Monday, April 19, 2010

Facing the "What Ifs"

Devin and I went to hear author Donald Miller speak this past weekend. I came to the realization that Donald is probably the author that has most influenced my adult life. The "big things" that I've done in the last few years - stories from my life I'm actually proud of - have all been inspired, largely, by his books.

I went on my year-long fast from buying clothes because of a story he told in Blue Like Jazz. I was motivated to do my Project 101 in 1001 while reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. And now, after hearing Donald speak, I have again been smacked between the eyes with a foundation-shifting realization:

I'm scared to do stuff for God.

I know it's awful and I know I shouldn't be. But truly and honestly, I am a spiritual scaredy-cat is who is miserably content in the sad little rut I've cut out for my comfortable little life. I avoid even thinking about doing big things for God because I'm afraid I might actually have to do them. Which is ridiculous because I am 98% sure that if I gave it all up for God and really served Him without fear, I would never regret it. I would have awesome stories and experiences and memories that could never compare with a life lived comfortably.

But that 2% uncertainty that reminds me that I would also have trials and struggles and challenges, sure seems to scream louder than the 98%. That 2% reminds me that I like my stuff and my apartment and the security of my job and my savings account. I like living close to family. I like planning out my future, happy little American family. I like not having to think about ruffling up or letting go of some of those "perfect" dreams. Even if the reason for the uprooting them is a Great One.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” - Jesus, Matthew 16:25

Donald spoke about how serving God involves action. That good stories have lots of action verbs. That as Christians we can't just sit around talking about God and thinking about God and reading about God while not actually doing anything for God. He compared it to reading a tractor's manual but never buying a tractor or plowing a field. That would be absurd, and yet I do this same thing with my life all the time.

He also talked about how often we are too scared to dream big with God and then challenged us to start by asking "What if" questions. "What if I moved to Africa?" "What if I started a ministry?" "What if every fatherless child had a mentor?" That sort of thing.

That was the moment when I realized that not only have I been too scared and comfortable to try and do big things for God, I wasn't even willing to think about them. I would often be silent when Devin would talk about doing something huge for God because I was afraid that if I even showed the smallest hint of interest, support or excitement about the idea, I would have to follow through with doing it.

But I'm starting to go in circles here.

To sum it up - I realized that if I really believe God is who He says He is, and will do the things He says He will, that I have no excuse for not serving Him with abandon. I realized that I'm too attached to my comfy life and use it as an excuse for not being open to doing something big for God. And, as I scribbled out some "What ifs" through my tears, I saw a common theme:

  • What if we worked at a Compassion International center in Uganda?
  • What if we worked for House of James orphanage in the Ukraine?
  • What if we became house parents for Sunshine Acres children's home?
  • What if we became foster parents?
  • What if I wasn't scared to do something big for God?
  • What if I was willing to let go of all the "comfortable?"

I honestly don't know yet what to do with all these "What Ifs."  I only know that I've been too afraid to even consider them and now that this wall of denial lays crumbled at my feet, I've got to face the challenge of being willing to do.

Matthew 6:19-34
Matthew 7:13


  1. Trust me friend. I understand. It is scary as crap to realize that you are not living the life you are supposed to and then it is scarrier to realize that God is calling you to live differently than everyone else you know. (so glad we have Mark and Erin) To hear God calling you to do something different and then to try to ignore that is impossible. This is the verse than constantly haunts me James 4:17 "It is a sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it." It's good that you have made this conviction public because now we can all hold you to it:). Knowing that we are supposed to live in Guatemala has been the most freeing and scary thing all at once. Its like we have no option to ignore it. God is clearly calling us and we have to listen. The part I dread the most is leaving family, but then I remember Luke 14:26 "If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple." I have to be willing to leave mom, dad, and grandma. If I put being with them over doing God's will in my life. Im sinning and I cannot be his disciple. So, you are more than welcome to move to Guatemala with us, but if that's not what God's will is for you:), I encourage you to keep trying to figure it out because I am so holding you to this blog! Sorry I typed so much. Love you!!!

  2. This is a solid clarion call and haunting reminder that we cannot have faith without "faithing". Just like you cannot have rain without it "raining". On the back end of a divorce I didn't want it is clear to me one of the driving factors was being part of what I call "The Evangelical Yacht Club". Radical discipleship is only perceived as "radical" because Christian frogs have been warmed in the kettle of their own self preoccupation. What should be typical is now notable. I applaud your heart and am certain the sails on the ship of your life are billowing with the cool breeze of the Holy Spirit. Godspeed.

  3. Love this post, Jen. I scrawled and scribbled all over A Million Miles.

    I'm not so scared of doing big things for God--for me, it's more like I'm scared that He's going to tell me no. Or that He wants me to BE more than DO. If that makes any sense.

    Basically, I have big dreams, but what if they're just mine and not God's? I have to trust Him more completely!

  4. I completely feel you - it is a scary thing stepping out in faith. But from someone who has done it, and is actually moving into the "hood" in Atlanta, know that it is TOTALLY worth it!

  5. We've had a huge "what if" placed in our lap this month and it's a doozy. No coincidence that we stumbled upon your blog just when we needed to hear all these things that you're also working thru! We've been in the place so many times these past few decades and have often obeyed and brought glory to God as we'd hoped. But each new "what if" is still terrifying even though we KNOW He is faithful and we have all those wonderful promises from Him about the grace, mercy, strength, and provision He has for us.

    Do you remember Moriah, your little Lady Jennifer-wannabe? She's 13 now and just got back from her SECOND trip to Africa! (that would be the "what if I let my baby go to a far-away country?" that I had to wrestle with! She did indeed fall in love with the people and the place and I'm sure I'll "lose" her to that land some day :) You can see her here at the blog of the trip that she and Mark did:

  6. Hi, New Friend! Thanks for stopping by my place! :) Next time we'll have to have coffee and chat a bit.

    This was a great post. Scary, indeed. As a missionary kid, my parents followed that voice that they heard calling, and it took us halfway around the world and caused me to be raised in the jungle. But I wouldn't trade it for a second. I can't imagine the unhappiness that our family would have experienced had my parents ignored the call. Or were too scared to GO.

    I'll be praying for you, friend. And I'm anxious to see where God is leading.

  7. I just read the first half of Miller's new book on the plane this afternoon. I've marked it up a bunch because I want to go back and savor/contemplate so many profound things he has to say. What I liked the most was Miller's analogy of our lives being a story and how he weaves his own transformational story into that analogy.

  8. your dad linked me to your blog. he and i are old (up until now disconnected) friends from college. i like the wallpaper you chose for your blog. i like your transparency (may it follow you throughout life).


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