Big Ugly Buts

When people ask me how I got started with this hobo thing, the heart of it goes like this: I knew I needed to quit my teaching job and a priest friend said to me, “You’re good at public speaking and you’ve wanted to do more of that.” “Father,” I guffawed, “you can’t just quit life and be a public speaker!” And then I took it to prayer. And God said, “Tell me why not.”

I do a lot of reasoning with God. I tell him why it’s a bad idea for me to do something hard, how it’s really going to make me less holy, how I’m not going to be effective. I keep throwing up objections, like he hadn’t already thought of them. Turns out I’m in good company. Moses was much the same.

burning bushGrab your Bibles, friends, and flip to Exodus 3.1 Moses’ first encounter with the living God is no laughing matter: a bush that’s on fire but not consumed. God demonstrates his power by doing something that’s impossible, using something frail for his glory without destroying it, and then tells Moses he’s going to do the same through him:

“Come, now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (3:10)

A disembodied voice from a miraculous vision. And Moses’ reaction?

But.

That’s right. Moses objects.

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11)

The minute he’s called by God to do something great, Moses starts thinking about himself. He’s unworthy, he thinks, and so he corrects God.

“I’ve been feeling like I need to teach Sunday School, but I don’t know enough to teach anybody.” “I know I need to go to confession, but I’m just going to mess up again.” “They begged me to join the choir, but I can’t sing in front of people!” “I can’t be called to the priesthood, not with a past like mine.”

“I’m unworthy!” we cry. The problem is, it’s not about you.

God answered, “I will be with you.” (3:12)

“Who am I?” you ask? Nobody. It’s who God is that matters. And if he’s calling you, it’s because he’s going to use you. Even in your brokenness.

But.

“But,” said Moses to God, “when I go to the Israelites…if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” (3:13)

But I’m ignorant. I don’t know enough. I can’t evangelize–I don’t have all the answers! I can’t encourage people to be holy–they’ll see through me!

God replied, “I am who am…. This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” (3:14)

Jesus said it best: “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”2 Yes, you’re ignorant. We all are. But he has all the answers. More than that, he is the answer. The Way, the Truth, and the Life. You can be inadequate. His grace is enough.3

God gives Moses all kinds of explanation and defense and even a detailed plan for fame and riches and a life of ease.

But.

“But,” objected Moses, “Suppose they will not believe me, nor listen to my plea?” (4:1)

successful-faithfulWhat if they reject me? What if they hate me? What if I’m a failure? God can’t be asking me to risk that–there’s got to be something more comfortable I can do.

This time God gives Moses miraculous proof–a staff turning into a snake and back again, a leprous hand, water turning into blood. He shows Moses once again that he’s in control. “I’ve got this,” he says to Moses and to us. “Just follow. Remember that I’m a God of miracles and just follow.”

Moses, however, said to the Lord, “If you please, Lord, I have never been eloquent.” (4:10)

Good one–let’s fall back on humility. Figure out all the things that are wrong with you, all the things that keep you from praying or serving or witnessing like you should. Make a list and put it before God. “You see? I don’t have to do your will. Because I can’t.”

The Lord said to him, “Who gives one man speech and makes another deaf and dumb? Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Go, then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say.” (4:11-12)

call the qualifiedOver and over he tells Moses, “It’s not about you.” God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. So while grace builds on nature, it can do a lot more with a lot less than we think. If God is calling you to tithe or put your kids in Catholic school or discern religious life or stop using contraception or go to daily Mass, he will make it possible. You’ll be given what you need–extra time or prudence in spending money or trust in his providence or talent or virtue or whatever. You are already enough in him. Stop grasping at straws for why you “can’t” do what he’s asking of you.

Finally, Moses does just that. He stops making excuses and just refuses.

