On Puzzle boxes and spiritual laryngitis…

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. Eph. 4: 11-13

With Christmas just around the corner, I remember getting a puzzle as a Christmas gift a few times as a kid.  It became part of the casual days of Christmas break to assemble the puzzle, while eating Christmas cookies and drinking hot chocolate while warming up from extended periods of play in the snow. They were great moments and the memory of “working a puzzle” has returned as I continue to work out my life in Christ, which sometimes resembles a puzzle.

As a trainer of emerging leaders, I have often done this puzzle exercise (I admit, I stole the idea); dump out a 100 piece puzzle into a group of 4 people and give them 10 minutes to try and complete the puzzle. It is always interesting to see how different personalities attack a puzzle.  Invariably one personal with flip pieces, another will start working the borders, another will categorize by color and the other might encourage or state the obvious that time is running out!  Seldom do the groups realize that they are missing the puzzle box which contains the key to their success – the big picture, the immediate vision at hand.  When the 10 minutes are up, few groups complete the task and in unpacking the exercise it does not take long before somebody states that it would have had the picture of what they were working toward in front of them it would be much more productive and less frustrating.

I recently realized that, as of late, I have been living my life without the puzzle box before me. The loss of a missional focus has been subtle. Proverbs 29:18 reads “Without a vision, the people perish …”  I have not felt as though I have perished. However, I have realized that during the past few months, in addition to a loss of missional focus. I have also experienced other, smaller losses; the loss of a level of youthful energy, the loss of a family member, the loss of a political race (granted it was for a city council seat in a city of 6000), and more deeply; the loss of my daughter living at home as she started college, the loss of my son’s availability as he is whisked off to a sophomore’s social life and the loss of casual time with my wife who is hunkering down for a strong finish of a nursing degree.  These are losses that have just added up and affected my soul.  However, through some reflection and some counsel I have realized that my greatest internal ache comes as I sense a loss of my voice, my spiritual voice.  I realize that I am wired to creatively communicate, to impart vision, to inspire, encourage and train emerging missional leaders. My current reality is that less of my day’s “prime time” is spent in that core “sweet spot” and I have been faced with reckoning myself to that reality.  Max DePree says “The number one job of a leader is to define reality” and once that reality is exposed then a real action plan can be formed.

Recently three people in a 24 hour period said to me or prayed for me using words revolving around “recapturing my dream”.  I was recalling an obscure line from an obscure scene of an obscure 80’s movie that had a character walking around the down and out saying “What’s your dream? … Everybody got to have a dream!” A great question – “what’s my dream?”

While I have spent the past year involved with a Christian Foundation listening to incredible saints from around the globe tell me about how they are expressing their calling to serve the Lord, I realize that I am listening to others’ stories more than being a part of one myself.  I have simultaneously lost my puzzle box and have contracted spiritual laryngitis.  The fact is, I am not alone, I am having this conversation of small losses including a loss of missional expression with a lot of my peers in their middle years.  Many, like me, have been displaced from a long term ministry setting due to downsizing or have not fully integrated into a leadership or teaching role yet after finishing a doctorate degree.  Even though the basics in following Jesus are still evident, the personal missional goal is clouded or even forgotten and we find ourselves turning the puzzle pieces over without a clear sense of what “it” is supposed to look like.

I am not necessarily looking for a new “job”, but I am looking for clarity in regaining my spiritual voice and expressing my heart through action and service for the Lord. I have often counseled emerging leaders to set out with defining “what you will be about” no matter what – not necessarily what you will do.  However, it seems like that is part of the puzzle box that I simply have not paid attention to myself.  I was just with my mom and dad last week who are collectively 157 years old and have been married for 51 years. My father drove a Greyhound bus for over 30 years to support our family, often taking on additional work to provide. Now at 80, when people ask him “What’d you do?” (meaning for a living), he answers; “ I married a great woman and helped raise three great kids, what did you do?”  Essence is the key here – the essence of life is not what is on my business card, it is what you are about no matter what.  It’s the puzzle box picture that reflects a lifelong expressed composite picture of my hearts passions, my spiritual gifting, my experiential trajectory and my sense of causal expression calling – it is the unique God given spiritual DNA that when identified, allows me to live the life I was meant to live.

I realize that all my hours spent now may not be in my spiritual sweet spot, however my job has allowed me to be around some of the most incredible people who are effectively impacting God’s Kingdom.  The joy in these encounters is celebrating their expression. But the sobering reality is that I may not be fully engaged in expressing my spiritual passion DNA.  I have chosen not to be alone in this life transition by including my wife who is my constant source of prayerful encouragement, meeting with an older and wiser Christian counselor, talking about it and creating action plans with my spiritual accountability partner, reading books like Terry B. Walling’s “Stuck” and including the painfully obvious, yet often overlooked ingredients of time in God’s Word, prayer, quiet reflection and journaling. Each of these components are integral to the restoration of my ability to see the picture of my life’s puzzle box and ultimately restoring my spiritual voice.

As you journey through life, keep listening to God through His Word, prayer and others. Pay close attention to the times of Kingdom causal expression that makes your heart swell and your soul come alive.  Write down your spiritual DNA, as you understand it.  Seek counsel to define your gift set and passions. Then keep your eye on the box as you work the puzzle of your life and keep making sure that your life is reflecting the image and not just flipping over puzzle pieces, and by all means, keep up the great work!


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