Melissa clutched the piece of paper in her sweaty hand. She had dreamed of being a professional speaker for many years. She felt that God had called her to share her life experiences and minister to others. She had learned how to craft a speech and had successfully given some presentations at her own church. She knew it was time to expand her speaking ministry.
After two weeks of calling contacts, she had gotten the name of a director of women's ministries at a large church who was looking for someone to speak for a women's retreat. For days, the first thought on her mind each morning was making the call, introducing herself and inquiring if the director might be interested in her as a potential speaker. Instead of making the call, however, she filled her days doing all kinds of other things. Two weeks later, she still hadn't made the call. "What is going on?" she wondered. "This is ridiculous! Why can't I do this?"
Procrastination & Other Avoidance Strategies
Who hasn't found ways of putting off doing unpleasant or difficult tasks? Most of us have our own repertoire of avoidance strategies-whether what we want to avoid is cleaning the bathroom or writing a company's annual report. Avoidance can sneak into all areas of our lives. For some of us, avoiding a task is just a temporary phenomenon. We still are able to manage our time and ourselves to get the necessary task done "in time" and with the level of quality desired.
Others, however, find that procrastination characterizes their lives. It may be most observable with certain kinds of tasks (like doing paperwork) or in relationship to certain kinds of projects (such as ones with perceived "high stakes," like Melissa's phone call). Instead of doing what they tell themselves they "need to do" or "really should do," they may find themselves engaged in activities like surfing TV channels or the Internet, eating, checking e-mail, playing computer or video games, reading, daydreaming, exercising, shopping, doing housework, talking on the phone, doing other work or sleeping too much.
Bottom line, these avoidance behaviors can obstruct our journey to becoming the people God created us to be and doing the things he designed us to do. They do serve an important purpose, however. By studying our own personal avoidance strategies, we can begin to uncover the reasons for our procrastination, which usually include fear in one form or another. Telling ourselves the truth about what is going on in our lives is a prerequisite to moving forward.
Digging Ourselves into a Hole
Each of us has experienced fear, which is a common human emotion. Remember that third servant in the Parable of the Talents? Entrusted with a talent, he dug a hole in the ground and hid it. What was his motivation? Fear! (See Matthew 25:25.) We can all identify with him, can't we? Fearful of trying to invest our talents and failing, we may choose to bury them. But as we learn in the parable, hiding one's talent displeases the Master. We have each been given talents, or abilities, to invest in this world. Many of us find ourselves, however, stopped in our tracks by the powerful calling blocker of fear.
Fear is powerful, and we are tempted to let it be our master instead of the Lord Jesus. "God-sized" callings by definition exceed our human capabilities. God-sized callings not only require more than we can humanly do, but they also defy our desire to control, define, curtail and delineate. Our natural tendency is to become fearful when we don't know exactly what will happen and cannot regulate all of the factors that will impact the outcome. We want to be all-knowing and all-powerful, but we're not. Those qualities belong solely to God. So it all can seem to be just too much. We stand, shovel in hand, tempted to bury our talents and ignore our Master's mandate.
Being Shackled by the Fear of Change
There are many types of fear we humans experience, including the fear of change. Perhaps you are considering making a career change. You sense God is calling you to do something different and more meaningful with your life. As you have thought about particular choices, however, you vacillate between being excited and being fearful of the changes that would be required to go down a new path. Perhaps you have found yourself saying (to yourself and maybe others), "My job isn't really that bad after all" or "The job market is tough, I'll need to wait until another time to start doing what I believe God is calling me to do."
These rationalizations often are the result of being seduced by the comfort zone. Seduce means "to persuade to disobedience" and "to lead astray." Your life's comfort zone-made up of all the things you feel comfortable doing and surrounding yourself with-can be very seductive, leading you astray from discovering and living your calling. "But I've spent so long learning my job and getting good at it...would God really want me to leave it?" Maybe...maybe not. The key point, however, is that discipleship means you must be willing to leave your job for something new if that is what God asks of you. "But I like the people I work with....My work is so close to my house....It pays so well and offers a great retirement." Remember that handcuffs come in all shapes and sizes, and may even be golden. Nonetheless, they keep you captive.
Being Freed to Embrace Change
Melissa finally realized that she had procrastinated in calling the women's ministries director because of the mental images she had created for herself. When she pictured making the call, her fears colored the "movie" that played in her mind. She saw herself getting a negative reaction from the woman. She then felt herself being depressed and discouraged by the rejection. No wonder she avoided making the call!
"The truth is that there is a good chance I will get a positive--not a negative--response," Melissa told herself. I have the skills and experience to do a good job speaking at this event, even though I've never spoken to this large an audience before. They need a speaker. All that's stopping me is my own fear of presenting myself as a professional speaker. I haven't seen myself in that way before. It's a...change for me."
In preparing for the call, Melissa not only practiced what she would say, but she also meditated on some key Scripture verses:
- "For God did not give [me] a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline" (2 Tim. 1:7);
- "For [I] am God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [me] to do" (Eph. 2:10);
- "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all [I] ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within [me]" (Eph. 3:20).
Melissa embraced the idea that God had a calling for her life, and that she would need to be willing to walk down an unknown path to follow Him. She realized that not only would she not be alone, but that God had already walked ahead of her to prepare the way for her.
She made the phone call, and was graciously greeted by the women's ministries director. Although the speaking position had already been filled by the time Melissa called, she was invited to speak at a small staff luncheon so that they could get to know her better and consider her for future events. Melissa's comfort zone expanded as she took significant steps forward and made the choice to live her calling.
What about you? Is God calling you to make some changes in your life? If you would like professional assistance with discerning and/or taking practical action steps to live your calling, we invite to schedule a free consultation session. We would consider it a privilege to help you discover who God has created you to be and what He has designed you to do!
Excerpts from Live Your Calling (2005) by Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck. Used by permission of Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.