Apologetics, Faith, Issue 49

What to do when you don’t know what to do

What to do when you don’t know what to do

“God, don’t you care? Have you forgotten about me?”
“What’s your plan for my life?”
“How come everyone else has a clear calling except me?”

These were the words in my tear-stained journal, at a point of time in my life when I felt completely lost and directionless. As a teacher, I was burnt out, and had been questioning the purpose of the profession for several months.

I knew that this was not where I was meant to be … but I had no idea where to go. All my half-hearted attempts to apply for other jobs were met with silence. What was worse, all my heart-wrenching cries to God for clarity on my next steps were also met with silence.

IS GOD SILENT OR AM I DEAF?
Until one day, God spoke to me from Hebrews 11:8.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”

Abraham left his homeland without knowing where he was going. Not only that, he brought his wife, nephew, and all the people and possessions that he had acquired with him on this uncertain journey (Gen 12:4–5). For someone who liked having all my ducks in a row, and whose life up to that point had been pretty smooth-sailing, what Abraham did was a somewhat uncomfortable, if not preposterous, idea.

Then came God’s gentle challenge: “Jillian, where is your security? Is it in me? Or your five-year plan?”

JILLIAN, WHERE IS YOUR SECURITY? IS IT IN ME? OR YOUR FIVE-YEAR PLAN?

GOING INTO THE UNKNOWN
But God’s question illuminated the real condition of my heart. The real reason I wanted Him to reveal my next steps was because I was afraid. I was afraid of the risks involved in leaving a comfortable job with no prospects in sight. I was afraid of trying something new and failing. Yet, God has called us to trust Him despite the unknown. And what God really wanted was wholehearted faith and trust in HIM, regardless of whether I knew where He was leading me.

I repented and decided that I would tender my resignation. Things moved quite quickly after that. One of my friends from church asked me if I was interested to go for a talk by the founders of a school in Asia. I wasn’t too keen. (Another school? I thought I was done with education!) But I decided to take a five-day trip to the school to find
out more.

During the trip, I was invited as a guest to one of the graduating classes. The students (mostly in their late teens or early twenties) were encouraged to ask this guest from Singapore some questions. I was expecting the usual second-language learner questions like, “What type of food do you eat?” and “What is life in Singapore like?” Instead, the first question that came my way was, “How do you define success?” This was followed by others like, “What’s your calling?” and “What advice do you have for us as graduating students?”

FINDING MY CALLING
I was tongue-tied! Never in my six years of teaching had any of my students asked me questions like these before. And here was an entire roomful of young adults asking these deep and profound questions — questions that I had trouble answering myself! I sensed that there was something unique about the school, and I applied to be a teacher there under the Short Missions Service (SMS) programme in my church. I thought that I would give it a go for a year … but ended up staying for four years, receiving (and accepting) God’s call to education, and never looking back.

So, what have I learnt on this journey? What advice would I have given my younger self who was seeking direction for my career and future?

Give God the space & time to speak.

Have our anxious thoughts and worries crowded out God’s still, small voice? Have we become so obsessed with our call that we shut out anything else God is saying to us? My own experience tells me that God does speak, but it’s often not what you’re expecting to hear. We’ve heard this so many times: God cares more about the condition of our hearts than about what we can offer Him with our lives. But our constant fretting and comparing betray our actual understanding of this truth. Also, when we understand that the sufficiency of God’s grace is more important than the efficiency of our ways, we learn to let God speak and move in His timing, not ours.

Be proactive

Waiting on the Lord requires patience, but it doesn’t mean inactivity. Take the initiative to find out more about the world we live in and how God is actively working in it. Listen to what Christians in various industries have to say about how their work is redemptive. It’ll broaden your perspectives on what ‘meaningful work’ involves (The Cathedral Podcast by St. Andrew’s Cathedral and The Regent Podcast are great places to start!). Speak to people in industries that you might be interested in to get clarity on what their work involves. Sometimes, we have too rosy a view of what a job entails.

Get with a mentor or trusted friend to discern your strengths and weaknesses. Our Asian tendency to think we’re not good at anything is often a blind spot. What have your parents, teachers, or church leaders said you are good at? (If you can, pluck up some courage to have a conversation with them on this!) What unique experiences has God allowed you to go through? What character weaknesses do you need to be more aware of? All these insights might help us see ourselves — and perhaps the path ahead — more clearly.

And if the road ahead is still murky, use this time to grow in other important ways — do volunteer work or apply for internships in a broad range of industries. You may not end up with a job, but you’ll definitely end up richer in compassion and experience. In a nutshell, you can’t steer the car if the wheels aren’t moving … so move, even if it’s just an inch.

Relax, you’re going to mess up, anyway.

Our best plans are going to get messed up, and that’s a fact. We’re going to put our best foot forward and fail, and even when we think we’ve got it all sorted out, God is still going to surprise us in oh-so-many ways. Because as much as we delude ourselves into thinking otherwise, we’re not in control of our lives. And that, my friends, is good news. It takes the pressure off ourselves to get it right all the time. We are free — free to make choices, to make mistakes, and to experience the grace of God again and again — because all our stories have already been written into God’s grand story.

It’s been about 12 years since that anguished journal entry. Has life been smooth-sailing just because I’ve “found my calling?” Nope. I can’t count the number of times I’ve cried, tried, and failed. Do I know what the next five to ten years of my life will look like? I have a vague idea, but I’m still clinging on to God for every step and reminding myself to give God space to speak, to move in tandem with Him, and to relax and enjoy the journey as much as I can.

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