May 21, 2015

Which Way to Go?

I don't know why I am thinking about Home Schooling today, but I am. Maybe it is because so many of my old friends are planning for fall now (using the summer to plan). Just thinking about doing that, about making plans for the new year, makes me winsome and sad. I miss home schooling; I so missing homeschooling. Sigh!

I am still on several home school email and support lists, just to keep my hand in the business, but I don't really do anything anymore as far as curriculum or even offering daily advice/support (I just don't have time). Occasionally, I will post a reply to a question posted by a concerned Mom, but generally, I am a lurker only (reading posts). Yes, those good old days are behind me, and now I am a full-time instructor (part-time at two schools) where I am able to teach and to mentor several hundred students each semester. The path from there to here has been a long one, and at times, a very difficult one. Yet, here I am, and I marvel at the transformation of my experience, my character, and my desires. God has provided a wonderful job for me, and I love the fact that I get to teach students every day. He is good, so very good to me.

It is amazing to me just to sit and to consider that fact that I am now full-time college instructor. My desire to teach initially, way back when, was to teach college level courses (English mostly). After I graduated from SJSU in 1993, I attempted a Masters program, butI abruptly dropped it because my ex-husband wasn't supportive nor was my family willing to help me care for my then, 1-year old son, so I could go on to school. Had I waited another 6 months or so, my son could have gone to the day care program at my school. It was a neat opportunity that allowed single Mom's the chance to get an education.  The student workers who were studying to become early childhood educators would have watched him for the couple hours I was in class each day. The Lord had other designs, of course, and I stepped out of the graduate study path and stayed on the Mom path. Back then I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland when she came upon the Cheshire cat. Alice had a decision to make, which path to choose, so she asked the cat and he replied "where do you want to go?" When she answered, "I don't know," the cat replied, "then it doesn't matter." If it were only so easy, only so easy...

Does Our Path Matter?

In Lewis Carroll's wonderful way with words, the entire dynamic of choosing a path was summed up by the words of the Cheshire cat. Truthfully, it is very hard to be "directed" if you don't know where you are going. In fact, how would you know if you are on the right path for sure because without an end goal in mind, nothing would be certain. I know that this is a mystery to some people. Some folks (and I know a few like this) find that flitting and flying through life on a feather is a good thing. It reminds me of the wisdom of "Forrest Gump" where Forrest shares Mama's sage advice on life. Forrest says, "Mama always said 'life is like a box of chocolates -- you never know what you are going to get.'" Yes, with the "feather in the wind" approach you are almost guaranteed to experience randomness in life -- you will never know what you will get because you will have no direction in mind, no goals to achieve, and no objectives to meet. In short, life will be random, pointless, and without any defining characteristics.

Of course, there are many who would disagree. They feel that the "whatever goes, whatever happens" approach is just fine. I think it is a noble idea to choose such an approach, but only when, and if, you are willing to never complain about the outcome (the chocolate you receive). I mean, if you have taken a "willy nilly" random "crap shoot" like attitude, then you shouldn't complain about what you get in the end. Know what I mean?

Life Is Ordered and Not Chaos

I feel that life is ordered or that it can be ordered and that it is not random or happenstance. I happen to hold to a Biblical view of the creation story, and with that belief, I firmly choose to accept that God has my steps ordered, my life directed, and my days planned. Furthermore, if I believe that I am on a set path, a path that has a predicted outcome, then I know what to expect. I believe that as a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, my days are numbered, and my future is secure. I know where I am going, and I know the path I am on. I am not asking the Cheshire cat or any other mythical creature (or real for that matter) to help me choose a way to go. My path is not random, and it does matter, the way I choose to go. I mean, am I following the Lord's plan for my life? If so, then the path that I am on is directly proportional to the steps I take today. For example, I know that the outer calling on my life is to arrive at my eternal destination (Heaven) ready and complete to enter into a life of bliss. My path then according to this outer calling is to be "conformed" to the likeness (the character) of my Savior, Jesus Christ. I am to manifest His character and that means that progressively I am to learn how to relate to others in the same way He related to them. I am to become like Christ in every area of my life. This is my upward, my outer calling, and the path I am on includes learning how to interact and engage with others so that I can adapt my behaviors, my attitudes, and my heart's leanings toward gracious living. I am to give grace to my brother's and sister's in Christ and to the world (so much as I am able to do so).

