(re)Imagine Life

burning bush

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.

 —Exodus 3:1-2

Recently, I heard that the Georgia Lottery Mega Millions jackpot had surpassed the $400 million mark, a threshold sufficient to whip-up media attention and our personal appetites for easy money and the anticipated leisure such winnings might secure.  Setting aside for a moment debates around the virtues of a lottery and participating in it, such a sum of money sitting out there waiting to find a home in some welcoming wallet sets a mind to thinking, particularly my find.  This leads me to ask what I would do with that kind of money.

Before we answer such an existential question, let’s get practical.  How much would I really win?

After taxes, the number seems to be in the range of $216 million, as a lump sum. I’d take it as a lump sum.  (Always take the lump sum!)  OK, now that I have $216 million burning a hole in my now necessarily oversized pockets, what do I do next?  What would I do with that kind of money?  We are back to our earlier existential thought.  And, it is this thought and the bubbling of possible answers that makes life interesting and brings back into focus the above text from Moses’ life.

What this hypothetical question and the passage from Exodus have in common is an interesting intersection of a present filled will unexpected possibility and a future just a step or two away.

If you were confronted with a seemingly unexpected yet expansive tomorrow where money no longer mattered (i.e., our lottery winner) and what you are doing does not have any bearing on what you might do next (i.e., Moses’ situation), then what would you do now that your whole life is open to you in an entirely new, ever-expanding way, unexpected way?  In other words, what is your purpose in life?

There might be several answers to that question, but this text from Exodus suggests a way you might hone in on one of those answers.  There seems to be a three-step answer emerging from Moses’ story.

First, to move toward your future, you need to be present, a kind of presence to be contrasted with perfection.  So, to rephrase my statement, if you want to move toward your entirely new and ever-expanding future, you need to be present not perfect.  Often, we assume that what is needed for a particular task is a person with the perfect set of skills, interests, etc. to meet the needs specific to that task.  While it would be great to match perfectly-suited aptitudes to a perfectly-suited situation, I imagine such an alignment is elusive if not illusory.  And, from the Exodus story above, we know that such perfect alignment was not what was needed either.

To say the least, Moses’ past was complicated.  He was born to an enslaved people at an exceptionally hostile moment, set adrift in a basket as a baby, adopted into the royal household, killed a slave master, banished from his home, spent the next 40 years working as a shepherd, possessed a profound speech impediment, and was less than a spring chicken.  He was unimportant, underprepared, under-suited, overwhelmed, and over-the-hill.  Yet, this is the very person standing before a burning bush facing his future.  It seems that what God needs is not someone who is perfectly suited but someone who is willing to be present, present in the moment to pay attention to what is before him and possessing the presence of mind to say ‘yes’ when called.

This preference for the willing and present participant as opposed to the perfectly suited candidate seems to be the divine modus operandi of scripture.  Consider the dishonest Abraham, the usurping Sarah, the tricked Isaac, the deceiving Jacob, the adulterous David, the outsider Ruth, the questionable Rahab, the unwed Mary, and uncertain Joseph.  These are just a few from a long list of divinely selected yet imperfect candidates that made themselves present to the possibilities for a future that unfolded before them.

So, lesson one:  Be present and don’t wait until you are perfect or assume someone more perfect will come along to accomplish the task.  This task, this possibility, this opportunity, this present moment, this bush is yours.

The second lesson is that that possibility, that right opportunity presented to you should cause a fire that burns inside you and not be a flame that consumes you.  Note, in fact it is hard to miss, that the bush in the story does not combust.  Rather, the fire and its would-be fuel seem to coexist nicely.  That future that opens before you and the tasks that define it should not consume you or cause burn out.  This future potential that is calling you to step forward should be the kind encounter that generates a self-perpetuating passion that burns and continues to drive you forward.  It must not be the kind of encounter that seems to consume more and more of you each time, leaving less and less of you as a consequence.  Said another way, a life aligned with a heartfelt passion actually fuels you and increases your energy.  It does not diminish or destroy.

So, lesson two:  If the fire is consuming and destroying, don’t step toward it!  Only step toward those activities, those possibilities that build you up rather than use you up.

This leads to the third and final lesson learned from Moses’ bush story:  you have to go.  We must go because our passion, while found in a certain place is not limited to that place.  In fact, it is more than likely to be found “out there” somewhere awaiting our arrival.  Moses was called toward the bush to find his calling, to find his purpose but was then sent away to live into it.  Living into our passion, our purpose is not just a matter of wanting it or agreeing to it but is doing it, becoming it.  Moses is not the liberator of God’s people because he step toward a bush and said ‘yes’ when it spoke to him. That was just one step in the process.  An additional step was putting on his sandals, heading back into the desert to meet his future.  The future that unfolds before us requires our moving from where we are to where we need to be and might require some adjustments and recalibrations along the way, consider Moses’ repeated conversations with Pharaoh, his need to move quickly and to think creatively.

So, lesson three:  Go.  Go and follow and find and pursue and become and actualize and embody and transform and reform and turn the future pursued into the present manifested.   

Now, recognizing our unexpected and open future might be more easily done if it presented itself as a talking, flaming bush or a winning lottery ticket—please be a winning lottery ticket.  However, such a blatant presentation is improbable.  Our purposeful future will more likely present itself in much more subtle ways, in a suggested kind and supportive word, a surprise opportunity, an opened door, a program discovered, a trip taken.  In the meantime, what you should do is (1) be attentive and present and willing, (2) be attuned to your passions and the fires that fuels you and doesn’t burn you, and (3) be ready to go and open to a tomorrow that is just a step away.

So, keep your eyes open, your heart ready, and your sandals at hand.

Have a great week and see you along the way.

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