Recently I was asked to reflect on the greatest learning that I took away from 2011. “Patience and trust are the biggest lessons that showed up,” I said. “They’re lessons I’ve had to relearn a few times in my life.”
It takes a lot of patience to build a creative business, especially if you prefer to follow intuitive pathways and ask a lot of deep questions instead of crafting foolproof business plans. And it takes a lot of trust to believe that the path you’re following is the right one when there are lots of bumps and curves and the destination continues to looks so blurry.
Last year’s word was “joy“, but sometimes, when I’m being honest with myself, I wonder if the word that best defines it might instead be “worry“. I tried to follow joy, but in the process I did a lot of worrying. Did I do the right thing quitting my job? Is this dream really going to pan out? Do people value my work? Are any of my efforts going to pan out? Am I ever going to make enough money?
Recently, a question has popped up in my mind repeatedly when I’ve started to take the worry path.
What if the outcome is not my responsibility?
What if I am only responsible for sharing my gift and not how people respond to that gift?
What if my only duty is to follow my muse and I don’t have to worry about whether or not people like what I produce?
What if the only thing I need to do is be faithful to my calling, show up and do the work, and then trust God to look after the rest?
What if all the striving I do to be a “success” is wasted effort and I should instead invest that effort into being as faithful as I can be to the wisdom and creativity that has been given me to share?
When I take that question seriously, it gives me a great deal of peace. When I let go of the outcome or the sales or the response of other people and focus instead on being faithful to the process and my own commitment to excellency, the knots stop forming in my stomach and I can breathe more deeply.
My mandala practice is helping me learn this lesson. I make mandalas for nobody but myself (even though I’m willing to share them). For me, they are about the process. I show up on the page, pick up the pencils or markers that I feel drawn to, and let whatever needs to emerge on the page. What shows up is almost always about something I need to learn or be reminded of or discover. It’s not about the art. The outcome is not my responsibility.
A few months ago, I was supposed to do a community-building workshop for a leadership learning institute in my city. Only three people registered for it, so they decided to cancel it. I was able to let it go at the time because I was already overbooked and needed the breathing space. They were still interested in the content, though, so they rescheduled it for January 23rd. This time, there are already 14 people registered, ten days before the event. I had to let go of the outcome and trust that, if I was faithful to what I felt called to share, and did my best to let people know, the right people would show up who need to hear what I have to say. The outcome is not my responsibility.
So far, my Creative Discovery class only has 3 registrants, even though I’ve promoted it more broadly than the last class that had much better registration. It doesn’t matter. I feel called to do this class and I know that it will be what those three people (and I) need even if nobody else shows up. The outcome is not my responsibility.
I’m putting the finishing touches on my book and writing a proposal to try to get it into the hands of agents. When I start reading books about how to write a proposal and how to land an agent, I can get my stomach tied in knots over whether I’m doing things the right way, whether I’ll ever be successful, etc., etc. But then I have to pause, take a deep breath, and make a mandala like the one above. It doesn’t matter if I’m a “success”. I feel called to share this book with the world and I will do so even if I have to self-publish it. The outcome is not my responsibility.
Letting go of the outcome doesn’t mean that we should get lazy about the product, or that we shouldn’t work hard to let people know about what we’re doing. But once we’ve worked hard to follow the muse and been diligent in offering the gift to the world, we need to let it go and trust that the people who need to find it will.
I love the principles of Open Space, an Art of Hosting methodology for hosting meaningful conversations.
* Whoever comes are the right people
* Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
* When it starts is the right time
* When it’s over it’s over
In other words, the outcome is NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY!
And now it’s your turn… what do you need to let go of?
I didn’t go to Good Friday service today. I’m not sure why – I guess I just didn’t feel motivated to sit in a church “pew” for an hour. Instead I stayed home, had a hot bath, went for a couple of walks, made butternut squash soup… and painted.
I’ve been longing to paint ever since I finished my watercolour class, but it’s hard to find uninterrupted time in this busy life. Marcel took Maddy to his Mom and Dad’s for awhile, so it was a great opportunity to zone out and get lost in the watercolours.
I’ve wanted to paint this photo from my trip to Bangladesh since I finished my last painting. It actually fits in nicely with my last post, because the photo was taken within minutes of the two photos on the last post. As we were standing there on the bank watching the fish jump, I turned and spotted this woman walking home carrying her water jugs. It was a magical moment… silver fish jumping, a luscious green landscape, and a woman wrapped in her sari carrying one of those beautiful water jugs I kept wanting to take home with me.