Moreover, if my outer calling is predicated on learning to be like Jesus, then what is my inner calling? My inner calling is that specific work that God has laid on my heart, a work that seeks to serve Him and others, to demonstrate Christ's love and sacrifice in a multitude of ways. In my case, I believe that my inner calling is to be a teacher and to teach others (children, teens, young adults) how to love God and love others in Christ-like ways. It also includes teaching people how to be reconciled, and to be reconciled, I must help them learn to communicate better. It is my calling then to be a Communications teacher, to teach the people God brings to me or through my actual job, so that they can learn how to repair damaged relationships. I am to reconcile people to one another, to show them how to be gracious in their speech and conduct, and to help them see the value in building relationships for the Kingdom of God.

The path I am on is fixed, it is settled. This path was decided for me at the cross of Calvary. I made the decision to follow this path when I placed my faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I have been on this path since that day, and while I have been confused at times over whether I am to go here or there (physically), my path has not shifted. I am set to finish this race of faith, and that means that I will come to the end of my days having lived my life according to His plan for salvation, sanctification and future glorification. God is good, so very good to me.

What About Other Paths?

I hear this question from time to time, and I struggle myself to understand the various paths or opportunities the Lord allows me to experience. I mean, I know I am on the grand overarching path that leads to eternity, and the steps I take each day help me to become more and more like Him (in my attitude, behaviors, and thinking). Yet, what about all the paths that I can choose for a career, a place to live, a school to attend? How do I know what path to take for all these other decisions in life?

I used to believe that my path was fixed, but so often, I found that I was presented with various options for life. I would ask the Lord, "Lord, which way do I go?" and in much the same way as the Cheshire cat, the Lord would say to me, "it doesn't matter." I thought, "Oh, no! Of course, it matters! What if I choose the wrong path? Go the wrong way?"

In truth, I have come to understand this matter better or more clearly. You see, so long as your outer calling and inner calling are set in motion, the path you choose to follow for your daily life doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter. I do believe the Lord directs our steps, helps us choose the better course of action, but I don't believe that there is one right way to go, one path only. I have experienced in my life many different options or courses, and while some were easier than others, generally, they were equal in their outcome. Let me explain...

