There is a story often attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson of a ship caught in a dreadful storm off a rocky coast. The hurricane winds, driving rain, and heaving waves threatened to drive the ship and its passengers into destruction. In the midst of the terror, one daring man pulled himself up the slippery stairs of the ship’s hold to the deck, fearful of what he’d see. The ship tossed steeply; creaking and cracking pierced the steady whoosh of the angry sea. The moonlight in the heavy rain did not allow much vision, but the sailor held fast and gazed across the deck to the wheel of the ship. There he saw the pilot at his post gripping the wheel strongly, and bit by bit steering the ship out to sea. The pilot spotted the terrified spy and gave him a smirk. Impressed, the passenger returned to the hold and sounded the news: “I have seen the face of the pilot, and he smiled at me. All is well.”
I’m making my way through Dave Harvey’s Rescuing Ambition. It’s been really great at getting to the heart of ambition and make distinctions that tease apart what godly vs. selfish ambition looks like. It’s been great for me in terms of how I’ve been wrestling with reconciling the voices that say “COME ON, DO IT FOR GOD!! DREAM BIG! GOGOGO!” with the truth that well, we don’t dream dreams for God, we just live in obedience step by step…and we don’t have to do something ‘great’ to be great in God’s eyes.
I am finding that I am way more ambitious than I’d thought! God is helping me make sense of some of the things that have happened and are happening in my life by seeing his hand in placing “fences” in my way to direct my path. I see how he has been using situations to expose self and purify my ambitions and dreams. I am learning that I am called to live in the tension of having great future aspirations for God’s glory with contentment in the now, and that to do so I must find my satisfaction in him alone.
I highly recommend the book! =)
Some good quotes (bolding added):
God loves us so much he’ll intentionally fence us in to keep us on his road. This can be hard, I know. It’s never easy to stare at a fence suddenly blocking the path we want to take. But God fences our roads to keep us moving in his direction…We find no peace in life until we’re convinced our path is his way and our place is his choice. This is so worth repeating: your place is his choice. Fences and all. (78-79)
Contentment means being satisfied and at peace with God’s will in all situations. It’s a state of the soul where your desires conform to wherever you find yourself…Since Paul’s ambitions were not selfish, he could live with them unfulfilled. Sure, he had dreams and desires- but they were God-focused, not Paul-focused. If they remained unsatisfied, that was God’s business. So Paul was able to aspire for more while resting peacefully in what God’ provided. He hungered for more but was happy with less. Deferred dreams didn’t eat away at him. Paul could be at peace in the present without abandoning hopes for the future. (123)
Anxiety is one of my biggest struggles.
I didn’t used to think so, but reflecting back in my life, fear and anxiety have been constant themes. Most of the time, they manifest in physical symptoms. I used to get stomachaches all the time when I was in elementary school (usually Sunday nights before the school week started)- I learned in a psych class in college that stomach aches are a sign of anxiety in children. Since high school, I’ve broken out in hives in response to anxiety that I may or may not know that I have. I had an almost painful feeling of heaviness on my chest and shoulders for almost a year in LA and when I was struggling with the major decision about whether or not to stay, for weeks I’d wake up in the middle of the night with hives all over. Now, since around my first midterms or finals week at Westminster 2 years ago, my stomach has gotten into the habit of forming a tight knot whenever I’m anxious. It may be something big, or I may just be rushing to finish cooking dinner on time, and this knot will grab my stomach and not let go until I stop doing whatever I’m doing.
Since getting married, there’s been more for me to be anxious about. First, there’s all that Jeff has to do. He’s much busier than I am during this season of life, and he doesn’t get anxious like me, so I get anxious for him. There’s also constantly more to think about in terms of what’s next in life. There’s always something bad that can happen or something we hope for that may not happen.
Remembering to praise God or just reflecting that he is in control usually helps, but rather than stop and meditate on the truth, I normally try to plug through and finish whatever I’m doing, with the knot in my stomach intensifying as I go. I’m asking God to get to the root of these anxious thoughts. I know vaguely that they are founded upon what I value, possible idolatry, lack of trust in God’s character, superstitious fear, and not taking time to just sit and remember God.
I read a quote a few days ago that convicted me from Paul Miller’s A Praying Life (Good book! I recommend it!)
Anxiety wants to be God but lacks God’s wisdom, power, or knowledge. A godlike stance without godlike character and ability is pure tension. Because anxiety is self on its own, it tries to get control. It is unable to relax in the face of chaos. Once one problem is solved, the next in line steps up. The new one looms so large, we forget the last deliverance.
A godlike stance without God’s character and ability. So true. My anxiety believes that I need to possess the wisdom, power, and knowledge of God in order to rest. If I just knew what was going to happen, then I wouldn’t be anxious. If I could make something happen or prevent something from happening, then I wouldn’t be scared. If I had all the wisdom in the world, then I could make the best choice and not be worried about what to do. I need this wisdom, power and knowledge to shape things my way, the best way! But these are lies. I need to remember that God is God, that I’m not, and that that’s how it is supposed to be. That as a creature, I’m in constant need of my Creator and that I don’t have to live autonomously and independent from him, but am made to be completely dependent upon his wisdom, power, and knowledge. All things are to work together for his glory, not my desires and comfort. I need to trust in not only his power and wisdom, but his love and goodness. This eternal wisdom, power, goodness, sovereignty and loving care is evident in him caring for birds, lilies, and grass of the field and made manifest most evidently in the cross of Jesus Christ.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
It is astonishing that I would entrust my eternal destination and soul to God, and still be afraid about life here which will pass by like the blink-of-an-eye. God has done so much, and my faith is still so weak. Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus, oh for grace to trust him more.