“For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep…” Acts 13:36
About 15 years ago when it was quite popular to develop a personal mission statement, I went through that phase along with the rest of professional America. I prayed, thought, reflected and agonized over what it was that God had put me on this spinning ball of mud to do. Here is what I came up with back in the mid 90’s: To tell people that God is not mad at them and to show them the way home.
I still like that sentence. I tried to make it transcendent to what I did for a living. In other words, could I still fulfill that mission if I weren’t a pastor? Could I do that as a worker in a gas refinery in Tacoma or as a corporate trainer and as a manager of a Service Master franchise? It is an adequate personal mission statement, but somehow it never got me that excited. It felt good to have one, but that was about it. In time I started feeling unfulfilled again.
I was selling surveying equipment and felt the pain of a square peg trying to have its corners rounded into a hole it was never designed to fit when the familiar pain an unfulfilled life overwhelmed me. It felt like I was dying of some insidious disease that was eating away at my insides. I wanted to find and feel fulfillment. I felt desperate to find my identity.
I was driving at breakneck pace of a snail on State Route 167 heading north towards Kent, WA when I began to weep. The tears were flowing so much that I couldn’t see to drive. I pulled off to the side of the road while cars honked and angry drivers threw me the bone. I didn’t care. I was dying inside. I pounded the palm of my hands on the steering wheel and shouted, “God, who the hell am I?
It was real quiet in my truck with the motor idling. Did I just cuss at God? I swallowed the lump in my throat and kept silent. Then I heard in something louder than an audible voice, “You are my storyteller.” As soon as those words settled in my spirit, I knew I had just heard the words I have longed to hear all of my life.
Now comes the hard part. I read an article the other day that spoke of how people and organizations can default into what this author called a shadow mission. It is the activities we do when we follow the path of least resistance. People can have them: “It’s all about me.” Or “Show me the money.” Churches have shadow missions: “A successful church for successful people.” Or this one: “Size matters.” Businesses have them: “Maintain the system.” And “People are made to be used.”
Jesus had a shadow mission. In the wilderness experience the devil tempted him to be a Savior without having to suffer and die. Jesus fought that temptation all the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Then just hours before he died for our sins he said, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me (his shadow mission of a cross-less atonement); nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matt 26:39 (ESV)
If Jesus had a shadow mission, in stands to reason that little ole Joe has one too. And so I prayed on it, reflected on it, journaled about it to see if I could name my shadow mission. It didn’t come to me right away, but in a few days I was walking in the snowy woods with my dog and it came to me what mine is. It revolves around what brings me the most fear and sense of vulnerability.
I have secret that I have never told anyone about. The minute my mind rested on this secret, I knew that I had just discovered my shadow mission. Don’t get your hopes up…I am not going to reveal it here. Not yet anyway. But I know what it is and that is a start. (By the way it is not anything perverted, illegal or immoral)
Now I am in pain again. Do I tell someone about it? Do I ask for accountability? I know what you are thinking, of course you tell someone. Of course you let folks hold you accountable to not default towards your shadow mission. Come on Joe we know the bad stuff you have done in your life! Why hide more now?
I’ll tell you why: I am scared. Scared that if folks knew they wouldn’t love or accept me.
The fight is on. I am wrestling with an angel at the River Jabbok. I know why I am here. I found my purpose, my mission. I know also my shadow mission. I am doing both now. They are happening at the same time. By telling you even just this little bit about it I believe I am dragging the shadow into the open where the light can kill it.
“Let us test and examine our ways…” Lam 3:40 (ESV)