As I painted, I went to that meditative place my mind always takes me when I pick up a paint brush. Gradually, the woman became for me the woman at the well to whom Jesus spoke. That’s one of my favourite Jesus stories. In two simple actions – speaking to her (despite the fact that she was a woman who was a lower social status than him and conversation with her was taboo), and asking her for water (despite the fact that she was unclean and he should not have touched her let alone drink water from her jug) – Jesus did an amazing thing. He declared her to be worthy, beautiful, and of value to him. She was a sinful, shameful, disgraced woman who believed what she had always been told by the culture around her – that she was unworthy. Yet here was a man who swept all that aside, and asked her to follow her calling – to be of service and to believe in her own value.
Stories like this remind me why I am still a Christ-follower, despite my many questions and doubts. When I don’t have all of the answers, I am reminded that I can live without them as long as I seek to live a little more like Christ. I want to be the kind of person who inspires and challenges people to believe in themself, be of service, and trust that they have value and beauty. I want to see the gem beneath the rough exterior and trust that the truth of that person is in the gem, not in the garbage that hides it.
On a somewhat unrelated note (though deeply connected), this makes me really sad. If Christ values the woman at the well, why would people who call themselves Christ-followers react in fear of people who are different from them? Why does it threaten their lives if other people simply want to live in peace with the ones they love? Christ didn’t tell the woman she had to begin following some restrictive list of rules and codes of morality, he simply invited her to see her value. I wish that we could all do the same.
When I was almost finished painting, Maddy returned and wanted to join me. Because I’d had the blessing of some quiet time without her, I was agreeable. I was rather pleased with her lovely rendition of Spring…*******
And the category of “Spring is busting out all over” here are some fun Spring pictures I took today. Today’s weather felt so hopeful. I hope it’s not just an illusion.
There were three of us presenting “ministry opportunities” in church that Sunday. After the first presentation, the Pastor called for a laying on of hands for the man who’d made the presentation. In true Pentecostal style, men in suits gathered around, laying one hand on their brother-in-service who was bringing the gospel to the underprivileged of their city and raising their other hand toward God.
I gulped and hoped they wouldn’t lay hands on me. They didn’t. Nor did they for the other woman who made a presentation about her bookstore ministry. Though it was probably an indication of deep-rooted sexism, I was willing to let that one go.
My presentation fell flat. The Pastor hadn’t managed to get my powerpoint to work (or hadn’t even tried, I’m not sure which), so I had to tell the stories without the pictures. As I talked about Aghnia in India who suffers from not only hunger but injustices that we have some responsibility for, I realized that people were only half listening. They’d been more engaged when they’d heard about how Jesus had transformed the poor of their city into Bible-thumping-praise-Jesus evangelists and prophets.
They were good people in this church, seeking goodness in this world. But they’d come to church this Sunday morning to hear about what God could do for them, not about what they should be doing for Aghnia in India. If Aghnia repented of her sin and raised her hands toward Jesus, perhaps then her story would be worth listening to.
The presentations over, the Pastor got up to preach. I’d dared to hope that the presentations were meant to replace the sermon, but I’d underestimated the drive of a fired-up-Pentecostal-capital-P-Pastor who feels called to lay the word of Jesus on the hearts of his (big H or little h?) followers. I remember little of what he preached about, but I know there were loudly expressed words about sin and evil and salvation and healing. I thought back to the comment I’d heard not long before about why television preachers always sound so angry. (“Imagine hearing the same tone of voice from someone advertising a mattress, or a friend telling you about their new love interest,” the person had said. “You’d wonder what was making them so pissed off.”)
I wanted to be judgmental about the lack of intellectual thought in the sermon, or the emotional “uh-huhs” and “praise Jesus” in the crowd. I wanted to cast it off as irrelevant and even damaging. It didn’t fit my questioning/grappling/over-thinking approach to faith. But… is it a bad thing if some people find an emotional doorway to God while others of us seek truth through more intellectual routes?
After the sermon, the Pastor invited those who needed healing to join him in the front. “If you haven’t received healing yet, it’s not because God is doing something wrong, it’s because YOU ARE NOT BELIEVING it will be done,” he shouted. I cringed.
One by one, people shuffled to the front of the church, crying out to God for release from whatever ailed them. A bent over old man, a tall elegant middle-aged woman – people of many races and walks of life.
