If your social and professional circles are similar to mine, you’ve heard the word Activism a lot lately. Many of us have found that deep desire to “get in there, and make a difference”! For some of you, the next step is so easy. You know the cause you will champion. You know the people group you’ll advocate for. You have counted the cost of your involvement, and you’ll “get in there”. For others, you know there’s a problem, you have the desire to use their influence to create change, but you’re missing something. You guessed it…Vision! To folks with clear Vision, God bless you and GET IN THERE! Use your voice. Use your influence. Use all your gifts, talents, and wisdom to lead your people! Take advantage of the times. We have a lot of work to do!
To folks who haven’t found your Vision yet, for yourself or for the groups you lead (I often find myself here too), God might be calling us out into a new season! My advice is to truly reconnect to God (however you do that) on a regular basis. My practice is deep breathing and prayer. Deep and slow breathing, even for 10-20 minutes a day, transforms your nervous system by reconnecting you to your body in a more aware and relaxed way. Prayer, while being a complex discipline, reconnects us to God our Maker. In prayer, God realigns us with God-self, the Source of Healing, Salvation, and Renewal (for ourselves and the world). God rewires us back to our truer, unique purposes, and gives us God-power to “get in there” in a way that truly sees God’s Mission to redeem all creation. We get Vision by pausing and reconnecting to ourselves and to God, from there…God will do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
Reflecting on vision casting these past few weeks has been eye opening. To me, “vision” has always coincided with dreaming big. How can I challenge myself to do something huge or have some sort of grand impact? And while thinking about things bigger than you is a great thing, vision to me recently has been taking a step back and seeing how I can be true and caring to myself and those around me. If we have learned anything in the past few weeks, we’ve learned that we have a great need for self-care and community care.
So what does that look like? Self-care means that we need to be aware of ourselves physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Are we taking time for ourselves to connect with God? Are we setting time aside when we get overwhelmed to prevent burnout? Are we reaching out to friends or loved ones when support is needed? No one can pour from an empty cup, so self-care directly pours into our community care.
Community care is how we relate to those around us, and in our context here, how we relate to those we are leading. How are the members of the teams doing in the same ways mentioned above? How are they growing? How are they using their talents and gifts to serve the part of Forefront not currently involved in a group or a team? How are we all affecting the community in New York outside of Forefront’s walls, especially those feeling vulnerable at the moment?
The best part of all this is that even though our actions seem relatively small, they can still have a big impact.
Words like “vision-casting” or “discernment” are very Christian-ese. But, in many ways what I think of as harmony or connection to God is doing the work of discerning and communicating vision and purpose to others, just spelled out differently. I have been practicing yoga for close to nine years, and I embrace the use of the verb “practice” to describe it. I continually practice, because I do not perfect. Over the nine years I have “backslid” and gone through periods of not attending classes or spending any time on my mat. My bones and joints have felt stiff and poses that were once easy to reach, I had to ease back into. But in calling it a practice, grace is automatically given. There is grace in my practice for times when I am stiff or have not spent the time I needed to. Connection with God works in the same way: there is grace automatically given for every season. We need to put in the work, practice, connection with God, in order to move forward, to meet new challenges, but the emphasis is on the journeying. Connection with God, I believe, begins with silence and openness, something that as an anxious Enneagram 1 I find difficult. Thinking of connection to God, discernment, and vision-casting, as a lifelong practice, rather than a single perfected event, allows grace and depth into our relationship.
For me, vision and dreams are alike concepts. Visions are dreams put into concrete terms. Dreams become ideas (small and big) that move from the "what if?” questions to lists of discrete goals and tasks.
Sometimes, when we have leadership seminars, visions begin to sound like formulas we’re creating for a program to work or ideas that become a reality by the sheer force of our will. But that’s not dreaming, and that’s not life-giving.
I have dreams all of the time-- in the shower, while I ride the subway, or even as I sleep. I’ll remember something and tweak it in my head. I’ll think through what to cook when hosting friends or how to encourage the volunteers who serve at my nonprofit. I’ll plan for a future family that I don’t have now. These are all dreams, visions of what could be in the future.
I’ve realized in the last few weeks how child-like wonder, hope, and imagination are the foundation for good dreams. I often laugh at the things that I think up, and I throw away at least 9 out of 10 ideas that come to mind. But that’s the fun part. I get exhilarated by the thought of something, and then, sometimes, I’m energized to actually put it into practice.
In this way, creating vision can be a sort of self-care as I allow myself the space to dream and laugh and play with thoughts of what could be.
I listened to Be Thou My Vision as a meditation (here’s the version, if you’re interested) before I sat down to write and this line stuck out:
“Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.”
If God is the heart of my own heart, if God is my vision, how do I experience Him?
I listen for Him.
God says, “Be still. And know that I am God.”
I practice centering prayer, daily. Father William Meninger and Fr. Thomas Keating have written a lot about this, and Mike McHargue’s book Finding God In The Waves has a great section on the neuroscience of prayer. This has helped me develop more than just an intercessory prayer habit (talking to God).
James Hillman writes: “Prayer has been described as an active silence in which one listens acutely for the still small voice, as if prayer were not asking and getting through to God, but becoming so composed that He might come through to me."
I changed the way I read my Bible. Seeking God’s Face has helped me with this: “The goal of lectio divina is to grow in companionship with God, to be a personal participant in the story of God, lovingly listening for God’s word, allowing the text to get into us and read our lives.” This season it’s been Ecclesiastes (Yes the book that starts "Everything is meaningless!”) that speaks loudest to me. It’s helped me discern what is just “a chasing after the wind” and what is a good/beautiful use of my limited, precious energies (Rob Bell talks a lot about this in How To Be Here.)
Little-by-little I learn to be a better listener. And the better I become at listening, the clearer it becomes when God is calling me to act. Big or small things, I follow my heart because I trust that He is the Heart of my own heart.
A list of books that have helped shape 2016 for me:
A Sacred Voice Is Calling by John Neafsey
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
How To Be Here by Rob Bell
Finding God In The Waves by Mike McHargue
“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
We think about “vision” in the wrong ways a lot of the time. We fall into the trap of imagining that we can make ourselves into something or someone we would like to be, but were not created to be. That is why we have been encouraging each of you to reflect on vision over the last few months. In order to find, or create a vision for the future, we first must find who we were created to be.
Vision is the foundation of future growth, but that growth springs out of the discovery of our truest self. Without a clear vision rooted in the true self, we aren’t able to move in any purposeful direction. Often, even if we are hard workers and highly motivated people, we can feel exasperated by the nagging intuition that what we are doing with our lives isn’t fulfilling our purpose. That is why vision is so motivating. If we know who we were created to be, as Pressfield says, we can cast a vision to become who we already are.
The development of vision requires work. It is not possible without personal reflection, honesty with one’s self, and a willingness to learn and evolve. Casting vision and seeing it through is one of the most challenging and rewarding processes in leadership, and it starts now.
Lean into discovering who God made you to be, and learn how to be who you already are.
Travis Eades, Community Pastor.