Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Character Development: The problem with straight lines

Liz, one of my best friends, is the complete opposite of me. She’s the type of person who loves an adventure, has never met a stranger, and had seven different colored dresses for her bridesmaids. I hide from people I know in the grocery store, and everything in my wedding was black and white. Liz and I met through competitive cheerleading and I immediately loved her and her craziness. We became fast friends and hung out all the time.

One of the less memorable times hanging out with her (which isn’t hard – she once unknowingly convinced me to go with her to a haunted house with two complete strangers!), she offered to give me a shortcut back to her house. I was a relatively new driver and was unfamiliar with Peoria, so I agreed.
“Just tell me where to go!” I said.

As we wound back through neighborhoods and seemed to backtrack, I finally looked at her and said, “Liz, you realize that this isn’t shorter than the way I usually go, right?”
She said, “Oh, I know. I just like to go this way.”

We had a quick review of the meaning of “shortcut” as I emphasized that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Fast forward to this morning. As I pulled out of my driveway this morning, I flashed to this moment happening before… pulling out of this very driveway, going to a job at Caterpillar, and wearing this same sweater… four years ago. (I should probably at least buy a new sweater.)

A lot has happened in the past four years – a calling to ministry, three new jobs for me, two babies, buying a house, selling a house, a new church, an old church…
But this morning it felt like life had taken me in a circle. Like I was back towards the start of my adult life, circa four years ago. It bothered me for a moment, until I reminded myself that God is in the business of being effective, not efficient. And the Ali pulling out of my driveway this morning, though wearing the same sweater (seriously, why do I still own this sweater?), is not the Ali that pulled out of this driveway four years ago.

I’ll always love connecting dots with straight lines, because I’m me. In college I took a several literature classes, and I still remember a piece of assigned reading that I dragged myself through. When the professor asked me why I disliked it so much, I noted the large sections of the book with no plot advancement.
“Don’t you see?” She said incredulously, “That was where the character development was happening!”

Ah. The character development.
I think as humans, we have an innate tendency to demand plot advancement from God – the new job, the new calling, the new focus, the new location. We like linear – preferably upward trending. We imagine ourselves on the day we meet God with a line graph and a pointer, showing how well we progressed through this life (that’s only me? Okay).

The problem with straight lines, though, is that they are one dimensional. They don’t account for the character development. Every moment I have lived has led me to where I am today. God spares no expense when it comes to character development – he’s not in the straight line business. God’s paths (not to be confused with ‘shortcuts’, Liz) are purposeful and perfect. They give us experience today that we will need tomorrow.
So my reminder for today is focus on the PURPOSE, the PLAN, and the PERSON.

Don’t get hung up on the PATH, the PRESENT, or the PLOT.