Answer Just One Question
Everyone is living for something. Having goals in life is a good thing, and working hard to make a name for yourself and achieve something big are good things too. That’s what the American Dream is all about. Many of us spend our lives trying to have it all, or at least to be seen as having it all.
We crave success. We need significance. Ultimately, we want our lives to count for something, something that matters. But in addition to all that, we would love to gain respect, power, position, and prestige—because those are things that help us feel valued.
And then there is money. Whether we admit it or not, we enjoy the things money brings. We love comfort, and we want to feel secure. These are things we build our American lives on.
But what if you were making steady progress in most of the areas of life that bring comfort, security, earthly significance, and maybe even wealth, and then you found out that you were doing life all wrong? What if that realization led you to radically change the trajectory of your life? And what if changing your life meant that you would also reroute the lives of your spouse and your teenage children?
That is what happened to my family.
My husband, Curt, and I had a life that most American couples aspire to. We had career achievements, work that fit our talents and interests, two great kids, and a comfortable home in an area we loved. We considered ourselves “serious” Christians who were involved in our church and ready to serve when needs arose. It was easy to share what we had, because even after sharing we had more than enough left over.
There was no earthly reason why we should start questioning the legitimacy of our lives.
But we did question it, and in seeking answers we changed just about everything that we had looked to for our security, our identities, and our places in the community.
Meaning, identity, goals, success. These things drive us, and living in America gives us readymade ways to seek to fulfill these basic needs. What’s wrong with driving a reliable car, living in a comfortable home, and sending our children to good schools where they can excel academically and shine in the areas where they have been gifted?
Aren’t these the standards we all reach for?
Curt and I reached for that standard and exceeded it. And having achieved the goals we set for ourselves, we were still asking, “Who and what am I living for? Myself? My children? My career? My income? My reputation? A promotion? A bigger house? A more expensive car? Retirement?”
Maybe you have asked some of these same questions. Perhaps you have achieved far more than we had by age forty. Maybe you achieved these things long before you hit forty. It’s possible you are still working hard to lay hold of your goals. Or maybe you have reached a place in life where comfort and security and status and success have lost their luster.
If you have started asking, “What is it that I’m living for?” I hope reading the story of the Alan family from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, will help point you to some answers. I hope our experience will lead to a shared pursuit of how God is leading His people to
fulfill the basic human needs of meaning, significance, identity, and success.
Make no mistake. I am not a woman who turned her life around as a desperate response to having suffered deep tragedy. My story is just the opposite. I was living a life that I absolutely loved. I was happy, and I had it all.
Curt and I had surpassed our dreams. I felt blessed. I certainly wasn’t looking for a change. Why would I? I couldn’t think of any change that would improve on the life we already had. Yet God had a life waiting for me that I couldn’t see because I was so intoxicated by my myopic definition of a great life. I was impressed by how well Curt
and I had done.
I didn’t realize that I had traded life for a lie. I had no idea that my heart had grown hard and unaware of the things that matter to God. I had learned to be content with what I later came to realize was the least important aspect of life.
Here is part of the lie that is easiest for us to buy into. We are convinced that when we go into overdrive to assure the safety and comfort of our family—positioning everyone for success—that God is pleased with us. Good parents make sure their kids have everything they need to ensure a successful outcome. It stands to reason that a responsible parent does not want his or her children to suffer or fail. It’s all about
providing them with security and stability.
Here is the truth we often are blinded to: when we live for safety and comfort and success, we train our children to do the same. The most convincing lies are the ones that do the best job of mimicking what is good.
The American Dream includes providing the best home you can for your children, which in our culture is thought to be the biggest, most comfortable house you can afford. Often, living in a part of town where big houses predominate makes it possible for you to help your kids form friendships among a “good” group of kids. And it makes it easier to enroll your kids in a “good” school, where they will benefit from outside activities, get into the right classes, and earn good grades—which will set them on the path to the best college. Add it all up and boom! You have the best chance of coming out with the best kid. Our family had all of these going strong, plus we had what we saw as the added bonus of having our kids in church and youth group. It’s hard to argue that God would want to interrupt any of this by pulling your family out of such a forward-looking way of life. Would God really want you to pursue a different kind of life?
What does it mean to change the trajectory of your life when doing so will completely change the lives of your high-school and middle-school-age children? I have yet to come across a parenting book or parenting “expert” who would encourage radical lifestyle changes, especially during those sensitive years. If anything, from the moment our children are born, we work hard to build the most secure foundation possible. We want them to be well grounded, especially in preparation for the dreaded teenage years. We lie awake at night figuring out how to combat the destructive influences that are sure to attack our children.
Most parents and even the experts would agree that the absolute worst time to uproot a child is during either middle school or high school. I know parents who turned down significant job promotions during those years because they thought moving would be too traumatic, and risky, for their teenagers. Good parents don’t do that to their kids, or so the conventional wisdom goes.
Not that I worried about such things. Curt and I enjoyed thriving careers in North Carolina, with no thought about moving in order to further our success. Everything was proceeding as planned for our family. Until 2002, that is. That’s when God started to confront us with troubling questions about how we were living our lives. At the time it seemed to come out of nowhere. Looking back on it now, though, I can see how things were working together to get our attention.
When you are satisfied with your life and living up to the expectations that are set for being a good parent, it’s easy not to examine your life very closely. But God got our attention, and He didn’t give up. So in 2006 we let go of everything that was familiar to us. Before long, Curt and I and our teenagers were living a life that was so different
from what any of us had experienced before, we knew nothing would ever be the same.
It was years in the making, starting with a troubling statement made by a speaker at a conference Curt attended. From that point on, Curt and I began to consider other options, and the changes we started making were step by step, with no indication of all that was in front of us.
We shifted from being a comfortable, upper-middle-class American family to American Christian immigrants in Muslim Southeast Asia. And it began with just twenty-two words: “The two greatest moments of your life are the day you are born and the day you discover why you were born.”
That is what Curt heard Kirbyjon Caldwell, a megachurch pastor from Houston, say at Willow Creek Association’s 2002 Global Leadership Summit. It was a “wow” moment. And when Curt came home and told me about it, I had the same reaction. If those words were true, then we knew something was not quite right with our carefully planned, “perfect” life.
Sure, we knew the days we were born, but we didn’t have a clue about the reason why we were born. We didn’t even know that we needed to know why we had been born.
Finding the answer was the critical missing piece. If we could discover the reason we had been born, it would make everything else make sense. So we began a quest. We became obsessed with the word purpose. This was around the time that Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life was published. “Problem solved! We’ll read that book and
find our purpose, which must be the reason why we were born, and all will be well!”
Or so we thought.
Excerpted from Sent by Hilary Alan. Copyright © 2013 by Hilary Alan. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.