If you collect the data from my blog post and stories, you will begin to notice that certain words, phrases, and concepts overlap. It is this overlap, the coincidence of common characteristics, that sketches an initial pattern.
Connecting the dots means linking the words and phrases into a coherent pattern, no matter how flattering or disconcerting it might be.
The gaps are the words or phrases that are anomalies, the observations that is contradictory to the larger picture others have of you.
In reading your patterns—both in terms of consistency and inconsistency—you begin to get an inkling of my life theme.
A theme is a unifying idea or motif repeated throughout a story. Begin by noticing what repeats and then note how it unifies the complexities of a story into a coherent whole. A theme is not merely the core point or moral of a story. In fact, if a story or life can be summarized as a moral, then it has lost its intrigue. In other words, a story that has a moral doesn’t reflect the inverted, complex, surprising, and scandalous story of the gospel. A gospel life will be rich, complex, contradictory, and surprising until the end. That’s what makes it real and true. That’s what makes you and I real.
But remember that some of the words, phrases, and images used to describe you and I will be inconsistent. There is a simple reason for apparent or explicit contradiction: we are complex, inconsistent, and contradictory beings. We love and we hate. We sacrifice for others and we are self-absorbed. We are a mass of consistent inconsistencies.
So as we explore the stories of our life, we gradually sense the development of a theme, the growth of significance. We feel ourselves caught up in a vital process in which meaning emerges from experience. In the end, that sense of deepening discovery in experience makes our life interesting to us. It is this way with all real stories. Fiction is never the mere illustration of an idea. It is the created image of the very life process by which we feel ourselves moving toward meaning in our own experience.
A life theme is not our mission, moral, or purpose. It is the significance of our life as seen by those who are close enough to sense how our life either reveals or fails to make known the character of God.
God calls us, which means we must listen and respond. God calls us to tasks and to service, but most important, he calls us into relationship with him (Spiritual Disciplines, Foster). But when most people use the word calling, they’re usually referring to a to-do list, a job offer, or a wish list. The truth about calling, however, is that it has little to do with any of these. His calling involves doing, but we are seldom called to do a single or even a central task. What he calls us to do is in accord with a larger task—that of being. God calls us to certain tasks and jobs, but he doesn’t do so because we are uniquely suited to do them. He calls us to the task or job because we are weak, broken, and ill-equipped for the task. My calling is to walk through any door God gives me in order to reveal his glory (“All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know? God Has Placed Before You an Open Door. What Will You Do?” John Ortberg)
I am called by God not for a mere season or reason but for an eternity to reveal his glory (“You and Me Forever” Francis Chan) What is my calling? It is to make known something about God that is bound to my unique face, name, and story (John Piper). It is to reveal God through my character.
We are called to reveal God through the themes and dreams he has woven into our heart. Therefore, to know our calling, we must come to name the unique trajectory of our story by connecting the dots.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Steve Jobs.
Additional Refs: “To be told: know your story shape your future”, Dan Allender and “EPIC: The Story God is Writing”, John Elredge