I’ve lived in Columbus, Ohio, for a year now. I spent about 6 months of it unemployed, coached some fourth graders to be nerds and to build robots, wrestled with all kinds of questions, read some challenging books, enjoyed some of the best family time I’ve ever experienced, got my first full-time job that wasn’t “ministry-related”, turned 25, bought a house, made some good new friends. Pretty common young adulthood things.
My time spent unemployed was without question the most frustrating period of my life. I left a job that felt significant where I regularly got to see the Gospel intersect with people’s lives in obvious ways. But I needed to leave. I’m not going to get into all the reasons now, but it was obvious to me.
But what was next? Parker Palmer writes about this in his book Let Your Life Speak. There’s a Quaker phrase “Have faith and way will open.” He notes his struggle with this phrase as he contemplated his own vocation in a conversation with his friend Ruth. She replied to him “In sixty-plus years of living, way has never opened in front of me . . . But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.”
It takes more work living no longer confident in what’s next (of course, none of us really know what lies a mere thirty seconds ahead of us), but there’s a lot I can learn from what’s behind which guides the present and sets a trajectory for the future.
That’s mostly what I did for those six months – reflect on what was behind (that and watch more Netflix than I care to admit). Nearly every weather-permitting weekday, I took a book or two, a journal, some music, and a pen out to this park with some walking trails and a few small lakes. I would reflect, pray, and get frustrated. I would enjoy nature and listen.
While I’m now grateful to have a job and a steady income, I wouldn’t change the past. Those six months were good for me. I needed that time. I needed to wrestle with God and my future, to process hurt and frustration, to read way more than ever before, to allow myself to ask new questions, to be radically honest with myself, to be okay with change. I believe those six months made me a better human being – shaped me into a more authentic self. I’ve grown in empathy and capacity for connection.
I studied math in college (I know this blog has always been about theology, but my top strength is being a learner. You can’t quench my curiosity so I have some diverse interests). Chaos theory in mathematics is commonly referred to as “The Butterfly Effect.” Essentially in massive systems, almost imperceptible changes can drastically change outcomes. If you take two matrices each with thousands of entries and change just one entry, the product matrix is noticeably different because that one change was multiplied thousands of times. From what we understand of complex systems like the global climate, this means something as small as a butterfly swerving right instead left can affect whether or not a hurricane forms.
That sounds scary. It seems we always talk about this in terms of disasters, but what if we looked at it in terms of New Creation and Resurrection? What if instead we looked at the seeds of something beautiful – what Tolkien called a eucatastrophe?
The Bible is a really challenging book, one that often gives me more questions than answers, but there are some threads I find in its pages that give me tremendous hope.
In Genesis 1, we see God speaking into the dark, chaotic waters and forming life and light.
In Exodus, we see God speaking now through Moses into tyranny and bringing freedom.
In Job, we see God unafraid of the challenge of suffering and giving not answers but hope.
In Isaiah, we see God extending His promise of redemption to Israel and her neighbors in the midst of disgrace and destruction.
In the Gospels, we see God dwelling among us with flesh and bone with snorting laughs and ugly cries. Ultimately, we see God work beauty and justice out of the killing of an innocent man.
This theme, which many theologians name resurrection, asserts that despite what it looks like, darkness does not have the final word. Evil is not good, but good can proceed from it, and while that does not justify the presence of evil it does inspire hope.
What does resurrection mean for me? Resurrection means everyday kindness and grace are the stuff of world-changing. It means that taking a walk and processing the past is a holy act and that it may have an incalculable effect because it increases the capacity for love. It means that there is no such thing as profane; the holy is everywhere. Do you want to change the world? Do the little things. That’s what really makes all the difference.
You may be thinking, “Jon, it seems like you’re using resurrection as a metaphor.” I won’t deny that. So did Jesus in telling His disciples to take up the cross daily and follow. So did Paul when he said “I am crucified with Christ, and yet I live.” Jesus as the incarnation of God is the substance and example of this resurrection living, but now He’s inviting us to join Him. In John, He even says that we will do greater works than He. There are several ways of understanding that, but all of them are awe-inspiring.
I no longer work for an organization with global Christian mission as its aim. But that doesn’t mean I’m not called to be on mission now, and it doesn’t mean that being unemployed was off mission. Being on mission isn’t always about speaking the Gospel to others. That’s a part of it – a huge part even – but the mark Jesus identified as being on his disciples is love. We love in both word and deed.
Love is the currency of the Kingdom of God (my brother likes the phrase Kindom of God even more to differentiate it from the empire of man). Living in this new family of God is living by costly grace, the kind of grace that forgives those who have wronged you and seeks reconciliation from those you have wronged, the kind of grace that loves your enemies, the kind of grace that speaks light into darkness, the kind of grace that chooses hope over despair, the God-shaped kind.
There was this rabbi who once said,
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.
Matthew 13:31b-32 (NIV)
I want to live as if simple, mustard-seed-sized acts of loving God by loving others can change the whole system. I want to look into the face of those around me and see the image of God in them especially the ones I have a hard time loving or the ones the world views as insignificant or unworthy of attention. Would you join me?
Thanks for reading.
A note on comments: I’m planning actually to respond to them now. I’d love to hear your thoughts.