“Please, Lord, send someone else.” (4:13)

Through all the objections, God kept promising, kept explaining, kept showing Moses how he was enough because God was enough. He kept telling Moses that the Great I AM wouldn’t call him without preparing him first. He kept asking Moses to trust. When Moses stops negotiating (with a booming voice from heaven) and just says no, God gets a little miffed. (4:14) This is when God tells him that he already knew his concerns and his shortcomings, that he already took care of them.

“Have you not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he is an eloquent speaker. Besides, he is now on his way to meet you.” (4:14)

See that? All that time God was trying to convince Moses to follow, it was because God knew what he was doing. He didn’t tell Moses at first because he wanted Moses to trust him for who he was, not for what he had done. But his call was perfect, even down to the backup plan that was already in motion when he first called Moses. Aaron was already on his way to support Moses before Moses even started doubting his adequacy to the task.

I’ve heard these called “big ugly buts”–objections to God’s will that stand in the way of our following him. They’re rational and prudent and completely self-serving. They’re natural and faithless. They ignore the fact that God knows you, that he loves you, that he wants what’s best for you, and that he does the impossible every day.

Set the world ablaze Catherine SienaI’d be willing to bet there’s something in your life right now that you know God’s putting before you. Something that’s nagging at you: a job you need to quit, a donation you need to make, an enemy you need to forgive, a sin you need to forsake. You were made for greatness but most of us are pretty mediocre. Moses was pretty mediocre–until he became the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. Peter was pretty mediocre–until he became the first pope. David and Esther and Augustine and Teresa were all pretty mediocre until they decided to get off their big ugly buts and start being who were made to be.

No, you’re not good enough. You’re not smart enough or holy enough or loving enough to set the world ablaze. Fortunately, it’s not about you. If God is calling you to some service or prayer or sacrifice, it’s because he’s going to do great things in and through you. You may not see how–or why–but you’ve seen him work again and again in your life. Stop wondering what he’s going to do and trust in who he is. Trust. Follow. Even when you don’t know where he’s leading. Because you may have to walk through the Red Sea and a whole lot of desert, but eventually you’ll get to the Promised Land. Get off your big ugly but and go.

  1. Dust it off. I’ll wait. I’m not kidding–get your Bible and a pencil and start marking that thing up. []
  2. Lk 21:15 []
  3. 2 Cor 12:9 []

I Didn’t Choose the Hobo Life

I get a lot of ridiculous questions, ranging from the confusing to the totally strange. For example:

Q: “Did you know I was born in California?” (from a 4th-grader I’d never met.)

Q: “Do you do birthday parties?” (from a middle school boy following a chastity talk.)
A: “If you have a chastity-themed birthday party, I will be your best friend.”

Q: “Has anyone ever told you that you sound like you’re from Alabama?”
A: “No…. Thank you?”

Q: “Are you really a hobo cause you don’t look like a hippie and you don’t have hair down to your butt.”
A: ….

Most of these questions merit an eye roll at best. There’s one, though, that I often hear and try to answer thoughtfully:  How did you know God was calling you to this?

I don't have any pictures where I look like a hobo. But what's a blog post without a picture? So....
I don’t have any pictures where I look like a hobo. But what’s a blog post without a picture? So….

I suppose I ought to establish first that I don’t know that God is calling me to this funny hobo life—not in the way that I know that he exists or that the Eucharist is truly him or that he wants me for his own. There are different kinds of knowing, of course, and some decisions require that sort of certainty. But what I’m doing is a good thing, so feeling confident that this is his will is good enough for me. If I never did anything until I knew God was calling me to, I’d accomplish very little in life. That being said….

I loved teaching. Loved it. For four and a half years, I would get excited Sunday nights because I got to go to school Monday mornings. I loved sleeping in but hated summers—I missed my kids! And while I’m naturally a very irritable person, I got angry in the classroom only twice in four and a half years.

Unfortunately, I taught for five.

My last semester should have been my easiest. For the first time in my teaching career, I was teaching only classes I’d taught before. Everything I was doing was recycled from past classes. I had no extracurriculars, no responsibilities aside from teaching…and I was miserable. I felt ill on Sunday nights because I knew I had to go in to school the next day. I was exhausted all the time even though I was getting plenty of sleep. And at least three times a week, I had to stop talking, turn around, and pray that I wouldn’t freak the heck out all over my kids.

