Ambitious discernment

In the past week I’ve taken some pockets of time for that most American of pastimes, goal-setting. I’ve noted down what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished in 2016, compared it to a list from 2015, sketched a list for 2017. They are mostly similar.

I realized that the list, for the most part, contains rhythmic goals. Send out works for publication. Visit with a friend. Read a non-fiction book. While there was once a beginning, for these goals I’m not planning on being finished…which is good, but doesn’t lend itself to feelings of accomplishment. I feel as if I’m spinning my wheels. Or running in them.

I don’t know; maybe the exercise was useful. Perhaps this observation will help me shift beyond the “what on earth am I supposed to be doing?!” sense that’s dogged me all 2016. “Add projects, preferably ones that can be completed in 3 months.” It at least has the benefit of being Something Different.

At the same time, though, I feel like I’m exercising an unworthy hubris. If I’m living in openness to God’s prompting, waiting for God’s discernment to guide me, shouldn’t I just…well…wait? It’s not as if any of these new projects are welling up with internal force, or are driven by external need. The rhythmic goals are the ones with springs in them, albeit small ones.

No, the projects are willfulness. That I will to willfully accomplish, regardless, because that’s part of my weakness: I need measuring sticks, feedback, things to finish and not just do again.

Besides, it’s well known that I crave a sense of control. Perhaps it’s like nicotine for me—I don’t know, I’ve never smoked—in that I tell myself I’ll stop, that I will ‘let go and let God,’ that I will wait and practice patience…

…until I end up moody, listless, and cranky while metaphorically pacing the floor.

Current case in point: the one thing recently that I’ve been driven to do—apply to take a class at a local seminary—has apparently fallen into a deep pond without a ripple. Application done, I waited a week, I waited five business days (Thanksgiving intervened)…nothing. I left a polite message, I waited two business days…nothing. I sent an email and promptly got a robot-reply (hurray for robots!) that told me to wait another day. And yes, I got a human-authored message that day…that I should wait on the letter that would be coming my way.

I’m now at day seven, or day five of the business week. I have been staring at my mailbox. God, did I understand wrongly? Did I dream up those awful dreams? Is this some weird test, where I renounce ambition, and striving, and my hunger for new thoughts? Should I even call those people again? Or should I just lay face-down on my floor? I would say ‘I give up,’ but I’ve said it before and I know I can’t seem to make it stick.

Where is the dividing line between making fruitful use of the gifts God gave me, including ambition, and taking on more to myself than belongs to me? Can striving and discernment lie down together, lion and lamb at peace?

Maybe the letter will come today.

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