In the midst of the recession that marked the late 2000s, I took a community and economic position in the community with the second highest unemployment rate in the nation. It was a wonderful community in a terrible crisis. Community, business, and education leaders were motivated to turn things around, but funds were scarce and a phrase uttered at almost every meeting was, “We just have to trim the fat.”
About six years later, when I had moved on to a mostly-parenting stage of life, I had the opportunity to attend a renowned leadership seminar. The speakers were great, but one in particular preached the necessity of dogged-devotion to your to do-list. I’d heard him speak years before, and I knew one of his favorite phrases was, “If you want to get to Florida, you’re not going to get there by heading north on I-75.” His speech at the conference was similar:
“You have to be as committed to your goal as a teenage girl is to getting an i-Phone,” he said.
Since that time, I’ve read book after book and heard speech after speech about how to make the most of limited time, limited money, and limited energy. In a world where distractions are as close as your cell phone, streamlining and efficiency are the gospels of the successful. You want to be somebody? Then you better safeguard your resources, define your goals, make a plan, ask for help, stay on task.
This can be good advice, and it can take you places you want to go. But before you ride off into the sunset counting your pennies and chasing your dreams, I want to share a couple more stories with you.
In that first job I told you about, the one where every organization and person was constantly stating, “Time to trim the fat!,” I remember having a conversation with a wise business leader. He was leaning back in his chair, early dusk seeping through the window, and he suddenly bent over, looked at me, and said, “You know, Melissa, everybody thinks you can save your way to prosperity. That’s not exactly true. Sometimes you have to invest.”
“How you do you invest if you don’t have the money?” I asked, all logic and common sense.
“You just do it,” he said. “Things will work out.”
A few years later, at the adrenaline-charged leadership conference I mentioned, there was a break. I was freezing and by myself, so I strolled outside to warm up in the Tennessee May. An older lady – probably in her late 70’s – happened to have the same idea, and we started talking. She learned I had small children, and her eyes softened a bit.
“I never will forget,” she said, “something my mother-in-law told me one day when my children were the ages that yours are now. Everything was going wrong and it was such a hard day, and she looked at me and said, ‘Perry, these are some of the sweetest days of your life. Don’t you forget that.’”
She tugged her sweater tightly around her shoulders; fiddled with a button as she recalled the exchange.
I watched her carefully, trying to put myself into her shoes.
“How did that make you feel?” I finally asked.
“I was mad!” she said, and then she laughed softly.
“But you know what? She was right. There was so much sweetness packed in every tired day. I have lived almost a whole life now, and they really were some of the sweetest days.”
In the Bible, God often gave his beloved children dreams: Abram and Sarai wanted a baby, Joseph dreamed of leading his brothers, Moses dreamed of bringing his people to the Promised Land, Joshua wanted to defeat Jericho, young David was anointed as future king . . . these are just a few well-known examples. All of these people prayed that God would give them their desires, but the paths to their desires were not particularly efficient. God figuratively (and sometimes literally!) led them in circles before allowing them to experience goal attainment . . . and even then, he gave them desires that could not be attained in this life.
God also famously under-resourced his children in the face of formidable foes. He had Gideon drastically reduce the size of his army before going into battle, let David fight a war-ready giant with stones, and placed his son in the womb of an unmarried girl with no resources of her own to fight the stigma.
This doesn’t sound like success culture, and I’m sure it didn’t feel good to these people all the time either. If you dig deeper into their stories (and I hope you do!), you’ll see that – more often than not – preoccupation with goals/desires and the inventorying of resources often led to delays and distress, sometimes with a generational impact. In other words, dogged-devotion to a to-do list and budget was not necessarily the right or best strategy.
I think one of the important things to note, though, is that God’s delays and perceived inefficiencies and inadequacies were not the same thing as “No.” Instead, God’s delays were almost always about His plan to say “Yes, and ___________,” to the petitions of his people. Yes, Abram! Yes, Joseph! Yes, Moses! Yes, Joshua! Yes, Gideon! Yes, David! Yes, Mary! You can ultimately have the things you are asking for, but you can also have more! I am giving you more! But you have to receive it! Go ahead, grow your heart, tend your sheep, build your family, grow your team! Go ahead and come closer and learn my heart, learn my character, learn my goodness, learn my love! I am filling your cup full of good things! I am giving you time to drink from it!
The truth is, though the world looks quite different than it did in the times when these people lived, our human hearts look just the same. We name our goals and we ask God to help us achieve them, and we get so caught up in stockpiling our resources and pursuing our goals that we miss the detours that lead to the sweetness! Yes, God may allow us to work our way toward what we desire, but at what expense? And at whose expense?
Often our own . . . and all who follow after.
So the next time you are listening to a leadership seminar or reading a book or even attending a Bible study that is urging you to hustle, hustle, hustle . . . take a moment, and ask God for discernment. It could be that he is urging you to take a different path
. . . not a “No,” path
. . . but a “Yes, and _______” path
a path meant for you to savor the sweetness of all He intends for you.