Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver
I saw a dear friend this weekend. Since college, each of us has been witness to God’s firm commitment to keep and lead the other. There’s this different peace about you, she’d said when I first told her about me and Jeff. Later, she stood up front with me at my wedding, and I at hers. Now, the men we married took the kids we’ve had since then out for a hike so we could catch up.
We sat on my deck and talked about how we’ve been wrestling to own the things God has put on our hearts. What it’s looked like for us figuring out life as moms while carrying a specific sense of his calling for work outside the home. Like William Wilberforce, God has put before her a “great object”— a need in the world she has been called to meet as a trailblazer. She has a sharp mind, a passion for justice, a bold faith, and a history of receiving unique opportunities from the Lord. The direction she’s moving in feels obvious to me as her friend, though in this season of life it has taken time for her to walk in it with confidence.
I talked about my own desire, more nebulous than hers, but real nonetheless. She’d known to ask me specifically about it, then told me, “That’s always who you’ve been. It’s almost like, part of the essence of Faith Chang.” I’ve been walking the uneven terrain of self-doubt for a while, and her words were a steadying hand.
It strikes me now how parallel our journeys have been, though hers has her globe-trotting with her family and me rooted in Staten Island for over for a decade. More specifically, in recent years, both of us have had to stop looking to other women for exact models of how our lives ought to look, stop trying to duplicate the obedience of others, however godly those examples may be. In other words, we have needed to learn to discern what it looks like for us to walk in God’s ways.
For years, I’ve had in mind to write a blogpost titled, “That Blogger Doesn’t Know You.” The idea came to me when, as a younger mom, I had to stop reading the flood of Christian articles I’d immersed myself in, mom-blogs especially. Women wrote about how they were led by God to certain convictions about raising kids, serving in their churches, supporting their husbands, and working in the world. The logic of their choices flowed from the Scriptures and made sense to me, so I (often unconsciously) took their standards as my own. The problem was that their choices came out of the way they were called to obey God and though they described one application of God’s truth, their examples were rarely meant to be prescriptive for me. I had to recognize that because I have a different family, am called to a different church, and just am a different person, many of the specific ways I love God and neighbor are necessarily different.
What I’m not saying is that God’s Word is relative, or that it’s okay to excuse disobedience because of our circumstances. Christians don’t just “do you,” following our hearts no matter where they lead. Jesus says we’ll know a tree by its fruit, and Scripture is clear about the kind of fruit a believer ought to show. Following God’s way for our lives can never look like not following his commands. Still, the way we obey his command to love him and neighbor can vary. There are many types of trees that bear good fruit. You do sanctified you.
A few weeks ago, praying with another dear one as she steps through some incredible doors God is swinging wide open for her, I thought of how there is no one else in all of history who has lived or will live her life. Later, I thought about how this is true for every one of us who have ever walked God’s good earth, and well, that took my breath away.
Parents (or aunties and uncles) of a set of siblings know what it’s like, seeing up-close the uniqueness of a child as distinct from his siblings. “She looks like herself,” is what Jeff would say when people asked who our firstborn looked like, but I tried to place her, describe how she was like me or her dad. As she and her siblings grow older though, as I observe differences between them in the questions they bring about God, the way they experience the world, the fears and dreams (literal and figurative) they have, I know their dad is right.
The point of the God-given uniqueness of each individual, that each person in the history of the world is “like himself” or “like herself”, teeters on the incomprehensible to me.
As a kid, I played a computer game that began with the user creating a set of blue, egg-shaped characters. You’d make each one by choosing their hairstyle, eyes, nose, and legs, which was fun until you had to make a lot of them at once. At that point, your best bet was to click on a picture of two dice, the random Zoombini generator. The game only allowed for each character to have one duplicate. Who has enough patience to create 20 computer game characters with four traits each? Not me.
God, though. From the beginning of humanity, through every era, he has fearfully and wonderfully made each of his image bearers, forming every one in his or her mother’s womb. Not only so, but he has determined the times and places for each one of us that we may turn to him. He has not auto-populated human history with the roll of dice. A person’s learning style, height, temperament, tastebuds, and reading pace? Whether or not he’s comfortable in a crowd or she’s always the first to spot the lonely? The things that move you, make you wonder, and catch your breath? These are determined and have been (and are being) shaped by the the Holy Maker of all things and all people.
Moreover, Scripture says that we who are saved by grace are his workmanship. Created in Christ Jesus, God has prepared good works for us to walk into (Eph. 2:8-10). There is such specificity here, how as we go through life, God has wisely set out tasks before for each of us to discover along the way.
Though we imitate the faith of others walking in Jesus’ narrow way, in a very real sense, he is leading us on a road never taken before by any other. And as much as it would be simpler to follow another’s map, more necessary and precious is the promise of his Spirit and guidance, the nearness of our Teacher who speaks to his people, “This is the way, walk in it” (Is. 30:21). What about John?, we may ask. “What is that to you? You must follow me,” replies our Savior (Jn. 21:21-22). So we take one step, then another, though we know not where to.
There is a measure of freedom we experience here, and a sense of fearful trembling too, acknowledging the uniqueness of the one life we alone are called to live before God. He releases us from the crushing yoke of using another’s life as a measuring stick for our own, from trying to live in ways we were never equipped for or expected to live. In some ways though, it can feel harder. It means searching the Scriptures when I’d rather scroll the internet for soundbites of truth. It means I need hard-earned wisdom that can only come through walking daily in the fear of the Lord. It means waiting with patience, seeking his face even more than his guidance, trusting that Jesus meant it when he said his sheep will know his voice (Jn. 10:1-18), believing that even if I get turned around, he won’t leave me behind to fend for myself.
I’ll spend a lifetime learning to walk this way. Seeking to love God with my particular set of desires, talents, limits, sufferings, regrets, preferences, weaknesses, and strengths. Learning to love others as myself—both as much as I love me, and in a way only I can. Being made more like him, and more like me, in my time and place. I expect to be praising God for his wisdom in future years, glad that his course for me turned out to be different than my own vague predictions regarding it. Or maybe, as sometimes happens, I’ll be even more surprised to find that I was right on some counts.
As soon as the husbands and kids returned, my friend’s family had to leave to make it to their dinner plans. The two of us dragged our feet saying bye, even more than the kids did. I hadn’t thought to say it then, but there is a different kind of peace about her, the kind that comes from the Spirit. She is growing into herself, courageously walking the path of obedience that is hers alone to take. We both are, I know. But I see it so clearly in her and it’s beautiful, which gives me hope it might also look that way in me.