Strive

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Sometimes I make things happen and sometimes I let things happen. The good things, I mean. When I look back on opportunities I’ve had in life, I see that they’ve happened both ways, but mostly they’re a bit of a mix. When I started my preschool music teaching business, I didn’t necessarily know that’s what was happening at the time. One day, I sent one letter to one new dance studio that seemed cool and interesting, and many weeks later, they called to meet with me. Julie and Jonathan became my dear friends, and I started my program at their studio. Soon, schools and children’s museums and libraries reached out to me and before I knew it, my schedule was pretty full. I made some of it happen with work and initiative, and I let some of it happen. Given the choice, I prefer the latter, when it feels like you’re floating in a stream or on a breeze not of your own making.

When it comes to new opportunities, I have noticed that my success is disproportionately linked to my effort. When I strive and strain to add a new school or setting to my teaching schedule, it rarely pans out, but when I follow a small lead that falls in my path, it takes very little work on my part to make it come to fruition.   Why is this?

I have a Deacon friend who said he had stopped seeking ministry opportunities many years before but would instead just say yes to whatever came to him, trusting God with all of it. He said it was possible that God intended for him to sit and watch football on tv, or maybe there was work for him to do. He’d let God sort it out. Of course, the ministries came, one a tremendously fruitful prison ministry, and my friend’s seemingly passive, yet truly trusting countenance toward all of it worked out for everyone in the end.

These days I am more sensitive to the small voice within that would direct my movements. I can tell immediately in my spirit when my action is inspired and fueled by God and when it is not. It’s cooperation versus striving.  I’ve done good works and sent queries and proposals for teaching, writing, and singing that felt spirit-led, light, and free, and I’ve crafted others that felt like heavy weights on my shoulders, when it was impossible to construct a decent-sounding sentence. Working on and sending out the first kind feels like freedom and the latter feels almost like sin, or certainly like swimming upstream.

Everywhere lately, there are voices in my ear, in podcasts, and in my devotionals that are cautioning: stop. Don’t strive. Do your bit, and let God work and you’ll be amazed what happens. But inaction is hard work, or at least it feels like work to me sometimes. It is so hard to sit back, trust, and not push toward a new opportunity that feels like it’s supposed to be mine. Yet that’s precisely what I hear God instructing me these days. He’s all Acts 1:7 (“It’s not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has established by His own authority.”) and Psalm 31:16 (“my times are in your hands”) And I know deep down that I will have to be okay with it.  It’s counter-intuitive, but there’s a greater plan at work.

Striving is all about control, and as I get older, I see how little of that I have. Still, the temptation remains to make a way for myself. It’s only in my most quiet, prayerful moments that I see the folly of that. No one makes their own way, not entirely. I look back on my bendy, curvy road in amazement at the people God has brought to me, at the opportunities I’ve been given, at how I never could have planned any of it, and I see myself as the nine-year old girl I still am somehow, with my hand in the hand of God. I need to let him lead, and though the stillness this requires of me feels unnatural and like pain sometimes, it’s really freedom. My future is not of my making, anymore than the best parts of my past have been. That’s good news. I’m a runner looking at the third base coach and I’m waiting for the sign: stay or run. All I need to do is trust the coach, keep looking, and go when he tells me. It’s harder than it sounds but my best chance at success in the end. The coach sees the field and the players and he’s watching all of the motion unfold. He sees everything and he knows precisely how and when I should go; why wouldn’t I wait him out?

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