“Not everyone who jumps in a river sees the waters part,” David Zimmerman reflects. “Sometimes all we get out of it, in the short term at least, is wet. But the story continues.” In this article from our series In Over Your Head, Zimmerman dries off and tells his own story about a leap of faith.
This is how it's supposed to work:
- You take a leap, by faith, into the deep water.
- The water recedes to your right and to your left.
- You hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the way; walk in it."
- You walk forward on dry land.
It's in the Bible that way: Moses did it, Joshua did it, Elijah did it, Elisha did it. Interestingly, that's not how it worked out for Peter, and Jesus had his own way with water. But those were special circumstances. It seems like everybody else in the Bible was always jumping in rivers and never getting wet.
In any case, those are the examples we turn to when we're looking to ornament our own mythology. We make big, life-changing decisions, and we tell our friends, "I'm taking a leap of faith. Like Moses. Or Joshua. Or those other guys in the Bible." Like Michael Scott from television's The Office, ready to jump off a building to prove he's dangerous, looking for a solution to this dilemma he's gotten himself in: "I, Braveheart. ... I'm ready for my present now."
Something motivates our big leaps, and while it’s not always faith that motivates us, taken together our big leaps tell a story of God’s faithfulness to us.
My Big Move
By the time I finished high school, I was something of a local rock star. I played saxophone in a popular band in Des Moines, Iowa, and while I was by no means the draw of the group (I once had two women recognize me on the street, and they asked me if the drummer was single), I was enjoying the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and dreamed of bigger and better things.
The band did too, it turned out. The leader convinced most of the group to move to Chicago for bigger gigs and a better chance at superstardom. I was college bound, but I wanted to have my degree and eat it too. When my high school band director pointed me to a good school "near Chicago" (two-plus hours away by car, and I had no car), I hit the road for the Big Time.
The problem was that my school was in a town much smaller than Des Moines (in case that tells you anything), so whatever the Big Time was, I was at least two hours away from it.
I hadn't bothered to reach out to my college roommate beforehand, and I hadn't really bothered to think seriously about my vocation. I picked music as a major because I liked playing music, but I neglected to consider that I hated practicing, hated performing in large ensembles, and wasn't particularly interested in a whole range of music common to music education.
My parents dropped me off at my dorm where I met my roommate, an upperclassman religion major, who promptly took a hit off a bong and asked me what I thought of Jesus. I thought, if I recall correctly, I made a terrible decision.
My Leap of Lack of Faith
I eventually found my footing, changing majors a couple of times, and made plans to go to graduate school—plans that imploded abruptly when I learned that my adviser never sent the recommendations he had promised to write. As it turned out, I had no money and no plan—and still no clear sense of vocation. By that point, my parents had moved to Texas. Rather than impose myself on them, I imposed myself on my girlfriend's parents, moving into their basement in suburban Chicago while I looked for a job.
No job, no prospects, no home, no money, no sense of direction. You might imagine that I became a little bitter. By that time I had found religion (no thanks to my pothead roommate), but during that season, God and I had words. Lots of them. The kinds of words you utter unthinkingly when you're in exile: words of lament, of complaint, of despair.
"Call me Bitter," Naomi told her countrymen when she returned to Bethlehem a penniless widow. "I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back. ... The Strong One ruined me” (Ruth 1:20-21, MSG). It turns out you can be in exile anywhere, even at home, even in the place you will come to call home for decades.
I considered my move to Chicago a leap of faith, but in reality, faith had little to do with it. I was angry at God and defeated by the American Dream.
Still, God works on us while we're in exile. I slowly discovered a kind of work that brought me joy. My girlfriend finished school, and we got married. I made friends and got to know my city. What had been a low point in my life slowly became my life, and I was happy with it.
The First Step Is the Deepest
I sometimes wonder how the Israelites reacted to the news of the end of their exile. They had taken Jeremiah's advice to “build houses and make yourselves at home" in Babylon. They had married and had children, and they had encouraged their children to marry and have children, “so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away.” Babylon was home, as much as, if not more than, the Promised Land was home. And now they had to leave?
Some leaps are like that. A couple of decades after moving to Chicago, my wife and I had figured life out. And then I heard the phrase, "The job is yours if you want it."
The job was absolutely appealing: a good boss, a good team, a good challenge, a fresh start. But the job was also a thousand miles away.
I'm not a kid anymore, and uprooting a life is not something to be taken lightly. This opportunity for me was an utter disruption for my wife—it meant closing her successful counseling practice in one place and starting over in a place full of strangers. It meant saying goodbye to friends and family. It meant unfamiliar streets and stores, new neighbors and a new church. It meant, fundamentally, a new exile.
How can I put this? Not every exile is ... exilic. Was Abraham in exile when he followed God's voice to a strange land? I suppose he was, but that's not what we call it; we call it faith. Were Moses and the Israelites in exile for forty years en route to the promised land? I suppose they were, but that's not what we call it. It's too soon (and too self-congratulatory) to compare our latest big move to the champions of faith, but it's helpful—for me at least—to consider that leaps of faith don't always feel like faith. Sometimes they feel like a leap.
Not everyone who jumps in a river sees the waters part. Sometimes all we get out of it, in the short term at least, is wet. But the leap is rarely the end; the story continues, and the Author of our stories loves us and has hope for us.
This is God’s Word on the subject: “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for" (Jer. 29:10, MSG).