Finding Your Mission
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
By the time we hit adulthood we’ve probably heard a truckload about following our dreams and “finding God’s will for our lives.” The theme gets rehashed in every graduation speech. It’s been a staple of Oprah for years. Even good old Dr. Seuss wrote a book about it called Oh the Places You’ll Go:
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
Heady and exhilarating stuff for a first-grader. But the promise wears pretty thin when we encounter “real life.” Paying the bills has a way of throwing cold water on our dreams. Was Buechner right? Is there truly a place for us where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet? Where does a fella begin to find that—or get back on the track of finding it after a few years lost in the woods?
Allow me a story…
By the time I married—at the age of twenty-three—I was chasing my dreams and running a theater company. Sure, it was only community theater, but we loved it. I was living out a passion I'd had since middle school, and back then I would have said it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It required working two other part-time jobs in order to chase that dream, but I didn’t care. It was worth it.
Around the age of twenty-eight, I realized my passion for theater was fueled by a deeper desire to have an impact on the world. Bring a message, change the future. I found I was actually more passionate about social reform and justice. So I left the theater and took a job in a social action movement. I gave speeches, wrote op-ed pieces, participated in protests. Those were exciting days—we felt like we would change the world.
Around about thirty-four I came to the conclusion that if any lasting change was going to take place on this aching planet, it first had to happen in the human heart. I’d long been fascinated by the soul (in order to be an effective actor or director, you have to know the inner life of human beings), and what I really wanted to do was heal people’s lives. So I shifted from the macro to the micro. I went back to grad school nights and weekends, and got a degree in counseling.
Now, at fifty-four, I am a writer.
My training as a counselor deeply enriches my writing. My background in theater certainly plays into my speaking and writing. Both fuel my passion for change, helping to bring the Kingdom of God into the kingdoms of this earth, which is the greatest social reform there can be. I couldn’t have seen how it all might come together when I was twenty-eight or thirty-four, but now I see—none of those earlier years were wasted. This is such a hopeful thought. Nothing is wasted.
Don’t try and figure out what you’re supposed to do for the rest of your life. That’s paralyzing. You’ll find it far more helpful to explore two questions:
What is your “deep gladness,” the deep passion of your soul?
And, what are you supposed to do next in order to move toward it?
Start with the deep gladness piece. Ask yourself, what are my passions? What kind of books do you read? What are your favorite movies? What gets you really angry? Who has your dream job? Look for a theme. Name the “deep hunger” and put it down in words.
And keep in mind, there is the “mythic” and the “specific.” You might think your deep hunger is working for a retreat center, when actually your passion is for spiritual growth in people’s lives. Working at the center is just the specific application you can see right now. Or you might name your passion as fighting human trafficking when in fact that is merely what awakened your passion for human suffering—or even for law.
The reason this is helpful is because the applications might change and if you think a specific job is your dream, you’ll lose heart. The hunger is big. It’s mythic. The application is simply the opportunity to live it out at this moment in your life—like my journey from theater to reform to counseling to writing.
Step two gets down to specifics: what am I supposed to do next? “Next” is a whole lot easier to find out than “for the rest of my life.” Your dreams will grow and develop over time. More importantly, you will grow and develop over time. So let yourself try things. You don’t have to nail down the course of your life. You get to do something far more exciting: you get to walk with God. Explore things. Grow as a person.
You’ll also find it helpful to ask yourself, what is in the way of me moving towards my dreams and desires? Is it fear? Finding security in a job you hate? That no doors seem to be opening? Has disappointment gotten in? The subject of chasing dreams has a way of opening up deeper issues in our hearts—issues like doubt, or fear, or cynicism. That stuff is gold. That's where you're losing heart, and therefore it's where you want to tend to your soul and invite the loving presence of God, for he is far more concerned about the state of your heart than he is about tomorrow’s job search.
Back to, what I am suppose to do next? The most important question is, what does your conversation with God sound like when it comes to finding your place in the world? Are you asking? Listening? Seeking? Or are you just trying to figure it out on your own?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: God never gives us the Master Plan for our lives. The simple reason is that we’d go run with it. We’d take off with the plan in our hands and leave God behind. So he allows for mystery and setback and obstacles so that we will seek him.
He has a place for you. He knows what the next step is towards that place. Give some time to asking him what it is. Not an hour, not a day, but give several weeks or even months to this. Walk with him. The experience alone will be worth the outcome. So often we think it is clarity that we need when in fact our deepest ache is for intimacy with God.
A man needs a mission. That mission may or may not be your job, but if you find your passion then you don’t really care whether it's a job or not—you just love being able to chase it. And “it” is out there, and “it” is in all of us.
[Editor’s note: By the way, gang, chasing your dreams and finding your place in the world is a big part of the new book Killing Lions, which comes out in less than a month!]