This is my ANGRY FACE.
This is my ANGRY FACE. In a stocking. Trying to be a robber and still looking entirely like myself.

I had always known that my patience in the classroom wasn’t natural–it was a supernatural gift. And clearly that gift had been withdrawn. When my circumstances are unchanged but my peace of mind is lost, I know it’s time to ask the Lord what’s up.

But I didn’t want to jump to the conclusion that I was dealing with spiritual desolation, so I took a look at anything in the natural world that might be messing with me. Work was good, friends were good, my prayer life was good but I was all anxiety and anger and irrational drama.

So I began to ask the Lord if I should leave my school in Kansas. Praying about leaving gave me great peace while the idea of staying made me tense and miserable. I’m not saying that we ought to discern based entirely on emotions, but I’ve found that it’s important to listen to our emotions, especially when they’re not what we’d expect. I sure didn’t want to leave Atchison, so when that idea gave me such peace, I listened.

My next step, of course, was to make up an Excel spreadsheet with all the schools I might want to teach at. You know, columns for size, uniform, curriculum, apparent fidelity.1 But the thought occurred to me, “What if I’m supposed to stop teaching?”

Now, I had discerned leaving the classroom once before. I had a panic attack and almost crashed my car. More than anything, I thought at the time, I know that I’m a teacher. But this time it was different. The idea of not teaching wasn’t so bad. In fact, and contrary to all reason, I found it rather attractive.

But friends, I’ve been planning on being a teacher, in one form or another, my whole life. Since I was 15 and I found out that you could get paid to talk about Jesus, being a religion teacher was all I really dreamed of. I chose my college and my major and my grad degree all with the purpose of being a high school religion teacher. “What else can I do?” I thought. “This is all I’ve ever done, all I’ve ever wanted.”

“Well,” my friend Fr. Jeremy suggested, “You’re good at public speaking. And you’ve been wanting to do more of it.”

“Father, you can’t just quit life and be a public speaker!” I objected. And then I took it to prayer.

“Tell me why not,” the Lord seemed to say. And I thought about it. I had no debt, no dependents, no debilitating diseases. I had enough savings to cover me for a while and not a lot of bills I’d have to pay. Why not?

And this type-A, plan-the-next-30-years, put-down-roots-and-stay-till-you-die girl got excited about the strangest thing: being a hobo. This life that is so contrary to everything I’d ever wanted was suddenly appealing—more than appealing: it felt right.

Now, don’t quote me as saying “if it feels good, do it.” But when something that we wouldn’t normally consider draws us, we need to pay attention.

Thomas Aquinas had it right when he told us that grace builds on nature. But we don’t know our nature as well as the Lord does. I would never have thought that this kind of life would work for me. After all, I’m all about relational ministry and assigning homework and knowing everybody around me. But I also love meeting new people and socializing. I’m flexible and fairly easy to please and not particular about beds or food or how I take my water.2 I’m extraverted enough that the constant conversation with my hosts energizes me and committed enough to prayer that I still get plenty of “alone” time. As it turns out, this life makes a lot of sense for me. I can work with more people, be as intense as I want, and spend some occasional time writing, which I didn’t even realize I enjoyed. It seems that, once again, the Lord knows better than I.

Which is why I'm in frigid Kansas in April when I could be somewhere glorious and exotic. To be fair, this picture is from South Bend in February, but it's not because the weather wasn't this gross.
Which is why I’m in frigid Kansas in April when I could be somewhere glorious and exotic. To be fair, this picture is from South Bend in February, but it’s not because the weather this week wasn’t this gross.

So I quit my job and didn’t look for another. I wasn’t planning on living out of my car for long, but the Lord seems to have had other plans. I thought I’d find a place to live over the summer. But everything was working out, so I figured I’d travel till October. Then January. Then it began to look like this might be a long-term thing.

