Last week I spoke with a pastor on the phone and we had an hour’s worth of “spiritual counseling.” For the record, I first started these conversations last summer. The last time I’d spoken with this pastor in this capacity, prior to last week, was about three months ago. I’d been putting off talking to him. Why? I was afraid.
Now that I think of it, he may actually call it “spiritual guidance,” which is a nicer, less stress-inducing term—at least for me, and maybe many other people who don’t like to think they need “counseling.” (I’ve often wondered if Christians sometimes have a harder time admitting they need guidance than non-Christians or non-religious persons do).
In any case, I’m comforted by the fact that this pastor is 25-years-old—he’s young and he’s wise (that’s a rare combo). Also, he’s married to one of my best friends. Unfortunately they currently live about 1,200 miles away, in Michigan, hence the need to talk over the phone and not in person. He’s got the beard of St. Francis and the voice of James Earl Jones, and I’d rather think of him as a “friend” than a pastor. And it is true that when I speak with him I’m quickly reminded that labels honestly don’t matter—God gives us our identity, and only in his grace are we free. This pastor is one of a kind, but I imagine when you’re in the mindspace of “counseling,” you begin to think that all pastors must be kinda crazy for wanting to work through all your problems. It’d be a tough job, I think.
About halfway through my conversation with this pastor, (I’ll call him “Wolfman,” because he once wore a 90s-era shirt with a wolf on the front of it), he asked whether I could name my “points of completion.” He was asking me what I was working toward: my dreams. My goals?
I sat there and stared out the window of my apartment. I’ve got a view of a boat harbor, and coastal islands. Water whacked the sides of one island’s rocky shore, the ocean water was grey blue and moody. Suddenly the air around me seemed to get closer, and the window felt far, far away. The grey water seemed human and the sky above it seemed limitless and vast, and my life lay before me like a map, no directions anywhere and a boat with a soft-humming motor. Where was I going? What did I want to find?
Wolfman had basically stared me down—like a very kind wolf, deciding whether I had any fire inside me—and opened his palms and said, “So what are you hunting?”
What do I want? What, or who am I chasing?
These questions aren’t new ones. I’ve thought them before. They’re questions that have been posed as well by a personality model I’ve been studying, called “The Enneagram.” I first heard about it from the aforementioned pastor and his wife. They cautioned me against using The Enneagram as a solution. It’s a tool for growth, they said. More recently, I received a book from another friend, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert. This book, along with another, The Complete Enneagram, by Beatrice Chestnut, PhD, supplement what I’ve learned from online sources.
I know I’m not the only one who’s intrigued by psychology and personality models and quizzes and tests that help us better understand ourselves. Why do we act the way we do? Who are we, really? And how do we explain our behaviors to others? Personality models such as the Myers Briggs or Color Code offer up answers. We want to know ourselves. They offer solutions to confusion and curiosity.
But no matter our personality, decided by whichever model we choose to study or invest in, there is one underlying constant—we are all going to mess up at one point or another, and no matter whether the personality model can explain it away or not, if we believe in a higher power, let’s say God, we must face up to the fact that God has standards. And when we mess up, we are in some way falling short of those standards.
That is where grace steps in and saves us, offers us a moment of deep breath, calm, and hope. Without grace, without God, where do we turn but to another model, made by other broken humans?
Wolfman first asked whether I had any goals. That question tripped me and made me stumble. And then, in the aftermath of our conversation, he left me with a question of my own making: Did I trust God with my future?
Using the metaphor of the wolf and the hunt does help me. Maybe it comes across as cheesy, but I am challenged to apply the metaphor to my life. Wolfman is a human just like I am, and it may seem like I’m painting him to know exactly what he wants and exactly where he’s going. It may seem as though he’s in charge of his life—and he’s helping me take charge of my own.
In reality, he has vices just like I do. What his are, I don’t know. But I know that I’m tempted to be lazy, to sit back and wait rather than move forward in trust and belief that God has enabled me to live for good—for his good—and that sitting still and waiting is not always what murky, tricky circumstances call for.
What inspired this blog post was the sense that perhaps there are young people out there who are very much like me. People who are more comfortable taking whatever life throws at them rather than consciously figuring out what paths might lead us to growth—where can we take risks? What could we do that might challenge us? What is worth fighting for?
For someone who has trouble making decisions, it’s helpful to remember that God is always for us, and no matter what we do, he is right there beside us, cheering us on, loving us. Even if we don’t know what we want, chances are God will reveal it. But here is the catch: we must ask ourselves whether it is for our good, or for God’s.