Friday, 21 March 2014

When the Towers Fall: Rebuilding your Life from the Rubble, Part 5

I want to start this fifth message from Rubble Town with a brief expression of gratitude. I'm not going to overdo this. I just want to say a deep-down, heart-felt thanks to all those who have written messages of encouragement to me in response to these blogs.

You have truly reflected the kindness of the one who restores our broken walls (Isaiah 58:12).

And now to the fifth lesson I have learned in the seemingly well-populated territory of Rubble Town.

In the last blog I wrote about our identity. When the towers fall and catastrophe hits - whether self-inflicted or thrust upon us - our sense of self can implode too. In the rubble of our external circumstances we can experience a sometimes crushing sense of internal confusion as we ask one of the most fundamental questions of life: who am I? Now that my job has gone, my spouse has died,my mobility is removed, my health is shot, who really am I?

For a time, this can feel like a kind of soul death in which the fractured nature of our outer world becomes a stark reflection of our inner life.

But this is only for a season. It is not meant to last forever.

As I wrote in the last blog, our worst disasters can be the landscape for our greatest discoveries - including the discovery of who we really are.

So look for the real you in the rubble - not a fictional you (some people reinvent themselves more times than Madonna, after all). But the real you. The one with the divine imprint. The one that has 'kingdom' written all over it. The one, therefore, that cannot be shaken, even when everything else is.

All this is really just a lead-in to another revelatory journey and this has to do with discovering your true talent or talents.

So many of us, if we're honest, get diverted from the primary passion of our lives by the insistent demands of simply making a living. 

We get slowly lured away from what really exhilarates us by the expediencies of earning money, staying in work, keeping everyone happy, putting meals on the table, paying the rent or the mortgage and so on. 

In the process we make a sufficient living but we sometimes don't get to make a satisfying life. 

We survive but we don't thrive.

I believe there are many people like this, and not just those in Christian ministry in the church, or in jobs in Christian organizations.

They are everywhere.

I know I was like that for a long time - and for probably half my working life (if I live to over 70).

It is not comfortable.

In fact, it is deeply frustrating.

If you relate to this sense of frustration, this inner sense that your career and your creativity are out of sync, then I'd like to make a suggestion if you're currently in Rubble Town.

Start digging in the dirt for the talents that you forgot you had.

Look for shiny hints of destiny within the debris at Ground Zero.

I can guarantee there's revelation in the rubbish.

Do you remember the parable Jesus told about talents?

It's in Matthew's Gospel (chapter 25).

Jesus tells a story about a master who sets off on a long journey. He gives three of his employees bags of gold.

To one he gives five bags of gold.
To another two bags.
To the third, one bag.

The first and second immediately invest their money, doubling it in the process. The third man is so scared that he buries his bag in the ground. 

When the boss eventually comes back he is pleased with the first two but unhappy with the third.

'You could at least have put the money in the bank to earn interest,' he cries.

In the end the man is punished.

He loses even the one bag he had which is given to the man who had invested five (ending up with ten, or eleven as it now is).

This is a story familiar to pretty well all of us and there's a lot that I could say about it.

But let me confine myself to this one thought.

Many of us - like the third man in the story - live out of a centre of fear rather than a centre of love.

When we live from fear we seek to remain in control of our lives, choosing the safe option over risk every time.

What matters to us is not that we trustingly explore and utilize our unique creativity but that we keep the wolf from the door.

In the process we choose conventional paths and well-travelled roads and all the while we miss the adventure of investing the talent or talents the Father has given us.

We bury them in the ground.

On the other hand, when we live from a love centre - no longer bound by fear of poverty but trusting that God is a trustworthy and generous Dad - then we take hold of even the little talents and steward them faithfully.

As that happen we watch with marvelling eyes as what we have dared to invest begins to expand and multiply.

This then deepens our confidence as we take even bigger steps of faith in the investment of our talents the next time.

And so we learn to revel in convergence - the coming together of our true identity (who we are) and our true destiny (what God has called us to steward in faith).

So often it takes a trip to Rubble Town before we experience this alignment of what we do with what we have.

Maybe you're in Rubble Town now.

You've been living life one way, pursuing one particular path, but all that has come crashing down.

Now you find yourself asking who you are (identity), what you were doing with your life (history) and what your real purpose has been all along (destiny).

If you're in that situation now, here are some questions you can ask that will help you to find your buried talents.

These questions are ones that I have felt led to ask in my own rubble as I have had to look for clues about my real talents and my true destiny.

1. Is there a clue in your family history?

Is there something about your parents, your grandparents and even your great grandparents that could be a revelatory hint?

I know that may sound a little off the wall but we are radically shaped by both nature and nurture.

I know that's been true for me.

My birth mother's name was Storey (sounds like story, and I'm now focused very much on that in my new working life).

My adoptive father was a friend of C.S.Lewis, a lover of poetry, a writer and an absolutely fantastic reader of stories...

All these things are part of God's pre-ordained moulding of my personality and gifts.

They are clues concerning buried talents.

2. Is there a clue in your childhood?

Was there something you felt passionate about as a child or a teen - a hobby, a cause, a nation, an activity?

Is this something that you forgot when the responsibilities and pressures of adult life kicked in?

Did you forget that thing that made you sing when you were young and free?

Did your profession line up with your passion or did it bury it?

I know there were clues in my upbringing.

My childhood was profoundly shaped by storytelling.

I started writing stories at a very young age - the first one about my teddy bear. It was twelve pages long and my poor twin sister had to put up with me reading all of it to her!

How about you?

Chances are there's a forgotten hobby, passion or dream buried somewhere in the rubble.

3. Is there a clue in your voluntary input?

Is there something you have done outside your paid job, your career, your ministry and purely in a voluntary capacity?

Was there something you did for free and without expectation of reward because you loved the activity, the people the cause?

Whatever we voluntarily give time, energy and passion to is a massive clue about our true talents and our deeper destiny.

Looking back, can you see moments where you gave your all to something or someone in a purely voluntary capacity, because it resonated with your core passion?

4. Is there a clue in your moments of convergence?

Sometimes we have moments in our careers or ministries when we are energised by a feeling of alignment.

When I had the honour of being the Vicar of St Andrews Chorleywood I came up with the crazy idea of doing a Narnian Christmas!

For the whole of December the church building was transformed into a Narnian winterland as I shared about Lewis' faith and writings, enlisting my literary background in the process.

That month we saw extraordinary fruit in the number of people whose lives were touched and changed.

And speaking personally, I felt more alive in ordained ministry than I'd ever done or would ever do again. 

I felt a sense of alignment between my true self, my true gifts and what I was actually doing in my professional life.

That was a hint about buried talents if ever there was one!

These, then, are just some of the questions the Father has been encouraging me to ask. 

They are not taken from any book.

They are from my own personal treasure hunt.

They may be helpful for you as well.

So if you're in Rubble Town, why not start digging for buried talents and treasure?

And as you do, remember what God promises in the Book of Isaiah:

'I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places.'

(Isaiah 45:3).