A few years ago I was about to go on a big road trip with a close friend. We had spent months planning, had both quit our full time jobs and moved out of our respective apartments with the idea that God had called us to do something big — chase our dreams of becoming a musician (my friend) and a writer (me).
50 States. Six months. Seattle, Boise, Rapid City, New York, Boston, etc. We spread maps out in front of us and charted our course. We were literally prepared to sell everything we owned to make our dreams a reality.
Then, one day, I just said it — I can’t go.
I listed a dozen reasons, like money (we had run the numbers a hundred times, and still weren’t sure how we were going to make it to all 50 states) like school loans, like the fact I was 27 years old and there was still no sign of marriage on my horizon. I was convinced that, if I left now, I would never find a husband.
After I lay all of my reasons like little treasures on the table in front of us, my friend looked at me and said:
“Ally, you don’t have to go. But if you don’t, you’ll regret it forever.”
Not to spoil the story or anything, but I decided to go, and the next year was filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows of my entire life up to that point. And I’m embarrassed to admit it, but each time we experienced a new turn in our story — for better or worse — I blamed it on my friend.
When things were going well, and we were having fun, I would think to myself, she was so right! I’m so glad she made me come here! But when we hit road blocks, or conflict, or when I was just having a bad day, I would think to myself: this is all her fault. I can’t believe she made me do this.
I totally ignored the most important part of what she told me: You don’t have to go.
*Photo by mil8, Creative Commons
Sometimes I wonder if we listen to God like that.
I’ve spent most of my life waiting for God to show me what to do. When an opportunity comes across my path — like a 50 state road trip, for example — I ask God, “should I do it? Should I go?” I wonder if God is a little bit like my friend, sitting across the table, explaining how I don’t have to go — but that, if I choose to stay home, I might really be bummed I missed such an exciting opportunity.
You don’t have to go, but if you stay, you’ll really regret it.
If I listen to God (because I’m a good Christian, or because I’m scared of regret) most of the time I end up blaming him at every turn of the story. If things are going well and I have the things I want, I say, “Thank you, God for blessing me in my obedience!” But if I lose my job, or get sick, or experience heartache I beg, “God, why did you bring me here? How could you make me do this?”
Part of me wonders if God is thinking, like my friend might have been if I had spoken my blame out loud — wait, how is this my fault? I never promised this path would be perfect.
I believe God sometimes asks us to do specific things for specific purposes. But most of the time I think he gives us freedom to choose. Most of the time I think he’s our friend, sitting across the table saying, “You don’t have to go, but I know you — and so here’s some advice about this particular experience.”
Something really powerful happens when we believe we get to choose to go, or not go. We stop feeling resentful and passing blame. We start taking accountability for our circumstances and actions.
We start embracing difficulty and failure for what it has to offer us.
We begin to see how God has been for us all along.