I can’t tell you exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing but I can tell you that I’ve seen how the Lord is touching hearts through the testimony of this scatter-brained nomad. I don’t know that people would listen to me the way they do if I weren’t such a fanatic. I do know that the minute I say I’m a hobo, people snap to attention. I know that I’m able to connect with people who wouldn’t otherwise talk with me because they want to ask all the awkward questions about my life. And I know that the Lord is showing me over and over again how he will always provide for me.

How long am I going to be living out of my car? I have no idea. I’m a planner, but God seems to prefer that I trust and follow. So for now, I’m headed out west. Beyond that, who knows?

************

Speaking of heading out west, I have literally nothing scheduled between Wednesday and mid-July. And while I’m sure I’ll find places to stay, I’m going to be really bored! So if you’re in any state west of the Mississippi and you want me to come talk to any group about pretty much anything, let me know. I don’t even want your money, just an opportunity to serve. I’m trying to get to every state out west in the next 3 months and I need some help. Because really, does anybody live in Wyoming?

If you’re east of the Mississippi, don’t feel left out—I’ll be out your way in the fall.

  1. What, this isn’t how you make all decisions? Yeah, well, I didn’t choose the nerd life either. []
  2. This varies more than I thought possible. Options include: bottled water, tepid; bottled water, chilled; tap water, tepid; tap water in a pitcher in the fridge; tap water through a filter, tepid; filtered tap water sitting on the counter; filtered tap water, in the fridge; filtered water  from the fridge door, ice from the fridge door; filtered water  from the fridge door, ice from the freezer; tap water, ice from the basement; tap water, ice from the freezer; jugs of water in the fridge. That may be it. []

The Worst Choice Isn’t Always the Best

Yesterday, I wrote this.  And then I read this.

I am not going to do that.  Is it bad that I just wrote all about trusting God completely and then drew a line in the sand that I refuse to cross?

But I wanted to be a PRINCESS!!

But I don’t feel guilty about this–not one bit.  Which is pretty good for someone who tends to be a bit (a lot) scrupulous.  I was tempted to feel like a jerk when I first saw the article.  “Oh, man,” I thought, “Now I have to do that.”  With a sigh because gosh this surrender thing is just so hard and why do I have to do all the hardest things?

And then I remembered that I don’t.  In this instance, because it would be absolutely imprudent for a woman to live on the street and rely entirely on the kindness of others.  Sure, God could call me to that.  But I’m open and I’ve prayed and I just don’t think he is.  And I don’t have to feel bad that he’s letting me have a car and a checking account–it’s his plan, not mine.  I don’t have to be the very most appallingly surrendered to Divine Providence to be surrendered.

But there are always people to compare myself to.  How about this one:

Have you heard about this girl?  That’s Katie Davis.  She’s 21.  Those are her 13 daughters.

Right?

Seriously, read her entire blog.  I’ll wait.

I ran across her story and thought, “Wow.  What faith.  How beautiful.  DEAR GOD PLEASE PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME DO THAT!!!!”

I know, and yesterday I sounded all surrendered to God’s will, right?

But here’s the thing: God desires your joy.  Not just in heaven (although that’s his top priority), but here on earth, too.  He wants you to love your career and your family and your vocation.  Yeah, you’re going to suffer along the way.  Some of the time it may seem as though all it is is suffering.  But that’s because he’s not willing to trade your eternal joy for temporal comfort.  “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?”  There’s a reason for the suffering–because he wants you to be happy.

We tend to look at the examples of the long-suffering Saints and think that whatever is hardest and least appealing in life is probably what God wants for us.  Just think about how we glorify the martyrs.  “Yeah, he got burned alive.  But that guy had his fingers bitten off!  And that guy was flayed alive!  Ooh, and she’s not a martyr, but she used to rub pepper and lye into her skin to make herself ugly and I bet that really hurt!” We glory in their willingness to suffer for Christ and forget that not everyone is called down the path of bloodiest resistance.

