Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Going Beyond What We Know

We do what we know.   Cooking is an excellent example.  We often cook like those who cooked for us.  “It’s a family recipe!” we say with pride.  But there are many other examples:  how much we exercise, how much we watch TV, how much money we spend. These are behaviors we learn from someone, usually our families of origin. Sometimes, when we do what we know, it’s rather insignificant, like whether we wash our car frequently or not, but other times, doing what we know has a profound impact on who we become and the development of our lives.

This is especially true when it comes to education and vocation.  For example, my brother and I both went to Ohio University, which is where my father and mother went to college.  My father probably went there because his father went there as well.   It was never even a thought that one of us would not go to college, and yet, it should have been.  Twenty years after his graduation, my brother said, “I didn’t need to go to college.  I would have been better off at a trade school.”  For someone who struggled in math and reading, but excelled in visual relationships and problem solving, a liberal arts degree might not have been the best thing for my brother.  As it was, he ended up majoring in fine art, specializing in the lost wax process for fabricating metal sculptures, which is a highly technical skill.  So, my brother went into a costly liberal arts program only to end up in a trade doing metal work.  Maybe doing what we know is not always beneficial...

Of course, there are exceptions to the premise that we do what we know, like when someone is the first person in their family to attend college.  This becomes a momentous occasion in the life of the family and a cause of great celebration.  This is going beyond what we know, and this is how we evolve as individuals, as families, as communities, as nations and as a species.

Depending on what you have seen, heard and learned, doing what you know can be very fulfilling and lead to a happy life or it can be limiting and lead to feelings of mediocrity.  God is always calling us out of a limited, mediocre life into an expansive, abundant life, and thus God is always calling us beyond what we know into unknown territory.  God pushes us into places we have never been so that we will grow.

Think about Jacob wrestling with the Lord.  We all know that a large part of the spiritual journey is surrender, letting go and letting God, but there is also a time on the journey when we need to wrestle with God.  We need to let God push us and we push back so that we enter into these new territories in our lives.  Jacob wrestled with the Lord all night and wouldn’t stop until God blessed him, but we know that at the break of dawn, God did in fact bless him. 

Think of your own struggles right now.  Don’t see them as meaningless battles in your life just meant to make you miserable.  See them as opportunities in which God is calling you to stretch and to grow.  At the end of the match, we can be confident that God will bless us just like God blessed Jacob, but we can’t be afraid of the fight.

Once we are convinced that we don’t simply have to do what we know, when we are willing to let God stretch us and grow us, life becomes one big opportunity.   On the one hand, this is exciting!  You never know what is around the corner, who you will meet or where your path will take you.  On the other hand, this is scary!  You never know what is around the corner, who you will meet or where your path will take you.  But I think faith makes the unknown more exciting than scary.  A friend once gave me a card that said, “To have faith is to believe the task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us.”  I couldn’t agree more.  When you trust that God has your back even in the challenges, you can walk forward with courage and confidence, and you can take the next necessary step on your journey, which is the leap of faith.

A leap of faith is putting yourself out there, going for it, jumping into thin air.  Imagine a tall, stone cliff.  You are standing on the very edge.  Can you see land across the way or does the expanse just stretch before you?  In either case, whether you have some idea or none at all, you need to back up and get a running start and...jump!  Don’t worry about landing.  It’s the jumping that is most important.  Jumping is a spiritual act, an act of faith.

Many of us do not wrestle with God nor take the leap of faith into new realms even though it has the potential to lead to our happiness and fulfillment, and we do not do these things because we are afraid.  This is unknown territory that we are striking out and jumping into after all; we’re trying to go beyond what we know.  What will happen?  Even more important, where do I fit in?  We start to fear the unknown because we don’t know how to make it or even what it looks like to make it.  This is why doing what you know is so comforting.  Since you’ve seen someone else do it, you now know what to do.  But when you jump into the void, you aren’t following anyone’s lead.  You are just flying on the back of the Holy Spirit.

Two of the main fears preventing us from the leap of faith are failure and lack of finances.  Have you ever wanted to do something, but dismissed it, saying, “I can’t do that.”  If you want something, you cannot let fear of failure get in your way.  Failure is just part of our success really.  It’s a necessary step in achieving our goals.  Don’t be embarrassed about who you are; don’t think you are less than anyone else.  You have talents.  You have passions.  You have God’s grace all around you.  True, you never know what will happen when you go for it, but once again, that’s the beauty!  Trust that God is carrying you into your hope-filled future.

Beyond our psychological fears is a tangible, practical and realistic fear:  fear of not having “enough” money.  This is a very real fear for all of us to some degree.   We wonder, “Will I make enough money to support myself and those dependent on me?”   Each one of us has a unique financial situation and we have to wait until we feel the timing is right, but we certainly cannot allow money to be the only ruling factor in our lives. 

My friend Bradley worked in a law firm as a paralegal, and he did not like it at all.  He did not like his boss, his hours, his responsibilities. Bradley did not come from a family with money and so he felt very dependent upon himself to make a good living and acquire security.  He worked at that firm for 10 years before he found himself in a situation where money was no longer the dominant, controlling factor in his life.  When that day came, he took a deep breath and said, “I’m quitting my job and going back to school to be a therapist.”  There it was.  His dream could no longer be contained.  Bradley decided that six months ago, and as of today,  Bradley is still planning on taking the leap of faith, but has not.  I suppose the smart thing to do when transitioning from one vocation to the next is to go at your own pace.  Take it slow if you need to.  Get something going over there before you quit over here.  No matter how gradual though, there will always be one moment when you are required to jump!

Each of us is on a journey of discovery to become the child of God we were born to be, but if we simply stick to what we know, we might miss our true callings.  Certainly, God does not just want generation after generation of coal miners or cab drivers or ministers or doctors.    You are made for one thing, and I am made for another.  The truly great adventure in this lifetime is walking your path honestly with God so that you become more fully, more completely you.

Remember the parable of the talents from the gospel of Matthew?  In this story, a master leaves one person five talents, one person two talents, and one person one talent.  Both the person with five and with two talents double their money by using it, but the person with one talent buries his money in the ground because he is afraid.  When the master returns, he praises those who have used their talents wisely and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  But to the one who was too afraid, afraid of failure, afraid of having nothing, the master was very displeased and punished him for wasting what he had.

We don’t want to waste the “talents” God has given us because we are afraid of anything.  It’s all a gift.  God has gifted us with our skills and passions, our creativity and our minds.  Let’s use them.  Let’s give them to each other like an offering to God.  What I give to you, I give as an expression of love that overflows from the divine.  May it somehow bless you.  The same with what you give to others.  May we use everything that we have to glorify God, uplift one another and build up the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Erma Bombeck, a columnist and wise woman that she was, said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.'” You can use everything you are in this life, just don’t be afraid to wrestle with God and to take the leap of faith into the unknown.  We begin with what we know, but we progress by going beyond what we know into our destinies.