On my run a few weeks ago, I was thinking about how I am in a period of “figuring out what I want to do next.” The book tour for White Picket Fences has ended, with a sprint through April and then talks at the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability and the headquarters of Christianity Today. I have ideas for another book. I have thoughts about creating video, podcasts, curriculum, and conferences. I know my website could use some improvements. I know my social media “look” could be more consistent. And so it is easy for me to think exactly what I thought that morning: I need to figure out what to do next.
Thankfully, as quickly as I heard that thought, I heard another. “Or,” this other voice seemed to say, “I could look for where God is leading me next.”
Right. You lead. I follow.
This is what I want, but I forget that I want it. I forget that I’m not alone. I forget that it’s not all about me. I forget that it takes attentiveness to the gentle whispers and motions of the Spirit in order for me to know where to go. And I forget that following where God leads doesn’t guarantee that I will know where I, where we, are going.
I’m still doing the practical work of seeking out help about next steps. I’m talking with people who do marketing and brand development and others who design websites. I’m reading books and brainstorming about writing and video and audio. I’m considering different funding models for the work that I do.
But what struck me as I ran was that far more crucial than the proper marketing strategy is staying close to the Spirit. Listening, and watching, and waiting.
We talked in our Bible study last week about following Jesus, and I asked what it means to follow someone. In our social media culture, following can simply mean we notice what someone is doing out of the corner of our eye. We keep tabs on that person. We push a button with a heart on it every so often and keep the image of their endeavors in the background of our mind.
But following can also mean something really different, in which we place our trust in someone else and allow them to lead. In which we notice what they are doing and seek to do it in turn. In which we stop when they stop and go when they go. In which we stop insisting on the destination and attend to the next step on the journey.
I want to follow the Spirit in that way. With attentiveness. And patience. And trust.
When I try to figure it out, I feel panicked inside. I am aware that there will never be enough time, that I will never know how to reach enough people, that I will never have enough marketing prowess. But when I stop trying to figure it out, when I stop to listen to the Spirit, you know what I hear?
I hear, “Love is patient.”
I hear the 23rd Psalm, and I notice the progression of thought.
First, “The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures.” An insistence on delightful rest.
Second, “He leads me beside the still waters.” An invitation to more rest, more peace, more patience.
Third, “He restores my soul.” Yet again, rest, restoration, peace, exhalation, quiet, patience, love.
And only then: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
Only once I have lay down in the grass, enjoyed the peaceful waters, received the gift of abundant and restorative life, only then is it time to follow on the path of righteousness.
I do not want to generate content and create a brand and establish a name for myself.
But I do want to participate in this abundant and life-giving work that God is doing.
The most important time for me each day has become a time of listening prayer. Sitting cross-legged with my eyes closed, breathing deeply, and envisioning myself lying in a field of grass, hugging my knees to my chest by the shores of a placid lake, cuddled up in the lap of a God who loves me. Trusting that whatever comes next can emerge out of rest and patience and love, not from having it all figured out.
I want to become attentive to the shepherd’s voice.
I want to notice where the Spirit leads.
And without even having to think about it, I want to follow.