This morning, I found comfort and strength in some very familiar words from the Apostle Paul:
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected: but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
As an undergrad, these verses often came to mind at the end of the semester when I was exhausted and wondering where I was going to find the time and energy to finish up those last projects. The goal of my calling always seemed to be the end of the semester.
Now, several years later, it’s interesting to see how my perspective has changed. Yes, in some ways, this does still apply to the academic semester. Today, in fact, was the last day of final exams at NGU. I submitted my final grades this mornings, many of my students and friends have left campus, and I don’t have to worry about teaching for several more months. I’m also finishing up my term project for grad school. Pressing on towards the end of that semester.
But the past few days…well, actually, the past few months, I suppose, although everything seems to have culminated in an overwhelming last few days…I’ve been considering the tension in my life between my own desires and God’s calling. This consideration and recognition of the tension, I’m sure, began around the time I felt the call to go to Haiti and began to consider the role that missions is going to play in my life. That tension intensified when my trip to Haiti was postponed. And in the past few weeks, when I’ve thought about what it might look like to leave Greenville and move elsewhere to pursue a Ph.D., when I’ve seen those I love also wrestle with how to follow the very difficult calling of God on their lives, I’ve begun to feel overwhelmed by that tension between earthly desire and divine calling.
Here’s an example: our culture is obsessed with fairy tales. I’ve struggled for years to try to understand this obsession. I was reminded in a huge way early on Friday morning when I stupidly checked Facebook before leaving for work. All of those people awake at 5 a.m., posting ridiculous status updates? They were watching the royal wedding. They watched a girl become a princess after she walked down the aisle in a long white dress and got to kiss the prince.
I’ll admit. The obsession with fairy tales fascinates me because I want it, too. I want to be cherished and desired and adored. But I also recognize that I am imperfect, living in a vastly imperfect world populated by more imperfect people. I cannot have the fairy tale. The fairy tale doesn’t exist, and besides, I want to love a guy with flaws who can also love me in spite of my own flaws.
I also recognize that this desire is not going to come to fruition now. A relationship may not happen any time soon. It may never happen. I also recognize that, if this is the case, it’s because God’s calling is greater than anything I could imagine. Sure, I could get married to a great guy, we could have a family, and I could continue teaching. Maybe that will be my calling eventually. But right now, I have the sense that something bigger is going on. Maybe my trip to Haiti, which should finally happen in December, will be a step in revealing my calling. Maybe moving to another state (such as Texas) to enter a Ph.D. program (like maybe at Baylor) will also be another step in determining where I’m going and what God has planned for my life. Maybe the calling isn’t familiar and safe. Maybe it’s dangerous and challenging and scary and wonderful.
And the kicker–the idea that I’ve been considering more and more lately. Maybe the desires that I have right now–the things I so desperately want–aren’t part of my calling. Maybe the people I love so desperately right now are called in completely different directions, and they are only meant to be part of my life for a season. Maybe in running the race set before me, I have to sacrifice my own selfish desires for something greater than myself–for the glory of God and the spreading of His Kingdom. Maybe I fight against the flesh and fight for the Spirit, a fight that is so difficult when I’m tired and discouraged. A fight that becomes easier when those people I love who are also running their own races are also fighting, too.
All this to say: some days are difficult when I realize that some of my dreams (like a relationship) need to be sacrificed for others (finishing my degree and devoting as much time and energy to my students as I can). But God’s story is bigger than the end of a semester. It’s bigger than a stressful day. It’s way bigger than any fairy tale man could imagine.
Fight the good fight, friends. Fight with and for the God who is never going to let us go.