Hacked to pieces AND burned alive? Some guys get all the breaks.

You’ve got to remember, friends, that God loves you–truly, madly, deeply, to borrow the words of Savage Garden.  He’s not planning out a miserable, painful path to heaven.  Really, he’s planning a life that you’ll love.  And he created your heart to desire the things he has for you.

Unfortunately, that desire is often coated in a lot of worthless junk that we’ve piled on ourselves.  Which means that just because you want something doesn’t mean that’s God’s will.  But it does mean that if something sounds terrible and awful and has absolutely no appeal for you because it’s just the worst thing there’s ever been in the history of ever, you can probably leave it alone for a while.  Be open and maybe reconsider down the road but don’t assume that because something sounds terrible it must be what you have to do because Jesus died on the cross and so Christianity must be really, really miserable.

I guess the question you have to ask is does this sound horrible because you’re scared and running away from something or does it sound horrible because it’s just not what you were made for?  You have to get past your attachment to sin and figure out what’s really going on.

I kind of look like this when I run. Only female, soaked with sweat, and mostly dead.

See, to me, running a marathon sounds like torture.  Then death.  Then hell.  Then being reanimated to suffer it all again.  To this guy, it sounds hard (okay, maybe nothing’s hard for him) but not miserable.  On the other hand, if you ask me to spend a week–24-7–with teenagers, I’m psyched.  I know it’ll be exhausting and hard and probably smelly, but it’s a life-giving kind of hard.  And that’s the real difference–does this profession or vocation or promotion or relocation or whatever inspire me?  does it make me want to keep going, even when it’s hard?  Or do I feel defeated and empty just thinking about it?

What I’m saying is don’t assume something’s “the right thing” just because it’s hard.  We aren’t all called to be beggars or run orphanages.  But don’t assume it’s “the wrong thing” because it’s hard, either.  Anything worth doing is hard.  You just have to ask if it’s the kind of hard that makes you want to keep pushing or the kind of hard that makes you want to curl up and die. It’s not that simple all the time, but that’s a good litmus test.

We’re all called to be saints, but we’re not all going to be Saints.  You don’t have to be some kind of miracle-working, leper-washing, hair-shirt-wearing superstar to be pleasing to God.  And sometimes “trusting God” is code for showing off.  If it’s his will, he’ll give you the grace for it, no matter how hard it is.  If it’s not, the easy life you’ve got planned might just go all Jumanji on you.

This is not what I meant by a "board game." Ha. Punny.

So I’m not going to join Andrew in his radical poverty (yet).  But I’m not saying you shouldn’t.  Go ahead and pray on it.  Just remember: unless it’s God’s will, doing something crazy doesn’t make you a saint.  It just makes you crazy.

The Unabandoned Life Is Not Worth Living

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I recently packed everything I own into the trunk of my Mazda3 (okay, my mattress pad is in the back seat), waved goodbye to Kansas after a 2 year exile in the flatlands, and headed out to God knows where.  I left a job and friends and great students to do…well…I’m not exactly sure what.  I know what I’m expecting (speaking and retreats and blogging and whatnot), but all I know for sure is that God asked me to leave and that he’ll take care of the rest.  No home, no job.  For the time being, I’m living out of the car.*

It’s interesting the kind of reactions I get to this.

Non-religious person: “Oh–wow!  That’s really…” stupid? “um…” crazy? “um…great that you’re going to…find yourself.  What a wonderful journey.”  At which point I feel like a flake and a cliché.

This is totally what prayer does to you.

Nominal Christian: “Oh–wow!  That’s amazing!  I could never trust God like that.  You’re really an inspiration.  What a wonderful journey.”  At which point I feel like a fake and a fanatic.

Holy Christian: “Nice.  I’ll pray for you.”  At which point I’m disappointed that they’re not more impressed.  (But relieved that they didn’t use the word journey, which is probably my least favorite word in the English language.  This might be because every episode of The Bachelor–don’t judge me–uses that word at least 35 times.  My sister and I toyed with the idea of a drinking game involving the word “journey” on The Bachelor but decided that even doing it with water might kill us.)

