Friday, October 5, 2007

Ambition and Kairos

I had an interesting conversation with my mom a few days ago. I sent her this link from Et Tu, Jen?'s Weekly Favorites and while discussing it we broached the subject of feminine ambition.

Though I hadn't really thought too much about it, I immediately said that I wasn't ambitious. I did well in school because I was expected to and because I liked being in the honors classes with my friends. It didn't hurt that I liked to read, so at least English, History, French and Religion were interesting and fairly easy for me. Still, I didn't work as hard as I could have (especially in college) and I performed up to the standards other people set for me rather than aiming for greatness in myself. Once I graduated, I cared only that my job be in the nonprofit sector where I could do some good; I had little interest in climbing the corporate ladder and even within the organizations where I worked, I never sought to gain management or leadership positions.

"I mean really, the only thing I've ever cared about is serving God. "

Immediately my mom replied, "Well, that's more than most people aim for."

I shrugged. "I don't know. Isn't it just the minimum expected of us as Christians?" And we moved on to other things.

But I've thought about the conversation more since then and come to realize that I am highly ambitious. Deeply, thoroughly, loftily ambitious. Serving God is an ambition, perhaps one of the most difficult and exhausting goals that exist in this world. And it's something I've always aspired to, even when I've fallen pathetically short. Which I have. Often.

If my primary ambition then is to serve God, and if I am serving Him in humility and obedience, then why do I allow myself to feel small because I'm not out there doing something for the world? Am I sure that what I want is really what God wants from me?

For years now I've felt that I failed God, that I gave up on my dreams of serving the poor in Africa because of weakness and selfishness. I wanted to get married. And so that's what I did. Had I possessed ambition or strength of will, I would have trusted God and followed Him instead of grabbing at the best man I could find and working on him until he proposed (after I'd booked the hall and Church, btw.)

It's true that I didn't follow my plan to live in Africa and work with the poor. That doesn't mean I'm not serving God. It doesn't mean I've given up on my dreams. The manner in which I serve God may be different than I had originally planned, but I am no less His.

Nor have my ambitions been compromised. I still want nothing less than to dedicate my entire self to Him. Wherever He wants me to go, I'll go. Whatever He wants me to do, I'll do. Even when I don't want to do it. Even when the very thought of it makes me cry.

My husband sent me a beautiful, bittersweet email the other day. He had to sell some stock to cover our debt, and discovered it's twice the amount we'd feared it was. He proposed setting up a separate account into which we could dump any money we saved by spending less on groceries, giving up eating out, canceling our cable, etc., etc. until we'd paid off the debt. At that point, he pledged, he'd be much more open to giving to charity.

Part of me rejoiced. A plan! Wonderful! A committment to really saving money! Tremendous! A promise to be charitable! Praise God!

Then I did some calculations. Years. That's what we're talking here. YEARS of limiting our grocery bills, living without new clothes or furniture, scrimping as much as possible in hopes of paying down this debt. The scrimping I can handle. We've always lived simply. But years to go before I can give anything to help the hungry? I was thinking a year at the most, just to get us back on our feet from the move and give my husband some time to reflect on the many blessings we have to share with others. When I decided to stop pressuring my husband to give to charity and instead focus all my efforts on paying down our debt, I certainly wasn't thinking years...

What annoys me so much is that we haven't accumulated this debt with any sort of excessive living. This is the result of adhering to our values. Had my husband taken a job with a big defense firm in Chicago when he graduated law school, he would have made four times the salary he got at the small, consumer rights firm at which he did take a position. Even his salary now is half what it would be if he practiced corporate law instead of consumer law. Part of me is wondering what God's up to. We're in this debt because we were trying to do the right thing, and because of this debt we can't give any money to charity and we can't adopt a child from Kazakhstan and we can't afford wine which God quite CLEARLY wants us to consume great quantities of. (Wedding Feast at Cana anyone? Last Supper? Drinking wine is practically a commandment!)

It took me a while to calm my soul and see that I'm trying to over-control things again. There are things I desperately want to do, like adopt a child and send money to Africa. I want to do these things NOW. But God is saying no. I don't know why. I don't know if it's temporary, or if it's something I'm never meant to have and never meant to do. Only God knows that.

My response now must be to wait on Kairos -- His time. If God wills that I go to Africa someday (and I pray He does) then it will happen when HE wants it to, in the appointed time that He decides. If it is God's will that we expand our family through adoption, then that, too, will happen when the time is right. If it is God's will that we give generously to those in need, then I must wait for the opportunity He will provide.

I've been angry that the things I'm reaching for remain so firmly out of my reach. I try a ladder and it's knocked away from me. I ask for help and am met with indifference. But all my stretching won't get me somewhere God doesn't want me to be. When things don't come together despite my best attempts, I need to stop, back away, and turn to God.

I'm listening, Lord. Show me what You want me to do.

Picture credit.


Jennifer F. said...

I've been so busy these past few weeks that I've been bad about commenting on your posts, but they've been really great lately. This one in particular. I can totally relate -- even down to the fact that my husband is also an attorney and we've had to struggle financially because of lifestyle tradeoffs. I'm also working on being patient and trusting that God will give us opportunities when he's ready. :)

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed reading this, and can totally relate!

Anna said...

Being patient and humble is great. But you can also pray confidently to God that he help you guys pay off your debt a lot faster, so that you can get on with the other stuff you want to do. To be both bold in our prayer and humble enough to accept whatever answer he gives, without losing either one to the other - if we could do that, that would be best, I think.