For a couple of years now, I’ve been fascinated by the flight pattern of migrating birds. It amazes me how they are in tune with the change of seasons and know exactly when to begin their miles-long journey. When in flight, the bird does not become disoriented even when the land below becomes out of focus. It doesn’t fret about the change of season or complain about the journey ahead. Surely it will face some difficult elements, storms that will blow it off track, but it will fly on to reach its destination.
Some scientists believe these birds have an internal compass which feels the magnetic pull of the earth, guiding them to the exact same ponds, year after year, thousands of miles apart. Fascinating! These birds were created to adapt, created to follow the signs, and created to fly!
Addicted to Naivety
There was a time I used to pride myself on being a spontaneous, along-for-the-ride, go-getter, fun-maker kind of person. I was a bird not to be caged. I preferred having a free schedule that welcomed interruptions and didn’t keep me from traveling in a moment’s notice. When I reflect on the mindset I had, I realize there was a slight addiction to the naivety that comes with being a spontaneous person.
When I would pack my bags for my next grand adventure, my expectations were lower and by the end of the trip my disappointments were fewer. I rarely said, “Well, that trip didn’t go as planned.” Without planning, the trip just was what it was. I didn’t need to have all the details before heading out. I didn’t need to see the full picture. I just went. But I went without the obedience of those migrating birds.
I’m not exactly sure when I began to allow gravity to weigh me down and the free bird mentality slip away. Possibly, it happened naturally with age or was encouraged by marrying a “planner” who started putting my ducks in a row. I began to recognize some positive results to taming down the amount of spontaneity in my life. There was value in planning, especially as my time became more effective. My previous ways of getting lost, being over-committed, being ill-equipped, or not having the right information were less desirable.
With this new approach, though, my life still didn't always reflect the obedience of a migrating bird. Sometimes I chose not to fly when the seasons and signs were directing me to do so. It wasn’t in the plan. The journey wasn’t clear. With my newfound preference for planning I sprouted a new type of addiction. An addiction that stems from one simple, crisp word: clarity.
With my newfound preference for planning I sprouted a new type of addiction. An addiction that stems from one simple, crisp word: clarity.
I Won't Pray for That
Brennan Manning, in his book Ruthless Trust, relates a conversation between John Kavanaugh, the famous ethicist, and Mother Teresa. John had gone to Kolkata to work for three months at Mother Teresa’s “house of the dying”. At the time, he was seeking clarity about how to spend the rest of his life.
On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.”
She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is that last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”1
Since January of 2012, God has been teaching me that in him a balance exists between the spontaneous and the planned life. My life can actually resemble the behavior of a migrating bird, a life of obedience filled with adventure. It was in January that my husband and I first decided to move to Nicaragua. The signs were clear for us to go, but I quickly started seeking clarity on what we would be doing, and clarity for what all we would be leaving behind.
As I thought about Mother Teresa’s reply to John Kavanaugh’s prayer request, I began to recognize the root desire of my own prayers for clarity. It’s not that I just wanted clarity; I wanted control of the situation. If I had clarity, then I had control. Clarity is comforting, clarity makes things easier, and clarity keeps doubt at bay. If I had the answers, if I had the clear picture, I could take the lead again. I found myself in a position where I committed to trust God with the big “yes” of moving to Nicaragua, but I did not trust him with the little obediences that made the journey possible.
It’s not that I just wanted clarity; I wanted control of the situation. If I had clarity, then I had control. Clarity is comforting, clarity makes things easier, and clarity keeps doubt at bay... I committed to trust God with the big “yes” of moving to Nicaragua, but I did not trust him with the little obediences that made the journey possible.
As my husband and I entered the mission field in September of 2012, we agreed to have a humble approach, one without all the answers. We agreed to be students of Nicaragua, learning their language and culture. We became very comfortable with saying “I don’t know.” We are in a foreign territory, and the desire for clarity is fueled by the unfamiliarity and the unknowns we constantly encounter.
Trust as Success
However, for our own well-being, God is keeping us in a place of total dependence on him where our skills, our education, our professional backgrounds, or even our way of cooking, are not going to be the things that make us successful here. Being stripped of these things is teaching us to live with greater trust and it is here that we find a balance between the spontaneous and the controlled life.
Trust is what will determine our success in the mission field. As a migrating bird reaches its destination successfully after a long journey, it’s our desire to stay in tune with God’s guidance, our ability to persevere through the storms, and our trust to stay the course when the road becomes unclear that will lead us to our destination.
As we continue on this journey, we embrace Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” I often wonder—knowing all it would take to move to Nicaragua, the highs and lows we would experience, the friendships and opportunities we would miss—if we would still have had the courage to obey and follow what God was laying before us. It’s quite possible clarity would have been the very thing that crippled us, rather than encourage us to go. Had we been clear about the path ahead, would we have ever gotten to our destination?
God has kept the full picture concealed in his hands. And he has been faithful to continually provide just what we needed when we needed. His way of trusting him and obeying him has been the means he’s used to bring us this far and we could not be more thankful.
1As quoted in Manning, Brennan. Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin's Path to God. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2000. from John Kavanaugh, America 173, no. 3 (July 29, 1995): 38.