Because this is how you find true love.

This weekend, I got to catch up with a bunch of old friends at Fr. Tom’s ordination and had the humbling experience of repeatedly being asked, “So what are you up to these days?”

It was a real flash back to the last time I had no answer to this question, right after leaving the convent. People kept asking me what I did and I kept having to swallow my pride and tell them I was nannying for my sister’s baby.  For a type A fool like me, that was hard.  Especially when I saw the look in people’s eyes wondering what on earth I thought I was doing shelling out for a Notre Dame degree (or two) and then living on someone’s futon and working for free.

This weekend, it was much the same.  “Well, I just left Kansas…” I’d say.

“Oh, and where are you going now?”

“Well, I don’t exactly know.”

“Oh….”

One kind soul said, “Oh, that’s all right.  You’ll figure it out eventually.”

“No!” I couldn’t help responding.  “I had it figured out.  And it was all great.  God just had something better.”

A better woman would have bit her tongue and allowed the world to see her as aimless and flaky.  I’m too proud for that.  So I explain it all.

“You see, I was teaching.  But then I felt that God was calling me to step out on faith and leave that.  He asked me to be homeless and unemployed and I had to trust him.  So I’m going to be traveling and speaking and blogging and writing a book and I think it’s going to be really great.”

Which, of course, is code for “I’m really holy and trust God a lot and by the way you should invite me to come speak at your church/school/ministry.”

And Christians are suitably impressed and non-Christians are suitably disturbed (which is generally how my life goes) and look at me I’m preaching the Gospel and everyone knows how awesome I am!

Here’s the thing, though: there’s nothing impressive about this.

No, really.  That’s not humility (I don’t do humility, more’s the pity).  It’s just fact.  I serve a God who made the mountains and moves them when he wants, a God who made the sea and the storm and then walked on the waves and calmed them, a God who heals lepers and the blind.  My God sent his Son to die for me–why wouldn’t he give me everything I need?  (That’s a little Romans 8:32 for you.)  What’s scary about living out of my car with a credit card and savings and a bunch of couches to crash on when God provides for people who don’t even take a second tunic?

So when I give everything away and quit my job without any particular destination in mind (which has happened twice now), it’s not so much faithful as smart.  You see, somewhere in my 28 years, I figured out that, despite all the impressive things I can put on my resume, I’m actually quite dumb.  In everything that matters, anyway.  I can’t seem to get past myself enough to see what’s best for me.  I spent a good 10 years pining away for a man–any man–before God knocked me over the head to show me something that fits me so much better.  I hated myself for most of college because I couldn’t figure out how to stop being me and start being that quiet, pious girl in the chapel.  It didn’t occur to me that maybe I was actually made to be me, loud and obnoxious and awkward as I am, that perhaps God actually made me that way because he wanted me that way, not so that I had something to overcome.

You see, I can barely even see who I am now and what I want today, let alone who I was made to be and what I’ll need to be that person.  And I’ve fought God and just come out the other side tired and unhappy (and in need of a good confession).   But when I’m abandoned to his will–as much as I’ve ever managed to be–there’s something energizing about that.  Oh, there’s still suffering.  Often there’s more suffering in following God than there is when you turn your back on him.  But there’s meaning to that suffering, and purpose, and healing.

And God starts taking care of all the details and mapping out your life for you, with lovely morning greetings like this:

If only God communicated through greeting cards....

Okay, no, it’s not that easy.  You’ve still got to discern and, usually, make money and pay bills and work hard.  But ultimately, it’s on him.  He’s made you that promise: that he will provide.  Your job is to pray and love and fight for holiness and never, never to worry.

Believe me when I say this isn’t going to make life easy.  Trying to do God’s will–letting go of your own understanding of who you are and surrendering to his truth–is about as hard as it comes.  Obedience isn’t easy; but it’s simple.  It’s a matter of choosing truth, goodness, and beauty, even at the expense of yourself.