If you want to have confidence to know that the path you are on or the path you plan to take is a good one, then follow this approach:
  1. Make sure your outer calling in secure. Are you saved? Are you seeking the Lord with all your heart, your mind, your strength and your soul? Do you have a personal, intimate relationship with the Lord? Are you studying His word, spending time with Him in prayer, seeking wise advice from pastors, teachers, parents, and friends? Generally, is your life "right with the Lord?" If so, go to step 2. If not, get on your knees and do some business with the Lord. Forsake all idols, submit to His authority, and stop sinning (oh, please stop sinning). Trust Him for His healing grace, and then pick up your cross and follow after Him (again!)
  2. Identify your inner calling. This is crucial for the next series of steps so if you have never taken a spiritual assessment, do it now. There are several online that are free. Take more than one, and see if you see patterns or relationships. Note similarities, and then think back on what you naturally do when called to serve (Do you volunteer to help or lead? Do you like to work behind the scenes? Are you creative or an artist?) Here are a couple of sites you can try, if you want to do this now:
  3. Once you have your assessment complete, you can begin to develop a profile that will help you determine if your inner calling matches your professional career or life choice. To create a profile, simply start making lists to see where the items meet your spiritual gifts assessment. You should be able to tell if whether your classes, practical jobs, or ministry service has aligned with your spiritual gifts. In most cases, you should find some relationship between your daily work or ministry service and the calling of the Holy Spirit. For example, my spiritual gifts generally include the following key areas: administration (directing ministries), exhortation (encouragement), and discernment (judgment/false teaching). Some of my other gifts are personal such as faith, wisdom, knowledge, or prophecy. If I look at the top three, I will see that most of the practical jobs I have had over the course of my life have been in administration (task oriented, directing or overseeing projects). My personal approach to relationships is through exhortation, and my intuition in work or life is directed toward recognizing false teaching or heresy. In ministry, I have served as a Children's Director, AWANA Commander, and in other production capacities (website administrator, for example). In all these examples, I used my spiritual gift of administration to lead or direct people or facilitate a project. In my profession, I have worked in similar positions up until I started teaching in 2013. I have always worked in an administrative position or as a project manager or analyst.
  4. Using your spiritual gifts every day. Some people assume that their spiritual gifts have an on/off switch, and that the only time they use them is in ministry or church service. This is not the case. God has given specific gifts to you in order for you to fulfill your role in the Body of Christ. The key to living a fulfilled spiritual life is to be active and allow the Holy Spirit to use your gifts whenever He desires to use them. This means in your current place of work, in the church, in your home, at school, etc. You do not have to work in full-time Christian ministry to use your gifts. The Holy Spirit is able to use your gifts right where you are, right now, and He can work miracles through you because He is God. Many times we believe that our spiritual gifts are only for ministry, and while this is primarily true, these special gifts were given as a blessing to us as well as to the church. Therefore, I can encourage and exhort (my gift) anyplace I choose -- Walmart, at school, while standing in line at the DMV office. It doesn't matter -- the Holy Spirit is active and present in my life so that means that He can use whatever gift He needs to use, whenever He needs to use it.
  5. Aligning your practical work with your spiritual work. Sometimes God will place a particular call on your life and ask you to consider doing a different type of work. Perhaps it is a different job or career. It might be to return to college to get a degree or professional certificate. If God has laid a particular career path on your heart, then it is important to follow that desire. However, for many people, the Lord expects them to serve where they are, and that means to work in whatever job He provides to them. For some this might be ministering to coworkers through gracious speech, conduct or living (personal evangelism). It might also mean finding opportunities in a current job in order to develop ministry gifts (such as taking classes through work, seeking promotions, or other ways to build leadership skill).
Putting it All Together

What if your current work conflicts with your spiritual gifts or doesn't allow you the opportunity to use or develop your gifts because the workplace is hostile to Christians or Christianity? This is a valid concern, but I think it needs to be assessed properly in order to identify whether or not this particular job is the Lord's will for your life? For example, if you are in a job that brings you no daily satisfaction, that creates stress on your life or that doesn't meet your needs financially, then the wise decision is to look elsewhere. I do not believe that the Lord places you in difficult jobs simply to frustrate you. He may allow you to remain in a difficult job in order to help you see His overarching will for your life, to refine your understanding of your calling, or to provide opportunity for growth. However, I do not see the Lord placing people in positions where they are berated or beaten down. This is not to say He couldn't choose to do that, but as a loving God desiring only the best for His children, it doesn't seem to follow His methods or means.

I struggle most with this concept of job satisfaction = spiritual gift alignment. If I am honest with myself, then my job or career choice is not best suited for my spiritual gifts. Teaching is a weaker skill for me. On my spiritual gift assessment, teaching ranks high, but it is not the highest of my gifts. My gifts are in order: administration, discernment, faith, prophecy, wisdom, exhortation, knowledge, and teaching (35-30). My weaker gifts are serving, pastoring, mercy, evangelism, and giving (23-14).  If I consider the positions I have held in the church, I have always served in my strength (administration). If I look at the jobs I have held most recently, I have worked in two of three weaker positions, and one very strong position. Right now, I am in a weak position (relatively speaking).

How to Reconcile and Make a Good Choice

Since I believe the Lord called me to return to Regent University to study Communication, I have been focused on teaching as a viable career option. I enjoy teaching, and I find the process of teaching along with the freedom it brings to be a good fit. However, job satisfaction aside, teaching doesn't really fit me as well as say communications/media or marketing analyst type work. I enjoy using my administration skill most, and I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing this kind of work. I love working with projects more than people, and I enjoy directing or managing resources. I find that I am less stressed and more at ease when I am in control of outcomes. If I wanted to switch jobs, change careers, the best option for me would be to find a position where I can use my strongest gift daily. This would be to find some type of administrative position where I could use my spiritual gift for order, task and detail orientation, and direction of people, programs or resources to the best use. 

