It has been a while since I wrote a Faith Reflection. It is not that I haven’t wanted to… I have just felt unable to find the words to explain to myself or anyone else what I have been experiencing.
I went through a similar, but longer, period of wordlessness after arriving in Canada. I was changing. My world had dramatically changed. And it was all happening in a way that was beyond my ability to describe.
I don’t feel like this is what should be happening for a leader. I feel like a leader should be operating from a plan that leads towards a clearly articulated goal.
Over the last 26 years, I have read dozens of business and Christian leadership books in an attempt to find my bearings.
All of them talk about the importance of a clearly articulated vision.
I know some people are able to do that… and I have tried. I have spent hours staring at blank pieces of paper or computer screens with half a sentence at the top.
Somehow I have never been able to find a form of words that truly captured my heart… even in the moments when I felt like I knew who I was and where I was going.
It is not that I don’t have a sense of direction. I do. It’s just that every time I try to express it comes out differently, and never in a way that feels complete.
It is only in the last few years that I am starting to accept my wordlessness as potentially not a bad thing.
I recently read a book about the future of organisations (It was called Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux) that indicated that the healthiest organisations do not actually have a neatly expressed strategic plan in the way we were all taught through the 90’s that we needed to have:
No one at the top sets out a course for others to follow. None of the organizations I have researched had a strategy in the form of a document that charts out a course.
Instead, people in these companies have a very clear, keen sense of the organization’s purpose and a broad sense of the direction the organization might be called to go. A more detailed map is not needed. It would limit possibilities to a narrow, pre-charted course. With the purpose as a guiding light, everyone, individually and collectively, is empowered to sense what might be called for. Strategy happens organically, all the time, everywhere, as people toy with ideas and test them out in the field.
As I read about those organisations I became aware that my experience of the journey of faith was very similar.
As a young bloke I started with a burning sense of purpose and a sense of where I needed to go. I had been to the mountain… literally… and then I failed.
I tried again, failed again, tried again, failed again. Each time my understanding of who I was and what I was trying to do changed, but at the same time I was still me and the same heart was there.
Throughout the last 26 years, the most common thing I have written in my journal is, “God I feel scared. I don’t know if I can do this” The most common thing I hear back from God is “Relax Matt, I am with you and you are on the right track.”
I usually feel a bit frustrated with this response. Increasingly though I think that this day-at-a-time, moment-at-a-time, process, is actually the way I find my purpose rather than the beautifully crafted mission statement.
Fredric Laloux talks about the most effective leadership learning how to “listen” to the organisation rather than direct it, almost as though it has it’s own soul. He writes:
The organization is viewed as an energy field, emerging potential, a form of life that transcends its stakeholders, pursuing its own unique evolutionary purpose.
In that paradigm, we don’t “run” the organization, not even if we are the founder or legal owner. Instead, we are stewards of the organization; we are the vehicle that listens in to the organization’s deep creative potential to help it do its work in the world.
He has no explanation as to why an organisation could have the kind of life or “evolutionary purpose” he describes.
As I read his words though, I saw a profound correlation between what he was talking about in organisational management and my own experience of reaching for my own life’s purpose.
The difference between me and Frederic though, is that I don’t believe in an energy field. I believe that the organisations I have been part of, (including the church), and I, are not evolutionary accidents but intentionally designed for a purpose.
I keep coming back to a line in the book of Ecclesiastes:
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
As I look at the arc of my life to this point I can see clearly that there has been a pattern that is not of my own making. I can see that there truly is part of me that is beyond my own capacity to fathom and that often as I am expressing my heart I am surprised at what I find.
I appreciated the challenge of listening to a series of three podcasts by Rikk Watts (on the Gospel Conversations podcast) where he asserts that the language of design is a better way to talk about God that the language of Theology.
Watts points out that the idea that you could stand back and abstractly use concepts to try to capture the essence of God is a very un-Jewish notion, and that God is always known in and through experience in the Bible rather than through theological categories.
Jesus the Jewish carpenter is a person and not an idea. I can find words to describe him, but they always fall short, in the same way, my words to describe my own heart always fall short.
I must confess that I like ideas. I like simplicity. I want a neat formula. My experience though is that no simplistic ideas or formulas have ever been able to capture my own heart, let alone who God is.
While I can’t always find words, I know that my life does have a purpose and that often in the times I am least able to find the words to describe my calling, it is seen most clearly.
I am strongly convinced that the purpose of the church is to help individuals find their unique vocation. My own experience though is that very few people will reach a point where they can even fully articulate what that vocation is.
I am beginning to orientate to this new chapter of my story and I am beginning to feel more comfortable and excited by what is unfolding which probably means I will be more able to find words to describe the journey on this blog… at least I hope so.