I’m not talking here about how to figure out God’s will. That can be widely different for each person and in each situation (although I talked a little bit about my journey (gag) here).  I’m talking about those times when we know what God is calling us to.  Maybe that’s obvious stuff like getting help with your porn problem or getting to Mass on Sunday or carrying on a civil conversation with your stepmother.  Maybe it’s a matter that took some real discernment like entering religious life, leaving a job, or ending an unhealthy relationship.  Maybe it’s something that you’re not sure yet about but it just keeps nagging at you.

I’m sure most of us right now have something that we really know, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we have to do–some change of behavior or major or job or marital status or attitude or diet.  Stepping out like that does take faith.  But I’m telling you that God always comes through.  Always.  That’s just who he is.  It’s not a matter of learning to trust that he’ll give you what you want–God forbid he should give us what we want!  It’s a matter of learning to trust that ultimately–ultimately, not immediately–he’ll bring us to a joy so deep any struggles we may have on the way will pale in comparison.

It doesn’t always seem to make sense.  God told Abraham to leave his family and country–and Abraham went.  Jesus asked a bunch of fishermen to leave their nets and their boats and their father and go change the world.  And they didn’t hem and haw and finish college or build up their savings or wait till the kids were grown first.  Immediately they went, Scripture says.  At once they left it all behind.  Even though they had no idea what he was asking them to do.

But there’s a freedom in that obedience.  The freedom of living in God’s will.  Freedom from regret or doubt or (eventually and God willing) fear.  More importantly, there’s the freedom you give to God to bless you beyond your wildest imaginings.  That might be through opportunities he could only give you when you followed him; it might be through the joy of life lived in grace; if might just be through the growth in holiness that comes from following him.  Whatever it is, he can’t give it to you (yes, I just said God can’t) until you surrender to him.

If you fix your eyes on Jesus, you can walk on water.  So forget your fears and your attachments and your plans and your will and just get off the boat.  Maybe you’ll sink.  If you do, he’ll catch you.  But if you don’t–oh, friend, imagine!

 

If you’re up for it, I’d love to hear in the comments about what God is calling you to abandon to him.  It’ll help me to pray for you 🙂

 

 

*I’m actually writing this from the passenger seat of my sister’s car, sitting in the library parking lot using their wireless as my super-ornery niece finally naps in her car seat.  I tried books and songs and prayers and pajamas in the middle of the day and lunch and that awkward bend-over-her-stroking-her-back-while-singing-praying-to-God-she-finally-falls-asleep-in-her-crib move and putting John Paul down for his nap in the same room and she just alternated between sobbing in her crib or playing happily out of it.  So my sister’s watching John Paul and Cecilia and I are depleting the ozone layer running the engine so we don’t die of heat in this car.  In case you wanted to know the inspiration of this post which started off being about living out of my car but doesn’t really seem to be anymore.

Following Your Heart

I stumbled across a brilliant blog post the other day with advice for teenage girls ranging from awkward-but-true (“maybe you should stop offering your own breasts up for the ogling”) to touching (“You are beautiful.  You are valuable.  You are enough.”).  I nodded till my neck hurt and then offered my students presents for reading it.  I gushed about it and raved about it and then I moved on.  Because I am (allegedly) an adult and have learned these lessons.

Today in prayer, though, I was struck by this: “’Follow your heart’ is probably the worst advice ever. “

Amen!  Your heart is stupid!  Don’t look at me like that, you know this.  Remember that guy (girl) with the spiked (long) hair who wore those amazing JNCO wideleg jeans (um…that shirt she looked all cute in)?  Okay, so I was in high school in the 90s.  Forgive me.  But work with me here—that kid’s in jail.  You were so in love and everything would have been so perfect if your parents/friends/less attractive significant other hadn’t gotten in the way.  All you wanted was to follow your heart and be true to yourself but you were stuck following the advice of people who think with their thinking organs and not their blood-pumping organs.  And where did that get you?  Oh, yeah, prom pictures where nobody’s wearing an orange jumpsuit.

