losing the vision, and being found again

In the book Follow Me to Freedom, Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins tack a little note onto Proverbs 29:18 and it goes like this:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
“Or at least run around in circles.”

(Disclaimer: I’ve lost this book somewhere in the boxes of my vagabond life, so that may not be a direct quotation.)

I think the loss of vision speaks a lot to burnout.

Once this fall I talked my fatigued grad student husband into going to bed early, and I joked, “Your biggest disappointment in life is that you’re not a robot.” He groggily protested that he wouldn’t have feelings, then, and he wants to have feelings, but this robot talk gave me an idea:

Wouldn’t it be nice to come across one eternal vision for your life, feel it in your fingers (not your heart – sorry, you don’t have a heart), square your shoulders, set your sights, and never look back? It doesn’t matter who cares, knows, or criticizes; what you’re doing matters and you won’t be deterred. Someday when you expire, the Lord will pat you on the head and mumble something about “good and faithful robot” and that will be that. And you won’t have to feel or question a thing.

Sometimes life sends us on something we call a wild goose chase, and while we’re turning over every holy rock for a thread of guidance, the vision smacks us in the face: Hello, I’m here, and I’m just as wild as the chase.

And then we’re dashing back under the rocks to hide from the wildness and twiddle our thumbs, looking incredibly responsible in a five-year plan having little to do with the point of our existence.

But it’s the vision that draws us out of hiding and into the light.


I don’t know about you, but losing a sense of vision takes me, faster than anything else, from feeling determined to carpe the heck out of this diem to mindlessly crooning “Dust in the Wind” into my morning coffee.

This is what always stumps me about God’s making people. Robots surely could make it through grad school without sleep. If he knew we’d live out redemption so falteringly, why did he still make us the plan? The mystery of free will starts to make sense in the light of love, and family, and Imago Dei; but I still puzzle over why God delights in people who beg and beg for a mission and then turn up their noses at the one he unfolds.

I joke sometimes that when God sat down at the people-making machine to make me, he just started jabbing at random levers — “Let’s see what this button does.” I seem to have a perfectly useless skill set.

What’s even more alarming, though, than the fear of uselessness, is the way that God edges us slowly toward things that make it all very useful – and sometimes terrifying.

Sometimes the vision comes without bidding. We see enough to catch just the next step underfoot and, in the excitement of making one right move in a million, grow jealous for more. Or the vision is a million moves away, and the next obvious step seems to lead in the opposite direction.

Even though we crave an obvious and fulfilling set of marching orders, sometimes all we need is much simpler. When the heat of bitten-back tears and maimed daisies and unrepeatable things screamed at the heavens garner nothing besides silence, the assurance comes softly and completely — after all, all you needed was not answers but to know once more that you are not forgotten.

Maybe all of us experience this at some point (it would make me feel better if we did). Those of us who’ve ever lost the plot of our lives know that sometimes there’s a bit of unholy floundering while we try to put our finger again on what matters. Eventually we’ll find our thread of The Metanarrative and haul ourselves back out. We would all do each other an enormous favor if in the meantime we withheld some criticism and instead nudged each other toward a better vision — to  faithfulness in things that seem so small, to finding the truth about why we’re here and finding it (in some ways) in each other, and to detecting the place we fit and, always, falling in love again with the Author of the most beautiful story.

but the sweetest thing i’ve ever heard
is that i don’t have to have the answers,
just a little light to call my own.

though it pales in comparison
to the overarching shadows,
a speck of light can reignite the sun
and swallow darkness whole.

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