I was a happily naive 18-year old at the time. Driving by the homeless shelter on Prince Street on my way home from work nearly every day drove me to this grand idea. After work one chilly fall day, I parked outside the large brick building armed with cookies divided up in little ziploc bags. Within 10 minutes I had befriended a handful of people, given the cookies away, and had some great conversation in the process. Nothing grand or life-changing, but enough to walk away feeling like a million bucks. I was doing good in the world. And it felt good.
Fast forward to a chilly fall day 1 year later when I ducked out of my little basement classroom to hide in the bathroom stall for a while. I can’t do this, Lord. It’s too hard. I don’t feel like giving right now. It hurts. I want to feel good again. How do I even know if I’m making a difference? My perceived expectations of doing good collided with reality when I had to show up every day. Before, all it had taken was a few hours of good works and I was good to go for a while. I could hide away for a bit, work up some more energy, then go out and repeat the process of good works, good feelings. I’ve written about this previously, how so much of what I knew of “mission” life as a teenager coming into adulthood was about a good performance. You come, you give, you sign off with a flourish, you leave. What I had to learn in the trenches of full-time mission was just that. I had to chip away at the thick performance mentality that had been built up over years of short volunteer stints and reading feel-good-save-the-world books. The process of refining my vision was painful and messy. But I needed both the experience of mission that I had craved and the disappointment to wake me up to my own selfishness.
About 3 years ago when I started thinking about where I wanted to head next, I knew 2 things: I wanted to work with/mentor people and empower them to not make the same mistakes I did. As I started looking around, hearing feedback from friends, and experiencing some short-term stuff for myself, I found an interesting disconnect.
I saw mission programs so focused on missions their workers were running themselves to the ground “for the cause of Christ.” I often found these places exhausting. There was no emphasis on sabbath, on rest, on growing personally. Missions was the call, the focus, and the identity, and that was it. The people were frazzled, busy, and quite frankly, a bit jaded.
I saw personal development programs so focused on an individual’s growth that the person would walk away narcissistic, self-consumed, and quite apt to pull you in with the sob story of how they were hurt by their parents/teachers/friends and that’s why they’re so messed up. I found these types equally exhausting. There was no emphasis on vision, on looking ahead armed with truth. Personal development was the call, the focus, the identity, and that was it.
What I slowly unraveled personally began to feel more like a mashup of the two. I saw mission/vision/whatever you want to call it as the place that kept me moving. It was the gas to propel me forward. The problem was that my heart was in bad need of repair. As important as it was/is to have a vision for life, I was stuck because of the things being ignored inside me. I needed to become a participant of life rather than an actor on a stage. These were the slow, heady days full of soul-searching, a 9-5 job, and building deeper connections with fewer friends instead of trying to befriend everyone all the time. It was far from glamorous. As the actor mask began to chip and break, I found my way back to the vision: working with people in all it’s wonderful, exhausting, heart-wrenching, beautiful mess.
When I was given to the opportunity to lead a program unusually focused on these two aspects, it felt like a dream come true. And it is most days. I walk away excited about where the team I’m leading is heading, what they’re learning about God’s heart for people, the complexities of Asian culture, and teamwork. Some days I walk away absolutely exhausted because I can’t force change on people and I’d rather avoid conflict than face it head on.
But the truth I’ve uncovered as a leader has made me realize the vital connection between developing personally and having a vision for life. If we’re going to make it simple and straight-forward, we choose to either learn from pain and discomfort or we stuff it. It’s not even about whether or not you have a “calling” for missions. I’ve met incredibly healthy business people and very unhealthy missionaries. It’s about offering life to the world around you, about becoming a healthier person for your own sake and the sake of those you influence. We can’t have lasting vision without growth. We can’t have lasting growth without vision. And I think that’s true no matter your occupation, location, relationship status, or personality type.
What do you think? What does growing personally mean to you? How did you discover your vision for life? I’d love to hear about it!