My eyes came to rest on the young father who carried his small boy to the front. Was the healing for himself? His son? I didn’t have to wonder long. The Pastor laid his hands on the boy. Trustingly, he reached out and the Pastor scooped him into his arms. When they turned in my direction, I could read the story written on the young face. He was clearly living with Down’s syndrome.
I didn’t hear the prayer (there was a loud din of people praying by this point), but I assume the Pastor was asking God for a release from Down’s. My heart ached for the little boy. What did he believe about himself? That he was broken? Sick? In need of healing? What would he believe tomorrow when the prayer was not answered to the satisfaction of the grown-ups in his life? Would he beg God to help him have more faith? Would he curse himself for his otherness? What about the young father? Would he wonder what sins of his past had been visited upon his son?
I wondered if the healing that is needed is not for the young boy, but for those of us who view him as “different” or “incomplete”.
I try to accept the different roads our faith takes us down. I try to live with a “generous orthodoxy” and accept that God looks different to different people. But I can’t help but wonder about the collateral damage – people whose lives are tainted by the dark side of faith. Not just their version, but mine. The little boy who will grow up believing God made a mistake or his parents didn’t have enough faith. The old woman in India whose hunger is less important than her salvation. The young man who’s attracted to a person of the wrong gender. The young woman who can’t live out her passion and calling to serve as a leader.
Is there an approach to faith that will make a difference for them?
If you want to know where I am (or where I’m about to leave, since I’m currently sitting in the airport), you can find all the clues you need here. Unfortunately, those pictures were taken on the only evening I had a chance to wander. The rest of the time, I was stuck in a boring hotel in the industrial wasteland near the airport. (Sorry Karla – no chance to hook up this time.)
But it’s been good. So good. Surprisingly good.
I’m at a Christian charities conference, and the last time I came to one of these, I felt like a fish out of water. As much as I make a continuous (or perhaps I should say repeated and sometimes sporadic) choice to be a person of faith, I do not speak the language of religion well. In fact, I wouldn’t even say that I “do” religion well. I’m a bit of a faltering Christian without the same sense of a box in which to place my faith as many people seem to have. Especially people who tend to gather in a place like this. The shape of my faith is a little less like a box and more like a loosely woven basket. (I know some of you are smiling right now, because you’ve got baskets too. And some of the holes are even bigger than you’d like, right?)
So when I’m in a context surrounded by hundreds of people for whom the language is as natural as breathing, I get a little antsy and often feel inclined to run from the room. Sometimes I envy them their boxes and their common language, but I just know it doesn’t work for me. (Like, for example, the guy who delivers the “spiritual challenge” – a mini-sermon – each morning, who says “God bless you” every time he steps out of the elevator. I seem to share an elevator with him every time I go to my room. I don’t know how to respond. “Um – yeah thanks?” Good thing he hasn’t noticed that I’ve managed to skip the “spiritual challenge” part of the morning every day since the first day.)
You can see then, why a place like a “Christian charities conference” leaves me feeling a little like an impostor. And an alien. A stranger in a strange land.
But this time, it’s been different. Not because I’ve conformed to the box or learned the language – quite the opposite. I’ve been having the most amazing conversations. I have found lots of other baskets in rooms I assumed were full of boxes. I’ve had pleasant surprises. I’ve had to readjust my perceptions of people. I love that. With one person in particular, whom I’ve known for a couple of years, a person who is a leader in a Christian relief and development agency – someone you’d assume almost certainly fits in the box category – I’ve had a couple of truly remarkable conversations. He’s faced the same doubts, the same anger at organized religion, and the same shaking of a faith he thought was fairly secure. He’s had to climb out of the box too, and is still trying to figure out the shape of his new faith. He is now my friend on a very different level than he was two days ago. What a lovely surprise!
And I’ve gotten to attend two sessions with one of my favourite writers, Brian McLaren. And after each workshop, I got a chance to chat with him one on one. He’s even more cool in person than in his books. Definitely a basket kind of guy. A basket guy who doesn’t pretend he’s got a box. My kind of guy. I’ve even got an advance copy of his new (not even released yet) book that he’s asked me to pass on as a surprise to a mutual friend of ours (but I get to read it first on the airplane on the way home). How cool is that?
There have been other great sessions too. I’ve definitely been refreshed. And I have some great ideas floating around in my grey matter.
I never expected I’d be this glad I came.