I used to be a radical.
I used to be a radical–until I wasn’t.
After high school, I moved to Hawaii to be part of YWAM (Youth With A Mission), a radical group enacting crazy change for good. YWAM is actually a spiritual organization built on community, where individuals discover God and are empowered to help others do the same. Flowing from a love for God, our global society has been remodeled because of YWAMers who have genuinely helped the oppressed, misused, poor, and unloved.
(Now I know a lot of you aren’t followers of God, but I think we are all down with the “loving people” thing, which despite their mistakes, is what YWAMers try to live out.)
Why does a Marine love being a Marine? Why are we drawn to stories where the clear conflict and plot are with battles, revolutions, and courageous loyal friends working together for victory?
There are just something about being part of a radical community with a distinct purpose. Being part of a team that will give their lives for others only builds us into the best versions of ourselves.
YWAM taught me to practice bravery, showed me what being alive looked like, and what faith in action could be for the good of others. I was transformed by its mission, being part of something great, bigger than myself, and thrived in a team that encouraged me to jump, move, go.
But even though my life was radically transformed as I was a radical during my time with YWAM, I still wasn’t exactly sure what my role as a world changer was coming out of it (for example, here I am struggling with the idea of calling).
Prince of Egypt
A major theme I heard often in YWAM was the idea of a burning bush. It comes from an ancient story about a guy named Moses (the guy in The Prince of Egypt). Moses grew up privileged, as an adopted grandson of Pharaoh. One day he became aware of the fact that his people of origin were living in slavery. Moses couldn’t stand to watch this oppression happening in front of him. In a righteous passion, Moses killed an Egyptian guy who was beating one of his fellow Israelites.
It didn’t take long before Moses realized that:
- He couldn’t kill every person he saw abusing his people (Moses wasn’t Rambo)
- He would have to run for his life, being in trouble for killing the first guy
So Moses fled, eventually leading a totally different life, having a family and being a shepherd in the desert. I assume Moses obsessed about his people, so far away, during that time because that is what I would do. Or maybe he did everything in his power to try to forget about the Hebrews as he assumed he couldn’t do anything about it. Regardless, almost forty years later, God took Moses’ discontent–a holy discontent–at the oppression of the Israelites by sending him back to Egypt as a humbled man to bring the Hebrews out of Egypt.
The Burning Bush
As the story goes, when God showed up in the desert to direct Moses back to Egypt, He mystically appeared in a bush/shrub/tree that just kept burning and burning without actually, well, burning. (Take that, physics!)
Yep. Burning shrubbery. (But that doesn’t sounds as cool.)
As you can see, from Moses’ story a smarty teacher got the idea of dubbing your unique purpose a burning bush. So the question I thought about a lot as a YWAM radical was, “What is your burning bush?”
My Holy Discontent
A few years back I read a book by Bill Hybels, Holy Discontent: Fueling the Fire That Ignites Personal Vision. I really don’t remember much about this book, if it was good or bad. But I do know that while I was reading it something clicked. I finally figured out how to channel the fire, the passion, and frustration about my purpose that had been plaguing me for the five years since I had moved to the D.C. suburbs, very far away from my YWAM world.
My burning bush went hand-and-hand with my holy discontent.
So what is a holy discontent? A holy discontent is something that irks and angers you. It is the wrong that should be right. It doesn’t have to be a feeling. It can be a fact. It is where evil has tipped something over that once-upon-a-time was created as good. It is a worthy passion for something to be made better.
Of course, most of this makes sense in the context of my faith as a follower of Jesus, that sin infects the world with evil, we desire redemption (the breaking-free of evil), and that the hope for this beautiful restoration is found in God’s story of love.
But, Christian or not, regardless of whether people know why exactly they are driven for this better world, every single do-gooder, advocate and activist I’ve met is motivated by a holy discontent. (Learn more about what drives you by using this Core Identity worksheet.)
Burning Bush + Holy Discontent = Calling
We all have seen something that isn’t right and are fighting for what we believe is best. Again, we can always be misguided in our passions and can let that fire root as bitterness. But I can assure you, eventually you will discover something that doesn’t sit right with you because it isn’t right. That is your holy discontent.
