Where We're Going Wrong With Guidance
When I was a teenager, I wasn’t sure about whether or not to date this particular guy. I had terrible, lengthy, heart-searching, agonizing deliberations, which of course I inflicted on my long-suffering youth leader. Finally she said that I could ‘lay a fleece’ if I wanted to. After giving this a lot of angst-ridden thought, I came up with my ‘fleece’. I decided that God would be giving me the thumbs up, if a certain old lady - whom I didn’t really know very well – spontaneously made me a cheesecake and brought it round to my house. In retrospect the most sensible part of the whole plan was that if it had worked out I’d have had a boyfriend AND a cheesecake. Excellent.
"Guidance is not a tight rope"
Of course, if I’d listened to my heart and what it was telling me; the fact that I had no peace about going out with him, I could have saved my self a lot of heart-ache, a disastrous relationship (yes of course I dated him anyway, I was a teenager!) and just gone out and bought myself a cheesecake.
Now I’m not against laying fleeces if that’s definitely what God has told you to do, but I do think that we can get into some pretty dazzlingly complicated mind-games when we start to analyse everything ‘as a sign’ of what God is telling us to do – if we do it apart from genuine on-going relationship with him. We start to relate to him instead as a Magic 8 Ball.
Guidance is not a tight-rope – one false step and you plunge headfirst into a yawning chasm of YOUMISSEDIT and landing with a hefty crunch on the dry, cracked earth of THEREWENTPLANA. Yes, in some instances, for some people, it is vital that they do A not B or go to C not D, and yes sometimes these people get angels and direct prophecies making it very clear to them what to do next. But I don’t believe that is generally how guidance works on a day-to-day basis. In my own life, I have experienced extremely clear guidance about going to a particular country at a particular time. I believe that God spoke so clearly to me, because he knew it was going to be very tough and I would need to hold onto those prophecies when I started to doubt and struggle with being there. If God has to send you an angel to tell you what’s going to happen next, you might start to suspect that things are not going to be totally straightforward. Just ask Mary, Daniel or John of Revelation.
"Playing is so brilliant that if I were Apple I’d call it iPlaying."
I think that we wish that God would send us angels and messages in fortune cookies and writings on the wall to make things clear for three main reasons. 1) It absolves us from responsibility for making a decision. 2) We are afraid of making a decision that might end badly and 3) We’re not convinced that we are special, but we would really believe it if God sent us an angel. And so guidance can become a serious business in the worst way – in that it is laden with fear and doubt. Two things that make it really hard to hear what God is really saying to us in any situation.
Now if this was any kind of proper teaching on guidance (which it clearly isn’t) I would now outline all the many ways we can receive guidance; following Biblical principles, talking to wise counselors, journaling and asking God, dreams and visions, prophecy etc. Yes, do that, do all of that. Also, try this: PLAY.
I love watching my kids when they are immersed in a totally bonkers make-believe game of their own making. The three year old whispers and chuckles to herself, lovingly wrapping an empty plastic carton in a tea towel and placing it gently in the empty bath. She repeats this game happily for 20 minutes, folding and re-folding the tea towel. Meanwhile her older sister sings made-up songs at full volume and tribal dances around her bedroom in the highest of nonsensical spirits. It’s stab-me-in-the-ear-with-a-tuning-fork brilliant!
"I have a sneaking suspicion that guidance is more akin to play than it is to the serious, fearful, fatalism we make of it."
Playing is so brilliant that if I were Apple I’d call it iPlaying. Plus it’s all terribly important and functional and developmental. Because playing is where kids try out stuff. Not just stuff like, how long can I keep skidding on the shiny floor in my new tights before I knock myself unconscious? But stuff like ‘being the boss’, ‘being the mom’, ‘being the teacher’, ‘being the baddie’. They’re trying out identities and futures for size. And it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work out very well because you can just turn yourself into a mermaid or a slug or a slugamermaidigan (a slug-mermaid hybrid that wears cardigans. Obviously).
I have a sneaking suspicion that guidance is more akin to play than it is to the serious, fearful, fatalism we make of it. Yes, God has big plans for us. But are they locked up in a big safe in heaven, with our job being to find the complex 18 digit code that will unlock the door? Or are they hidden in plain sight, in our DNA? In the core of who he has made us to be? In the very desires of our hearts?
Playing starts with desire not duty or fear. You allow the story or song in your heart to bubble up and you don’t worry it, you let it unfold and follow it because it gives you joy. Psalm 20 verse 4 says “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” Our hearts, or our spirits, are no longer deceitful above all else – they have been brought to glorious life entwined with the Holy Spirit. It is from our hearts, or spirits, that the Holy Spirit speaks to us, bubbling up sometimes in words or pictures or dreams or desires.
"His perfect plan is a pretty wide playing field; it’s that you become like Jesus."
When it comes to guidance, Father is not trying to catch us out. He is not playing some cruel game of predetermination whereby if you fail to catch bus 22 or go to the right university you have forever fallen off The Perfect Will of God. His perfect plan is a pretty wide playing field; it’s that you become like Jesus. We are many sons to the one Father; that is his plan and our destiny. What that looks like exactly for you depends on whether you prefer to wrap objects in tea towels or whether you prefer to dance around your room like a loon.
He is a good father. He likes to ask, “Well, what do you want to do?” He loves to sit by and enjoy you, as you discover what you love. As you play and experiment and risk and fail and start over again. He isn’t chiding you for making mistakes or falling on your face. He just wants to be along for the ride. His master plan for your life is that you discover how amazing he is, and how amazing he has made you. Just as I love to watch my girls playing as only they can, that is how he feels about you. He is your biggest cheerleader. He believes in you more than you believe in yourself. And sorry if I’m preaching. But oh. He reminded me of this, in a few moments before I fell asleep this week, and it made all the difference.
I spend so much time trying to be perfect; worrying that I’ve messed up so much that he can’t bless me any more. And just when the fretting makes me no fun at all, his love finds me and wraps me up. Phew. It’s ok. I’m allowed to mess around and mess up. I can have fun on the way. And that just might make it the most God-ordained way I can live this life.
So, if you’re looking for guidance, why not stop fearing that you’re going to miss it or him or the life you’re supposed to be living? Perhaps, this time, don’t start with duty, with the ‘should do’s and the should haves.’ Instead, stop and listen to your heart. What are the desires that he has planted within you, that make you unique? Have a play around with some ideas, have a go, get your feet wet, and you never know you might just play your way right into the best guidance you’ve ever received; the stuff that comes direct from his heart to yours.
So tell me, when it comes to those areas in your life where you need guidance, what do you want to do?