Is this a must? Must you align your spiritual gifts with your practical daily work? This is a difficult question to answer simply because it is individual and personal. I would say that my gut answer would be yes, unless of course, the Lord calls you otherwise. For example, let's say that your spiritual gifts are most strong in pastoring, mercy, and serving. You love working with people, and you want to help them overcome trials, struggles or difficulties. You may find enough comfort working in the church, in prayer ministry or in visiting with shut-ins or the homebound. You may decide to pursue a degree in social work and work with people who have special needs. This career would facilitate your gift of mercy and your love of pastoring/shepherding people. Working in this type of job would provide deep satisfaction on a daily basis, and could bring great comfort in knowing that your skills were being used by the Holy Spirit to minister to people daily.

Keep in mind that the traditional role of mother is unique. In my view, a woman who is able to stay at home and raise children already has an important job. In God's view, raising children is highly valued and esteemed. Therefore the mother who is at home can easily use her skills to build up her family, and to support her husband in his career or ministry work. I realize that many women are single and have children. In this case, the Lord provides as He is able to do so, and I believe that a career position must first and foremost not keep Moms from being Moms. I digress...

In my case, I see two paths before me. I have seen these two paths for a long while, ever since I returned to graduate school. I have followed the administration path for a time, and then I stepped over to the teaching path in order to facilitate my doctoral studies. Now, I am at the point where I am ready to work full-time, to have a position that will make the most of three things:
  1. My advanced degree in Communication
  2. My experience in Communications, in general, along with technology, media, and marketing
  3. My willingness to be used by the Lord to do His work in complete (ministry=job=life calling)
As I consider the paths I have in front of me, this is what I see:
  • One path leads further on through teaching, a full-time academic position in higher education
  • One path leads me into an administrative position, also in higher education
Therefore, I am presented with two options, both are good, both are viable, and both are open to me. So which do I choose? How do I choose the path to follow? Enter the Cheshire cat.

If you don't know where you are going, then it doesn't matter.

Hmmm....

Do I know where I am going? Yes, I do. I am following the outer and inner calling of the Lord, and that means that my path is set and fixed. I am heading toward my heavenly destination. However, in this life, in the dailyness of this life, I am simply passing time. I am working in jobs that bring me into contact with people whom the Lord chooses for me to build relationships with, and that means, that everything I do is "ministry oriented." I am using my life choices to develop skills, to build intentional relationships, and to fulfill my calling to be a communications teacher (in title or not). Yes, I am using my degree, my studies, and my life experience to help the church learn how to reconcile one another, while in my day-to-day world, I am using my degree, my studies, and my experience to do good practical work, to earn an income, to provide a viable future for me and my family. In short, everything I do is predicated on serving God and others. I am being conformed to His image and to His character so that whether I teach or I administrate, I am doing the work the Lord has called me to do. Amen, Selah!

Thus, my choice is a simple one. The decision I make is simply to choose a path. I can go on into teaching and I will find the path blessed. I can switch and move into administration, and I will also find the path blessed. Is one better than the other? Is one more blessed? In short, yes. If I work in my strength, I will find the most ease and ability, and I will enjoy satisfaction because I will be using my gifts as they are best suited to me. I will also find that I am able to succeed, to be promoted, and to find job progression easier. Why? Business or corporate type positions are less structured than teaching roles, and therefore, there is freedom for promotion. In teaching, there is a cap on salary and on experience, and the movement upward is limited because of the structure of the academic institution. 

As I consider the options the Lord has for me, I know this -- I am on the path of His choosing. I am going where He wants me to go. I may find myself doing something different in short order, but I will have the confidence to know that whatever it is I do eventually, it will be good, it will be blessed, and it will provide for me and for my family. Of this, I am 100% sure.

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