Recently in Old Testament class (“OT” if you’re cool, remember? We’ve been over this), we were talking about the prophecy of Ezekiel, which is a pretty wild story. Ezekiel has a vision similar to what someone might have on, say, peyote, and then Yahweh calls him to do some pretty wacky stuff in order to get Israel’s attention: lie on his side for days on end, cook his food over a fire of dung, shave his hair and beard and divide the hair and toss it out…you know, the usual stuff.
Our professor made the point that Ezekiel is asked to do things that are well within his capabilities, odd though they may be, while God does what is God’s to do. Then we got into a little side discussion about how difficult it can be to know where it is, exactly, that God wants you to go, much less what he wants you to do there. A classmate suggested it might be nice if the Lord provided us with guidance in the form of a Divine GPS, and then we rabbit-trailed off into a chat about how GPS has made us all stupid, in that we can no longer read maps.
I will confess to you right here that I have lost a few abilities in the past decade, which I’m hoping are due to my dependence on technology and not due to a brain tumor or having been lobotomized when I thought I was just getting my appendix out. I can no longer spell like I used to — which would be readily obvious if you saw my class notes — and I only know about four phone numbers, one of them being my childhood home number, which now belongs to a stranger.
Despite what some of my immediate family would say, I do have a general sense of direction — an innate feeling that I need to go right, or that where I’m headed is to the left. But I am also very likely to get turned around, particularly when I’m depending on a GPS. I chalk this up to the fact that the GPS gives me really useless information, like In a quarter mile, head east.
That means nothing to me. First of all, a quarter mile could be two feet or an hour down the road, I have no idea. And if I knew which way was east at some random intersection, I probably wouldn’t be dependent on a GPS in the first place.
What I need is a GPS that thinks, and gives directions, the way I do: Take a right at the restaurant with the really good risotto. Then go down the road until this song is over, and look for the house that was recently painted a hideous shade of blue. Take a left there, and when you come to the bookstore where you found the Greek cookbook when your cousin was visiting, take a right and look for the shopping center with the good Indian buffet on the weekends. The doctor’s office is in the ugly brick building across the street.
God’s GPS would probably be even less straightforward than that, though, because the aggravating thing about God is how he lets us have free will, and waits patiently while we flail and flounder, trying to figure our own lives out.
So I posed the question to my professor, “How would you pastorally counsel someone who asks you how they can possibly know what God wants them to be doing?” And she said — not unexpectedly — “I would tell them to be mindful of what brings them joy, the joy of feeling aligned with purpose. That’s the starting place.”
I’ve heard that advice before, but it’s the kind of thing that bears repeating, because it’s so darn easy to forget. And sometimes, let’s face it, what brings us joy is inherently impractical — like what if your joy comes from naked bongo playing, like Matthew McConnaughey? That’s not only impractical, it’s also, apparently, illegal. Good thing Matthew had some other talents to fall back on.
While some people seem to be born knowing exactly what their path will be, like my best buddy from childhood who was working towards medical school when we met as nine year olds and is now a vascular surgeon, most of us are less certain, and take a whole lot longer to get some traction. [Except for Robert Duvall. He came into the world perfect and whole, and is doing everything he should be doing minus being my best friend….but there’s still time for him to fix that, and I have faith that he will. Have your people call mine, Duvall.]
I remember being a teenager, and thinking that when I was in my mid-20’s, I’d have life all figured out. Then I moved that benchmark back a little further, into my 30’s, and then got distracted for a number of years by having children and pushed it into my 40’s, and now I just hope to discover my calling by the time I die.
But your calling? Oh, I know exactly what YOU should be doing with your life!
For whatever reason, it does seem to be far easier to see other people’s paths much more clearly than our own. I think we get bogged down in our own “stuff,” and lose sight of the talents we possess and the possibilities that are open to us. Our joy gets subsumed by practicality and our concern for what we think we need to be doing. And sometimes, like the biblical prophets, God calls us to do something specific, and we hem and haw and dissemble — “Oh, I’m not the right person, I don’t have the skills, someone else would do a better job.”
Given that it seems unlikely a Divine GPS is in the works, I think the best way for us to discern our paths is to do exactly what my OT professor advised: be mindful of what brings us joy, because that’s where our talents align with God’s purpose. And Part B of that plan, I think, is to acknowledge the impact that our engagement with the things that bring us joy has on the people around us, because being around people who love what they are doing — whether it’s accounting or cooking or teaching or painting or preaching or naked bongo playing — is absolutely infectious.
So my hope, for me and for you, is that the path will soon be illuminated, the will of God will soon be revealed, and the joy — oh, the joy!! — will be both abundant and contagious. Bring on the joy!