Despite the fact that anyone over the age of 12 knows this, though, following your heart is the only virtue left in American cinema.  Josie Geller follows her heart to the pitcher’s mound in Never Been Kissed.  Who cares if she outs an innocent man as a sexual predator along the way?  She’s being true to herself!  Or how about Cher from Clueless following her heart into the passionate embrace of…her stepbrother?  And nobody has a problem with that?

You see, when we’re “true to ourselves” above all else, we’re generally stomping all over someone else.  (Unless you’re so holy that you love others more than yourself.  In that case, may I suggest starting a blog to teach the rest of us?)  Our hearts may want to drown our sorrows, cheat on our taxes, and kick our children to the curb (figuratively, I’m sure).  A well-ordered mind, or conscience, or, dare I say, soul, knows better.

Now, I’m not saying every decision you make should spring directly from an Excel spreadsheet (although that is how I chose my last home).  I’m just saying that your heart isn’t an unfailing compass to happiness.  Because your heart is broken.  Maybe not broken in two, but somehow lost, confused, hurt, stony—broken.   There’s something in you that isn’t as it should be.  This is ultimately a result of the Fall, but more immediately caused by an absent father, a number on the scale, a demanding mother, a best friend who found someone better, a pink slip, a solo Valentine’s Day….  Your heart learns to long for things that will not fill it and runs from the One who will.  You need meat and potatoes but your heart grasps at Snickers instead.  And so following your heart without regard for consequences or kindness or truth, beauty, and goodness just leaves you clinging to the candy while you slowly starve to death.

So when I heard that line, I put a big check mark by it in my head and moved on.  But today, I started to wonder.  Doesn’t God write his plans in our hearts?  Can’t I trust my heart to lead me in his paths?

It struck me that the Christian life is about letting God tear from your heart whatever is not of him, letting him break and remake you.  As I suffer in obedience to him, he conforms my heart to his.  The more I love and seek him, the more my heart leads me in his ways.  The more I pray, the more my life is built on who I am in him, not who I am to others.  When I sit before the tabernacle and ask God to show me his will, I usually just mean that I want him to validate my will.  I grasp at the happiness he has for me without accepting the joy that he is for me.  But when I seek to love and serve and be consumed by him, the hardness of my heart is transformed into flesh—into his flesh for the life of the world.

St Augustine said, “Love God and do what you will.”  Not because the rest doesn’t matter but because your will is aligned with his when your life is about him.  So maybe “follow your heart” isn’t the worst advice ever—if you’re really following God.  Ten years ago, the most powerful desires of my heart were to get married and have babies—two things I no longer believe God’s calling me to.  I don’t think the deep desires of my heart have changed, but I’ve started to recognize what my heart is truly longing for: to be loved as I am, to give myself away, and to nurture others.  Gradually, I’ve learned to see what my heart truly desires and to listen to what God has written there.

I’m not there yet—of course I’m not.  I’m starting to trust, though, that my will is an accurate reflection of God’s will when it comes to the big things.  A friend asked me today how I know that God’s asking me to start this ministry.  I explained that God reveals his will to me in many different ways (more on those soon) but in this situation I felt a deep desire to do something that doesn’t naturally sound appealing.  I like to have plans and safety nets and instead I’m driving away from the people I love, leaving with no job, no home, and no plans to find either—and I’m thrilled!  When my heart rejoices in something that isn’t natural to me, I start to listen for God’s voice in that.

My heart is still divided on pretty much every front and there are many areas where “following my heart” would be as much of a disaster as it was when I was 15.  One day, maybe I’ll be so completely his that my heart is his heart.  Until then, I’ll let prudence balance passion and trust the thoughts of those wiser than I.  Pray for me!

 

Oh, and (because it was stuck in my head the whole time I was writing this) here you go: