I am a conscientious person. I’m eager to do what God wants me to do. I’m also fairly prolific with my energy, efficiency, and capacity to “do stuff” on a daily basis. I have always felt that these are good qualities. However, they can, in some instances, get in my way spiritually—and they have. It’s taken me years to realize it. But when I get an inspiration, it’s like a race. That gun fires and I’m off, sprinting toward the finish line. How could such a trait sometimes be a spiritual barrier?
Well, based on the inspiration I receive from the Holy Spirit, I map out an end point…a finish line. And I set my goal as that line. And I sprint like mad, using all my talent and technique, to break that tape and finish the race God has set me. Do you see the weakness yet?
When I receive inspiration and direction from God, I map out the end point. I deduce from one or two promptings from the Spirit where it seems obvious God is pointing me. “Aha!” I think. “He wants me to do ____________.” Then, I sprint toward it with all my fabulous capacities.
The examples from my life are numerous and range from guidance I have gotten in my writing and educational path, to my relationships. I have thought, “At last! This is the path God wants me to take!” Only, after I really get rolling, after I get past that initial sprint and really hit my stride, heading for that beautiful finish line that I’ve mapped out, and which I can see so clearly; I start getting different instructions and guidance. Things start happening. More than tiny obstacles start showing up on that smooth race track, and suddenly it looks more like a trail race. Then, as my attention gets redirected to surviving the now bumpy trail, roots, rocks, tree stumps, and a pack of mosquitos—and not passing out after a long incline—I see forks in the trail. There’s no longer a clear road to the finish line. That sight path is long gone. Now I’m being faced with choices to go somewhere completely different than I’d planned. Places I’m not comfortable going. Places I didn’t plan on going. Places that are very different from the end point I mapped out.
You see, the problem is that in my desire to be conscientious, I use my flawed human deduction and draw a few lines around the points of guidance or opportunity I have received from God and I map out the finish line. We mortals are all about achievement and recognition, validation for our work. We want to “arrive” at a destination.
In mapping God’s path for me—without His input—I set my destination based on mortal ideals: very, very good ones. Ideals that I can look at and without a doubt say, “This is a righteous finish line! This must be where God is telling me to go. This is the perfect use of my talents! Look at how many people God will be helping me to bless.” However, while God can use metaphorical race tracks and finish lines, and while He can create clear sight lines for us to race to, I suspect that He rarely does so.
You see, our goals are set by achievement. We say things like, “I’m going to save X amount of people with this endpoint,” or “This is how I will finally get through to X person,” or “This is the career path that will help me to make money and help people!” and we get excited. We start planning on all the ways we will begin achieving what God clearly wants us to achieve.
Yet, God’s goals for us are very different. His plans include increasing our patience and long-suffering, our faith and our trust in Him. His plans include helping us come to know the strength of our own spiritual mettle. His plans include making us better spiritually no matter how good we think we already are. God doesn’t map end points or finish lines for us. He gives us the guidance we need to slowly level us up in our Godly traits.
Isaiah 55:8-9 teaches us very clearly that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways so much higher than our ways—so much higher, in fact, that we cannot even begin to see or contemplate (except sometimes in retrospect) what He is doing with us and our lives. We certainly, with our mortal vision, do not have the capacity to “see” where His is leading us “for our sake”.
It has taken me years, upon years, upon years, to understand this truth. And it is not one I like very much. But I recognize its truth without any doubt. Over the years, God has given me instructions and I have run face first into brick walls. And when I’ve recovered from those brick walls and long unexpected trail runs, I’ve often felt betrayed by God. Why would He give me X inspiration only to tell me when I’m halfway around the track that X isn’t my destination at all? I’ve spent a lot of time despairing and frustrated and angry. Stuff like that makes you question whether the original inspiration you received was inspiration at all?
The Parable of the Maze
I was expressing these frustrations and sorrows to one of my step-daughters (bonus daughters) about a year ago, or maybe a little more. And in response to my complaining about how God was leading me around on wild goose chases, she said the most profound thing I have heard in years. In fact, she produced a metaphor in parable form that absolutely floored me. I know I will not recount her words as truly as I would like, but the metaphor is sufficiently powerful, I feel, to communicate with any who read this blog.
She said, “The problem is that you’re looking at life like a road. You get the direction to turn right and then you look all the way to the horizon and assume that’s where you’re headed. I like to think of our lives more like a maze. God may say, ‘Turn right,’ but He only means us to turn right until He tells us when the next turn is. Each direction He gives us is a direction, but it is not the last direction. He has to get us through the maze.”
Can you see how profound that is?
I have been pondering this parable of the maze ever since. And I’ve realized that my flaw was in mapping out the end point. He gave me two steps and I mapped out the other thirty-three, clear, obvious steps, on my own. I established my idea of God’s goal for me without consulting Him.
What should I have done instead? I should have embraced the two steps He gave me more fully. Just those two steps. Then, carefully, and prayerfully sought the next steps one at a time, seeking confirmation of them before diving in so quickly. In fact, I have, since realizing my over-anxious fault, had to “be still” much more, and “ponder” the direction I receive much more. What if God has more to tell me before I start running? What if these initial promptings or inspirations are to be fleshed out? Maybe I need to put on my pre-race warmups and actually get warmed up before running off. Perhaps my eternal coach has more to teach me before I begin my race.
The Parable of the Church Calling
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, since we are a lay church (no paid ministry), members are called by the inspiration of priesthood leadership to fulfill certain responsibilities and callings. For example, I may be called to serve as a leader of the Young Women, or to teach in the Relief Society, or a host of other various “callings”. Currently, I serve as the Primary Pianist, playing songs for lessons taught to younger members (ages 3-11). There are many, many callings within a small regional area, usually called a Ward, or branch, and then there are also callings in a wider regional area (encompassing many Wards), usually called a Stake. Nearly everyone in a Ward has a calling.
Now, how does that apply to the parable of the maze? Well, more often than not, members are called to callings (or positions) that are outside their comfort zone. Not everyone called to teach is actually comfortable standing up in front of people, let alone teaching or leading a discussion. Not everyone called to play the piano is a great pianist. Not everyone called to administrate are great administrators. Not everyone called to serve is matched to the calling because of their obvious skills and talents. They aren’t always called to callings that on the surface they appear suited for.
As members we are used to this and accept it, pretty much. In fact, we attribute this inspiration for such callings to the fact that God has things for us to learn, talents for us to discover, and spiritual characteristics for us to improve or hone. When we get released from that calling (because most callings have a time limit), we don’t make a big deal out of it. It would not be common for anyone released from a calling to think, “Well, I thought I was going to be <calling title> forever. How could God do this to me?” Most of our relieved when a release from a calling comes, and we are usually anxious to do something new.
Thus, when these “calls” come to an end, we don’t question God and think He’s failed to tell us something. We automatically realize that it is now someone else’s turn to grow in that position. We automatically assume that God has other things to teach us that we can’t learn in that spot/calling. So, a change makes sense. Sometimes, we dread where we may be asked to serve next. Other times, we look forward to a new challenge. But either way, God moves us for His infinite purposes, not our finite ones.
So, here’s the thing. Church life and every-day-life are no different. The maze of our life contains long-term assignments and callings, and short-term assignments and callings, in both our education and work life just as it does in our spiritual callings. Each job, each educational endeavor, each athletic endeavor, each artistic endeavor, and each church calling—they all are about leading us through a maze of life experiences to help us become who God would have us be. If we try to make our identity a career, a title, or recognition of our talents and capabilities from others, or any other mortal culmination, we will find ourselves disappointed when we either don’t reach that distinction (no matter our efforts), or when we reach it and find it doesn’t bring the joy we expected it might.
ALL of our life is about who we become. All of it. All of it is about our relationship with God. All of it. It’s not about what talents we think we have that others should recognize. It’s not about what career path or recognition we are determined to have no matter what. The problem we all have is that we plan our “life road” based upon mortal expectations rather than seeing our life as a maze where we have to gain certain experiences and take many turns—and even some setbacks—in order to become the person God would have us become (Isaiah 55:8-9). When we pursue our vision (instead of God’s) so vigorously and determinedly, the result is that we bring trial and trouble upon ourselves and even our loved ones until we’re willing to relinquish our view of what we expect and submit to God’s very simple instructions: “Go right until I give you My next instruction. Then, turn left until I say to stop. Go straight. Turn around… No, trust me, you’re not backtracking. I need you to go back the way you came…”
God is trying to help us become like Him. If that path means we need to become a CEO, celebrated lawyer, highly-paid consultant, a renowned author, or gain the respect of a certain set of people, then it will happen; but only because that’s part of the experiences we need to have to become like God and grow closer to Him. Not necessarily because those are the achievements we want. And, if we take instruction or guidance from Him and then fill in the rest of the “road” with our own mortal ideals, we will find ourselves spiritually frustrated—we may even have a crisis of faith. We will get discouraged and feel like God is giving us confusing instructions, when the true error was that we came to the wrong conclusion about where that instruction was supposed to lead.
I have been working on doing less “life-forecasting” and less “end-point forecasting” after getting inspiration and guidance from God; and focusing my diligent efficient efforts into embracing the instructions I have and waiting earnestly for the next ones. I’m tired of rushing to my victory. Are you?