Friday, March 21, 2014

Being Set Adrift for God

(I have taken a break from blogging for a while but several events lately led me to post this and get back into the task of blogging.)

I am not afraid to admit that I like control. I don’t like other people controlling me or telling me what to do. I never have liked it (just ask my Mom or Dad).  Despite life requiring that I allow others to lead in many situations, I enjoy having elements of control over my own life. In the midst of chaos I like to exert as much control over the situation as I can - so that the chaos begins to ease as much as possible. I don’t think that I am alone in this. Most of us like control. It’s human to want things to be fixed and static but life often does not work that way.

Trying to exert control in times of discernment and reflection can be even harder. Following where God leads us in our lives can be a scary and intimidating process. Exerting control in those circumstances is often problematic. Giving up control to God is hard for many of us, but we feel like it should be done and should be easier. It’s often not.

I work with seminary students (folks preparing for pastoral ministry in some form) and often meet with them to talk about their ministry and life discernment process. I also have the opportunity to talk with quite a few prospective students who are still trying to determine what God is calling them to do and be in their lives and any potential ministry. I have come across a number of persons who denied their call for decades because they did not or could not give in to the discernment process and acknowledge their call into pastoral ministry or some other discernment issue in their lives. Giving up control and allowing God to lead is indeed hard – despite how faithful one is.

Recently, a guest lecturer was preaching in our chapel. She shared an ancient Celtic tradition of setting sail in a rudderless boat, relying on the wind of the Holy Spirit to guide you as you discerned who God was leading you to be and where God was sending you to share that state of being. As she explained the process, I came to understand that one who is discerning their life direction embarks on a journey to see where God is directing them by being set adrift to catch the winds of the Spirit – with no way to pilot the boat themselves.

Canoe set Adrift by Poucher
The image was both refreshing and terrifying at the same time. It was a refreshing image to contemplate. Being set adrift to go where God directs us is powerful. Giving into the will of God is a profound thing that can set a person free from the bonds that are keeping them from fully being who they are called to be. Giving into the breath of God and go where the wind takes you opens up potential ministry and life experiences that no one could ever imagine on their own. Being able to launch yourself on that kind of adventure would take a lot of fortitude and guts.

That’s where the scary part comes in – letting go of your own need for control and to actually stop trying to control the boat is important. The very fact that the boat is rudderless means there is no directing the boat on your own. Of course, left to my own devices, I could probably use my hands or feet to push/pull/navigate the boat. And I would likely want to do just that. But that’s not what we are called to do in discernment.

The task is to stop trying to control things. We are called to let the Spirit lead and to go where God directs us.

And that’s tricky. The easy thing is to say to ourselves or others, “Just have faith.” But the reality is that letting go is against our human nature. That means even having faith is not all that we need to get us to let go. We have to “own up” to our reluctance to give up control and allow God to blow us where God will. And we need to acknowledge that it is not the easiest thing for us to do. We should not beat ourselves up about this when we fail and try to steer some of the way.

Discernment is tough. So is living into the will of God. But we are called to live into this anyway – to find a way. Being honest and working through the discernment process patiently is paramount. Give yourself some grace when it’s not easy. And try paddling as little as possible when you are in that rudderless boat.

It’s ok. God loves us anyway – even when we fail. And the Spirit will continue to blow to guide us even when it is harder to let it guide us.

Let’s make this promise to each other and to God – we’ll keep our hands and feet inside the rudderless vehicle as much as we can and enjoy the ride.

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