Where do we want to go out to eat this weekend? What book will I start reading? What job shall I pursue next? How will I invest my time and energy? We make choices in our lives, big and small, each day. Some choices have little effect on us, and other choices can change the trajectory of our whole lives.
But what about the choices that are not so visible? The choices we make internally, within our souls, that drive the external choices we make. How do we make choices about our perspective, attitude, or posture towards others? Do we even have choice over these abstract concepts or do we simply succumb to emotion or past experiences?
Lately, God has made clear to me that we do have the ability to make these internal choices, and these choices, especially the hard and risky ones, can have a profound effect on our lives.
While in graduate school, I met Kaori and How Chuang. They were responsible for my newfound love of sticky rice and introduced me to Dim Sum in Chinatown. Kaori and I spent hours in the library as study buddies preparing for our Comprehensive Exams, How Chuang shaking his head at us for being so stressed. After we passed our exams and grabbed our diplomas, Kaori and How Chuang moved back to Japan and were called by God to be missionaries. Three years ago, I was delighted to receive an email that said after years of prayer, God granted this couple a beautiful baby girl to adopt and call their own. What a blessing from God, and especially for a couple who has been faithful to the Lord and fruitful in sharing his love with people across the globe. This made sense.
And then there was the difficult email in September. The email that How Chuang wrote about his stage 4 cancer, but also about the hope they had been given by God to trust him and pray boldly for healing. And then the painful email several weeks ago, Kaori sharing the news of her husband’s death. This made zero sense. Why did God allow this? God spoke to them to trust in His grace and power of deliverance, and instead he died. She wrote about her deep grief and pain in this loss, and the unanswered questions of God’s timing and reasons for allowing this tragedy. Through tears, I resonated with her questions and wrestled with God. And still do.
In the midst of this turmoil, Kaori reminded us of How Chuang’s internal choice. His choice from the beginning of his diagnosis until the day he went home to the Lord was this: “the outcome of [this] illness can only be a good one.” I am humbled by his choice. It would have been easy for him to choose bitterness, and to blame God. But How Chuang chose to trust in God’s goodness, even when external circumstances were causing pain and the shadow of death was near. Even when God was not answering prayers in the way he thought. This is a hard choice, but a choice that bears the fruit of peace, faithfulness, and love, because it rests in the truth of God’s Word that he is a faithful God who works for the good of those who love Him. How Chuang’s internal choice to trust God not only gave him a certain peace in the midst of his battle, but challenged many of us to know and trust God more deeply.
Then there are the risky choices that make our insides squirm. Many of us swim in the waters of leadership and love, and as I have been immersed in these waters lately, I have observed some common threads. In order to be successful in either of these arenas, one needs to make a choice to be brave and not safe. Both leadership and love require stepping out into territory that seems uncertain and choosing to be open to hope. It is an internal choice to be vulnerable, and risk moving toward the people and vision God lays on our hearts, even if failure and disappointment ensue.
Old voices and past experiences that whisper, “You aren’t enough” or “You aren’t worthy of love” can hold me back from the risky choices of leading and loving well. If I choose to listen to these voices, and protect myself, I may never know the abundance of life and love that God would want me to experience.
Three years ago I decided to accept a new leadership role in my organization, which has stretched me in various ways. I took the job because God gave me a dream for growth and transformation in the state of Indiana. As I’ve led this change process I have had to make decisions people didn’t agree with, I have taken risks on new strategies and initiatives, but most of all, I’ve had to deal with the internal fear of failure. What if I attempt to lead in this very public way and it doesn’t work? What if I fail? The same could be said for the way God has asked me to move toward people in my life and take risks in relationship. What if I choose to love others well and get hurt and disappointed. . .again? Is it just easier to be safe, and swim in shallow waters rather than jump off the high dive with no telling how deep those waters actually run?
This has been my risky choice of vulnerability, which might be responsible for the increasing number of gray hairs on my head, but it is also the way of tremendous joy. In leadership, I have had a front row seat to God’s handiwork as he has worked in and through the risks our team has taken. As a result of God’s movement, and our choosing risk, the state of Indiana has seen lives transformed on college campuses, and it has been beautiful. In love, I have seen God heal relationships and people, including me, in profound ways, which has allowed for greater authenticity. As a result I have the blessing of precious and significant relationships that give just a glimmer of God’s abundant love for us.
Perhaps my greatest discipline as I’ve stepped into these choices and as I’ve tried to follow in How Chuang’s example of hard choices, has been to choose to depend on God, not only for the outcome of these situations, but for the ability to rest in the truth of my identity as a beloved daughter of the Father who is secure, chosen, and accepted by him. I’m thankful he chooses us. When I live from this place of assurance, I have the courage to make these choices. These choices not only transform me, but also seem to be a gift to the people in my path, and the mission he has called me to.
I’m grateful for God’s choice in sending himself to earth in the form of the man Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. Grateful for the choice he made to give us the Holy Spirit and to dwell among and within us, because it is this presence and power that allows us to make the internal choices to be brave, not safe. It is this presence and power that calls us to larger dreams, greater peace, and deeper love.