My passions bloomed after I was a radical, when I was adapting to normal life in the suburbs. A few of these, like poverty and injustice, are as obvious as a broken-down red corvette clogging two lanes of rush hour traffic would be. I had discontent with things that weren’t right. But I didn’t know what to do about them. I was still missing my burning bush, the knowledge of what I should do with what I was driven by.
I was plagued for years, fighting to do something to fix the wrongs.
What I had failed to realize was that poverty and oppression aren’t what irked me the most. What plagued more was that my own people, Americans, are either unaware or indifferent to what is going on in the world. And I was bothered by the fact I could just as easily be blinded myself.
I felt the passion. I smelled the burning fire and heard it cracking. I had just been standing with the burning bush at my back, while I stared an impossible wasteland.
I was looking the wrong direction.
So, I turned my efforts around, focusing on learning to humbly lead those around me rather than having my focus on those far away who I believe we are called to love.
What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do
A Human Trafficking Organization I am part of hosted the film Not My Life a couple of weeks ago (read more here). We were prepared with a cool brochure, giving people twenty-seven things to do (representing the twenty-seven million slaves in our world) in response to those whose eyes were opened to the evil of human trafficking. We had tables. More brochures. Books. Information.
We also had great cookies.
And we stood around hoping someone, anyone would ask us questions. We were ready. We were ready to bond together, welcoming the newbies to our pack of local abolitionists.
What is easy to forget though, is that us “who were ready” have actually been on this journey awhile. We have had time to process our holy discontent and we know what bush is burning. Although I had been responding in little actions through it, it has taken me almost six years before I found myself at peace with where I fit in making a difference about human trafficking.
But for others who heard about modern day slavery for the first time, it was overwhelming. They might have been given twenty-seven ideas of things to do, but that doesn’t actually mean these individuals have a clue of what to do.
Which thing is the right thing to do? What should they do after they do that first thing? How would doing something little make a difference with something so big? Maybe they shouldn’t do anything at all . . .
Those of us “who were ready” didn’t know what the documentary viewers’ journey looked like. We could walk with them through it. We could even give them a general map. But in their story, they are the Moses and we couldn’t hear what God was speaking to them through the burning bush. As much as we’d like to, we couldn’t tell them who they are or how to respond to their new discontent.
I guess what I am saying is this:
- It’s hard to know what to do.
- Sometimes its easier to ignore a holy discontent.
- The journey is the destination as much as the destination is.
Become Even More Uncomfortable
Some of the wisest, and most annoyingly stupid guidance I’ve ever heard on this subject was actually in that book, Holy Discontent. The advice is to pretty much make yourself become more uncomfortable. Or as my pastor says, “pay attention to the tension.“
Instead of forgetting, remind yourself. Read about it. Learn about it. If you can, see it first hand and make it personal. Don’t just decide on one goal, checking it off your list, thinking you have completed your responsibility. Instead, soak yourself in your discontent.
Because, in that, your discontent will start burning you, uncomfortably begin to consume you. And somewhere in that flame, if not a calling, at least a next step will show itself.
In history and in literature, most heros didn’t know what to do. Moses didn’t know what to do. Also in the Bible, Nehemiah and Jeremiah were known for their distress, passion, and weeping over their holy discontent. Yet these last three characters all processed this discontent with God until He directed them forward.
If something in this world bothers you, why not at least try to ask God about it? Why not see what He says about it? Even if you don’t believe in God, or even like him, why not send the question, “What can I do?” echoing out into the cosmos? Could it hurt to ask?
I’m just throwing it out there, but I think he probably has something to say.
Being is Guiding
Don’t be discouraged when you don’t know what to do. Myself and so many others would be happy to walk you through your journey. We can give you specialized ideas to carry out in action, responding to what bothers you. We can attempt to map out a solution for your discontent.
We might inspire you to change the world, but what we can’t do is to give you a burning bush, directing you to your perfect response. (Heck, now years after I first wrote this post I actually coach people through this process–even though I still can’t give them their perfect answer). The perfect response only comes from being with the One who put the holy discontent within you in the first place.
Seeking, learning, processing . . . and just being you as you wait for the fire to speak.
And that is okay. Because being before doing is the best way to change the world.
Want More On Knowing Your Calling?
Check out these posts if you are interested in seeking out your purpose:
If you struggle with anger and aren’t sure how to advocate with it, check out these:
This post was edited in December, 2017.