I had a conversation recently with a friend, someone who is very bright and is by any definition an achiever. My friend - a scientist - is now more than fully occupied with the non-science demands of raising a family. And my friend - while understanding the importance and privilege of shaping young lives - struggles with missing the mental challenges and the sense of fulfillment that comes from using a very good mind in one's chosen field.
I well understand the situation. As they say, "Been there, done that." And I don't like it. I struggle with it.
Author and pastor T.D. Jakes once said that, when you pass a construction site, and see big diggers and heavy machinery and quantities of building materials, you know one thing for certain: "They aren't building a chicken coop."
He was talking to an audience of leaders, men and women who were achievers, "get-it-done" types, who very often secretly struggled with feeling unproductive or useless.
Jakes hit a sensitive spot. Many feel like they have little real purpose in life, at least at their present situation. Many feel like they contribute nothing to anything that matters. I was one of them.
But Jakes has a good point. God has invested greatly in the least of his people, sending Jesus to redeem us. And if that had been all he did, it would have been enough. But He went farther, and in some folks, He invested in mentoring, education, training, character-building and more. And yet we wonder why. We wonder what the point might be of all the training and experience. Is it so we can sit on the sidelines, apparently doing nothing? Surely not.
Many have written of times when God seems to withdraw from us any sense of his presence. Some have called it the "dark night of the soul," others a "wilderness experience." David cried out to God, pleading that He not remove his Spirit. Moses argued with God, telling him that without God's presence, the Israelites were just another bunch of escaped slaves, wandering in the desert. They needed God's presence for significance, or God had brought them out for nothing.
I understand that too well.
So why does God withdraw from us - though we know He's there all the time - and pull us out of the "game," letting us sit on the sidelines? And worse, as we sit, we can see places where the game is not going well, places where we are certain we could be a factor. Our training, experience and gifts all point us to that exact need. But we sit on the sidelines.
Why would God do something like that? Why would a God - who never wastes anything in our experience and gifting - not want us engaged, using the gifts He has given us?
I'm not sure I have the answer. At least, I have never been able to completely satisfy myself. But sometimes, in the middle of a storm, it's difficult to look objectively at what's happening to and around you. You're more concerned with living through the storm. Nevertheless, I have some ideas that I want to share.
One common reason, I think, is that we might develop character. The biggest factor in our effectiveness in God's kingdom is not our intelligence or education or gifts. It's our character: Can God trust us, no matter what? We often assume that, well, of course: I'm a nice guy, honest, trustworthy and all that. But there's a deeper issue: Do we trust God with our life, no matter what the situation? Can we truly say that nothing is more important to us than knowing and serving God? That we would rather live in his presence than have the greatest success and satisfaction in anything else?
But God isn't primarily concerned with what we think life has equipped us to do. He isn't primarily concerned with our career choices or our professional achievements. Our decisions in those matters, after all, come from our perspective, our own idea of our place in the world, not his.
God could easily let us continue on, seeking our own goals and satisfying our own ambitions. But our goals are based on our perception of the world and our place in it, which is in turn based on a tiny amount of information. We see reality as though we were looking at the world through a nail hole in a wall. Our best perceptions are badly distorted. And so we relate to a "world' that is to the real world as a cartoon drawing is to a real person.
Do we trust God with our lives?
I was once in a gallery, looking at a beautifully mounted reproduction of a painting of a scene in the Colorado mountains. It was beautiful, and I spent a good while looking at it. Then a friend called me to come and see another item, hanging on another wall close by. It was the original painting. I was astonished. I looked at the richness of the work, then back at the reproduction I had thought so beautiful. After the real thing, the copy looked bland, washed out, and uninteresting.
So it is with life. Once we have seen life from God's perspective - from the "other side of the sky" - what we previously found so fascinating is a lifeless, colorless copy. The best prayer we can make, I think, is two-fold: that we might see ourselves as God sees us, and that we might see the world and our place in it as God sees them.
Makes all the difference.