Sunday, January 04, 2009

Preparation: The First 30 Years

I'm six years away from 30. I feel like I've lived a pretty interesting and full life. It certainly hasn't lacked drama and action, but I still believe I have a lot left to do. There's much I have missed in my first 24 years, a lot I should've done better, tons more projects and deeds left undone completely.

It's not that I lack ambition or drive. I can't remember a big goal that I set in earnest but haven't achieved. I'm married and well on my way toward a happy family. College was a breeze; sports always came pretty easily. I'm a published writer with a pretty stable, exciting and largely stress-free job. Things are good.

Still, there's something nagging me. There's a sense that follows me - poking me like a cattle prod, yanking me like the bit in the horse's mouth - that where I am at present is not my final destination. Things are good, but they could be better. Things are good, but are they just what God had planned when he crafted my gifts, talents and personality?

To that last question, I think the answer is no. Some people call it a calling, when you've found the thing you know you were made to do, that occupation that puts you where the world's needs and your abilities intersect at the highest levels. I'm wondering whether this calling is something you hear, or just something you discover along the way.

For people like Moses and some other fathers of the faith, the calling was quite literal. God spoke and said the Egyptian-raised Israelite would have his destiny wrapped up in his ancestral people. Abraham, the father of that nation, was called to leave his homeland and settle in a foreign place. In the New Testament, Paul was called through a blinding vision to become the apostle to the Gentiles, a mission that would consume the rest of his life.

Others seem to just have fallen into their fates. Joseph was sold into slavery and ascended from the prison to the Egyptian throne, preserving the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel during a great famine. Jonah could run from Nineveh, but he couldn't hide from God's plan. Rahab the prostitute was simply at the right place at the right time. She deceived the authorities of Jericho and her family was spared.

The common denominator in these stories is that each of the characters fulfilled the purpose that God had laid out for them, whether it felt like they were willingly following an external call or being pulled by an unseen magnetic field to what God demanded from their lives. In one sense, this is encouraging. If God's got things under control, if he's working the puppet strings I'm dangling from, then I'll probably end up where he wants me to be.

But I don't want to get there floating on a current. I want to be deliberate. I want to have full map, a compass, and maybe even a GPS.

The problem is that God's blueprint for life sometimes seems kind of like a road trip I took a few years ago. My friend Evan and I are trying to visit all the Major League Baseball stadiums, and we were planning to knock out three more. We were trying to get to a Mets game in New York City. Shea Stadium, where the Mets play, is in Queens.

As I was driving on the freeway, New York's endless horizon of buildings came into view. Evan had always been the navigator, and we'd always relied on a certain trusty atlas to guide us to stadiums. Only this time, Evan forgot the atlas. He'd printed directions online instead.

"So where to, Ev?" I asked, assuming he knew the way to Shea.

"Umm, I only got directions to New York City," he said. By this time we were in the middle of the city, a sea of people passing on the sidewalks, cars honking, swerving, almost nailing us from every angle. We had no clue where we were.

"To New York City? Are you serious?!" We just had to laugh. We called a friend who used an online mapping program to get us to Queens in time for the eighth inning.

God's map for us is like the folded sheet of paper Evan printed from Mapquest: limited in scope. He only tells us one destination - one phase of life - at a time, and like colorful little gamepieces moving toward the winner's circle, our next move doesn't become clear until His current objective or lesson is accomplished.

The hard part about this is that we're always being prepared for something, but we don't know what crisis we're gearing up for until it hits.

To me, it's a little scary to think that much of my day to day journey is preparation for something grander. If I have this much time to spend on preparation, what great task must I be called to? And what if I screw it up? What if I'm not preparing like I should be? What if I'm eating Twinkies and watching TV when I should be following Rocky Balboa on jogs through the Siberian wilderness and doing sit-ups on 24/7?

We know that Jesus lived on earth for about 33 years. Scholars generally agree that he began his ministry at about 30 years old. That means 10/11 of Jesus' life was spent preparing for his destiny, not living it like we see in the pages of scripture. At 12 years old, he was in the synagogue sparring intellectually with the religious leaders, but it's unclear as to what he did with the rest of his time as a child and young adult.

For some reason, it makes me feel good to know that Jesus (as far as we know) wasn't casting out demons before he could speak. God in the flesh had to pay his dues, had to be tempted in every way, do chores, share with younger siblings, buy groceries and work on carpentry projects with Joseph to help build the family business.

As God, Jesus knew his fate. As man, he marched toward it slowly.

I'm six years away from 30. I don't know my fate, but may I be content to move to the next destination and enjoy the preparation the same way our Savior cherished his first 30 years.

Photo: Shea Stadium, behind home plate. Copyright Trevor Williams, 2007

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