Time for a confession: I suffer from jealousy.
Not too long ago, I sent an email to a friend. In this message, I told him that I felt a lot like Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams where at the end of the movie, after having done all that was asked of him, he just got frustrated and wanted to know what was in it for him. He was tired of the ghosts living in his corn, getting to act out their fondest dreams and what they most longed for, finding a redemption of sorts for shattered dreams brought about by the choices they made in their lives, while he – Ray Kinsella/Kevin Costner – had taken the most roundabout and fundamentally bizarre journey of his life, at the risk of losing everything, to heed the nudge in his spirit of what he felt he HAD to do with his life.
I sent my friend this email at the time when he was off at a leadership conference, engaging with other individuals who serve in various leadership positions in their respective churches, and he was able to revel in learning how to grow, serve, do and be better at what he feels he has to do with his life – what his calling is. In the message I told him that I was frustrated (to be fair and honest, in my own mind, was inferring jealousy, which may not have been evident in the message I sent him). That I had (metaphorically speaking, of course) plowed down my cornfield, built a baseball field, and had spent all this time just watching others play in and on my field of dreams, and I wanted to know…what was in it for me. That I had done all that was asked of me, that I had allowed myself to be shaped by this calling, and to let myself grow organically into who I am becoming. That I had watched as others, time and again, who were just like me, had been called forward, and like the fat kid in elementary school, I felt like I was always passed over. When was it going to be my turn at bat? When do I get to join in the game, and play – do – what I felt it was/is my life’s calling, ambition, dream and hope?
In the midst of this Sonny-rant moment, I also had to stop and own up to another feeling in my heart: a feeling of injustice, something that runs a little deeper than something like a three-year-old pouting “it’s not fair,” but also does seem a little – well, childish, depending on one’s point of view.
For a while now, I’ve been debating the whole “what do I want to do/be when I grow up” thing. As fulfilling as staying at home with Kai has been, I don’t think I could do this for the rest of my life. Given the massive emotional turbulence of the last year, I needed a sabbatical, an (ironically named in this instance) Year of Jubilee, where I got to stop and let the emotions and changes of this past year catch up with me to where I can be the best dad/husband that I can be.
My friend, like many others in my life, will tell me both to my face and to my email address, that it is all but BLINDINGLY obvious that there is a definitive calling on my life to work in ministry. That my heart, my ability to be real with people, and my journey has all been for this purpose. “Great,” says I. “So – when exactly is that going to happen?”
One of the more annoying examples of my frustration comes in the fact that for many other people – their career/calling is somewhat much more simple in comparison: they know what they want to do, and there is a clear path to it. For me, while I appreciate the support of the people who have and continue to extol this whole “Dude, God has something great in store for you” mindset – I would really, really, really appreciate it if just once, someone could or would tell me WHAT the thing is that I am supposed to do, and point me on the right path. Help me make that first step. Point out to me that which I am apparently too close to to be able to see objectively.
I once told this friend of mine that I felt like one of the biggest differences between us was in terms of our “pedigrees.” He – along with many others I could mention – took the more accepted path, the “right” path: go to seminary after you graduate with your Bachelor’s degree.
His pedigree (his degrees and formal training) shows that he is qualified and eligible to be in this dog show; they show that he has the right to be here. Me? Comparatively, I’m a mutt: I have a mixed background (read: checkered), and my pedigree is questionable at best, disqualifiable at worst. People can see where his pedigree comes from; they can say “What a beautiful [fill in the blank with dog breed].” People just look at me, remark I’m cute, can tell I’m a good dog, but because no one can readily and easily see where my roots trace back to – which means, in the eyes of some, I’m a good dog, but simply not good enough.
There will always be those who prefer full-breed dogs, and there will be those who like mutts. I’ve always been a mutt lover – even before I knew that I was one. Those of us whose lineage is disputed. Those of us with muddy paws, matted fur, and who aren’t groomed to perfection. Mark Heard said it best when he called us the orphans of God.
It’s one of the reasons that I relate to both characters in the parable of the prodigal son. It would be way too easy (and way too clichéd) for me to simply say that I have played the part of the prodigal: I cashed in my heritage (turned my back on all things spiritual), went out and engaged in (being kind here) “questionable activities,” and then turned back to my Father, who took me back with open arms.
Of course, without all the scars, I wouldn’t be who I am. My story wouldn’t be MY story. I wouldn’t be the ME that I am today. I recently expressed (briefly) some of my frustrations with a friend of mine who I recently reconnected with after 20 years (yes, it turns out going to my high school reunion WAS good for something). She reminded me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing what I am exactly supposed to be doing. I’ve had many people tell me that they connect with me because of my honesty – I guess, in many ways I act as a minister or as a Christian they’ve never encountered before. I try to be real, I try to be me, and I try to simply be genuine and loving in my interactions.
I know in my heart of hearts that had I taken another path in my life, the one seen as far more traditional and accepted (as referred to above: “right”), I could have a completely different outlook on life, and my interactions with people might be radically different from what they are. I wouldn’t be the me who I am. For better or for worse, call it what you will, but my time in the wilderness, my feeding the pigs, was good for me. God takes that period and honors it, honors the redemptive story found in it, honors the journey, and celebrates it with me. Kills the fatted calf over it. Calls for a celebration of unparalleled happiness over it. Lets me see where my life has taken me, and the opportunities to truly and genuinely be with other people in their own journey as a friend, a shoulder, as someone who can empathize with them. Lets me look at the scars I have and not see or feel the pain brought by them, but instead see where I have been healed.
It just hurts that some others don’t take that same perspective.
It also hurts that I sometimes play the role of the other brother in the story. But instead of having been the dutiful son who stayed in the traditional role placed before me, I watch as others are given a celebration, an opportunity, while I feel I have worked and worked and worked – and in spite of the blood, sweat and tears I’ve poured out, I see people who (in my opinion) get breaks they don’t really deserve. They get the (metaphorical) parties and chances to play in a field of dreams that I feel I deserve. And I get jealous.
It’s then that God gently – but firmly – nudges my heart. He asks me why I’m upset that people are out playing in my corn. He asks, “Is that why you did all of this? For you?” He asks why I can’t celebrate in the excitement of seeing other people get the fatted calf themselves; why don’t I see that this isn’t the end of the story, but simply yet another new beginning?
I know that one day, eventually, at the climax scene in this movie metaphor, my Dad will take the facemask off (or more appropriately, the blinders off me), and I will see the Why of why my life has been the way it has been. I’ll have that moment in the cornfield where He steps in to play catch with me. That I will have that time when it is explained – not in so many words but simply in my spirit – why I had to plow down the cornfield. Why – perhaps – in my mind I see myself as having to be a farmer, when instead I’m supposed to be something else. (I mean, for all I know, I’m supposed to be a writer…) Why I had to do all that has been asked of me. Why I had to take joy in celebrating the victories of others (seeing them take on jobs, roles, responsibilities that I know that I can do).
Why I had to watch as others do what I feel and know in my heart I could be doing, but simply not (apparently) at this time, in this season.
God will play catch with me. Giving. Receiving.
And just like He did at the creation of all things, He’ll look at this new creation, this new beginning, this start, and say it’s good.