Called to Fail?
November 6th, 2012 has come and gone. The monstrous and menacing machine that is the American political and campaign engine has crossed the finish line, and can finally click off (well, maybe for a few months). We have a victor. We all had the privilege of casting our votes for a candidate, and now we get to make our decisions regarding what plans or changes we will make in light of our best surmises of the political and economic future.
Perhaps you can tell that there is a little bit of relief in my voice, perhaps you feel the same way. But, what if you are Mitt Romney? What other emotions are entwined and whirling in his sigh? Perhaps the most stressful almost two years of his life has now passed. But, this sigh must also contain whispers of disappointment, whistles of pain, and wonders around uncertainty as it passes through his lips.
In my recent reflections on the role and theology of work and vocational calling, this election season has left me wondering- “what if I was a presidential candidate… and I was the loser?” After sacrificing my health, my money, my ministries, my family, my reputation… after suffering what must be momentous highs and drowning lows, and all seeing it result in… nothing, would put me in a position of needing some serious soul care. “Why, God, in your sovereignty, would you seem to call me to fail? If this failure had occurred while valiant pioneering missionary effort, or perhaps an effort at a church plant, I could immediately console myself with thoughts of the ministry and victories that had come along the way, even if the vision wasn’t realized. Or, you can always preach to yourself, “who knows what still might come in the future, and who knows what God still might do?” But, the history books don’t have favorable projections for trying another crack after two unsuccessful elections.
So, Tanner, what’s your point (sorry, I tend to ramble… as well as to alliterate, if any readers have noticed)?
Theological Platform One: We all have a view of sovereignty and individual calling, with a view that lies somewhere between our lives being fatalistically and robotically programmed to fall into place according to the one track that God predestined in eternity past, or that God’s will simply includes the desire for us to live wisely and loving- the specifics are irrelevant, and many.
Theological Dilemma One: Both extremes have their errors in application and living. At their extremes, bot lead to the same praxis as the other extreme: there is NO need to think about what obedience to God’s design, gifting, and callings might be, because it’s destined to happen, or because there is no different plan for me than for anyone else (“do good, not bad, and make disciples,” in a primitive way of phrasing it).
Theological Dilemma Two: For those somewhere in the middle, who read the Scriptures and see a picture that God does have specific vocational appointments for the individual, and feel the conviction to try to understand them so they can live obediently to them. Yet, this desire can lead to a lifetime spent neurotically and anxiously grasping to know “God’s secret plan.” There are many books and counselors there are out there who affirm that there is still freedom in this, and to celebrate that we are accountable to what we know and not what we don’t. Yet, the following “how to” suggestions that follow (taking psychologically based strengths and skill tests, journaling out one’s heart passions, determining “where you feel the brokenness of the world the most, profiling your temperament and personality, etc) communicate a different message: “if I should be able to discern my calling using these strategies, why aren’t they working?!”
I am reminded, thinking about the spiritual-psychological mist that must accompany losing and election, of Henri Nouwen’s testimony. After being pierced by the need and opportunity to serve the poor in South America, he left his post at Yale to fly down to our neighbor continent to engaged in this sort of work. Yet, what he found is that the need, and even what seemed to be true desires to meet it, didn’t constitute a calling. After experiencing “failure” here, he returned to the States.
“What would I do…how would I respond, at the climax of failure?” I think November 6th gives us an interesting situation to contemplate. Would it drive us away from God in a bitter rage of disillusion? Or would it draw us closer to His side for direction and nourishment for the next journey? Perhaps a pause and a prayer through the perspective of another’s shoes might bring us encouragement, or some type of realignment, to the roadblocks and uncertainties we work to navigate in our own lives.