God Doesn’t Owe Us a Happy EndingBlog / Produced by The High Calling
In this article from our series Risk Averse, Ed Cyzewski points out some well-known Bible characters who faced discomfort and danger. "A calling from God hardly guarantees comfort or freedom from risk taking," he says. "If anything, God’s calling demands risks and conflict."
The future of my career depended on one email. I told myself if they cancelled the project, I would change my goals dramatically. Things had dragged on for ten years without enough progress to justify business as usual. I’d taken some risks, worked harder than I ever thought possible to build a new career from the ground up, and was still only squeaking by.
I knew it was a distinct possibility the project would be cancelled, even likely. However, I didn’t think about what that would do to my life, let alone my mindset. I’m a high achiever used to meeting goals and seeing risks rewarded.
Talking it over with a friend, he assured me, “Either way, you’ve gained some valuable experience that you’ll continue to use.”
I didn’t want experience. I wanted to be successful. I wanted hard and fast results for all of the sacrifices and leaps of faith I’d taken over the past ten years.
When the cancellation email arrived, I didn’t dwell on it. This was the end. I would dust my hands of this career and move on—praying that the experience I’d gained would pay off somehow.
Still, I’d done my best to be obedient to God with my work. It puzzled me that things hit this point after plugging away for so long.
Looking back on the trajectory of my career over the past ten years, I now can see how God was working on several skills and character issues in my life. I won’t say that God orchestrated failure or suffering in my life. I think God simply had other priorities.
It’s tempting to look only at measurable results and numbers; anything less feels like trying to explain away failure. However, conflict and difficulty aren’t unusual for people trying to follow God’s direction for their lives. In fact, the conflict and struggle associated with taking risks may be signs that we’re exactly where we need to be.
When God’s Calling Leads to Failure
A few years back, I noticed that many who received a clear calling from God in the Bible ended up taking a significant amount of risk. The rewards for those risks weren’t always what they expected.
For example, who would sign up to be Abraham? He faced famines, murderous kings, and an uncertain future in a land far away from his family—to say nothing of fearing he would die without an heir.
Who would sign up to be David? Sure, he had a pretty good run as the king, but he spent his childhood getting kicked around by his brothers, led Saul’s army, lived as a runaway when Saul turned on him, waged one war after another as king, and finally had to defeat a rebellious son to win the kingdom back.
Who would sign up to be Jeremiah? He was called to predict the fall of his nation when foreign armies swarmed the fields around Jerusalem. His own people tossed him into a well just to make him shut up, and when all looked especially hopeless, God commanded him to buy land that he would surely never be able to use.
A calling from God hardly guarantees comfort or freedom from risk taking. If anything, God’s calling demands risks and conflict.
What If We Need Risk More Than Success?
Our culture idolizes the safe and secure to the point that we use religious language to shame and discourage those who take Spirit-led risks. Mind you, sometimes individuals or groups move forward without adequate discernment because they think they’ve heard from God, but I think the more common error is ignoring the call to step out of our comfort zones. It shouldn’t surprise us that God’s direction in our lives can often lead to more risk and conflict, not less.
We preach a gospel where the righteous shall live by faith, meanwhile we overlook the ways our culture has idolized security.
We spend so much time fearing failure, but I wonder if we should spend more time fearing success. What if failure and struggle give us the gifts of empathy and perseverance that are far more important than the sheen of success and affluence?
Perhaps it would help to rethink how we define success and its relationship with risk. If we take a risk and it doesn’t lead to the goals we’ve had in mind, was the risk worth it? What if the upside of risks can be found only long after the risks have been taken? More to the point, what if the success I’d sought starting ten years ago was the absolute worst thing for me? What if I needed a healthy dose of failure and conflict to shape me into the type of person who can handle the challenges in my second half of life?
In his book Immortal Diamond, Richard Rohr goes so far as saying that we should avoid success at all costs.
God doesn’t owe us a happy ending, and in some cases, the worst thing for us is the happy ending, or “success,” we’ve been seeking. God does more than call us to take risks. God walks with us through low points and transforms failures into the gifts of mercy and compassion.
I’m taking some new risks these days because I keep sensing God’s call. I’m asking for a lot of wisdom behind the scenes from mentors, pursuing new projects that make more sense in my heart than in my head, and trying to follow the little nudges from God that keep edging me in this new direction. I’m armed with the lessons I learned from the past ten years, but it still feels like a risk.
These are the times I am reminded that I am not alone, that God walks with me and has my best interests in his hands. Gaining that knowledge? That’s valuable experience that I will continue to use for the rest of my life.