study to analyze to what degree we as humans are responsible for good planning in regards to realizing our full potential and God-given life purpose. Yet. (Although I did read Purpose-driven Life a long, long time ago...) But Jesus' words in Matthew 6 lead me to believe that I shouldn't be losing sleep over where God might be sending me for my job, for my career, or for my ministry.

Jesus says we shouldn't worry about our food, our drink, our clothes ... our livelihood. A little further down he reminds us: "Seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given unto you." That right there? That's your purpose.