The only business I ever started ended up punching my marriage in the face, ruining an important friendship and ripping off the church my grandmother has attended for 30 years.
It was such an abject failure that if there had been whipped cream pies and people running quickly after each other with a musical background we could have filmed an episode of Benny Hill.
I was tired of my corporate job and felt like I was supposed to do something else with my life. After praying for zero minutes and refusing to listen to any of the cautions from my wife, I decided to start my own advertising agency.
I partnered with a friend from church and we signed my grandmother’s church on as our first client. After months of under delivering on all our promises and realizing we were both woefully ill equipped to run a business, we decided to close the business. The church asked us to complete one last open project and give them back all the remaining money that had initially paid us since we had failed to honor our commitments.
My partner sent them the check. We were done! Or so I thought. I got a voice mail a few days later in the parking lot of a day job I was trying to escape. It said, “Hi Jon, this is ‘I forget what her name was’ with the church. The check you sent us bounced. Please call me.”
I wanted to throw up. It turns out that the partner had done something wrong. He was in a personal financial crisis and had taken all the money. It was gone. As someone who has made epic mistakes of my own, I don’t put what he did in a different category of “mess-up.” We’re both broken people in different ways, but when the truth came out about the money, the situation wrecked our friendship. Although the church graciously offered to forgive our debt, my wife and I decided that it’s always a good policy to not take money from a church, so we decided to pay them back personally. Clearly, despite having an emergency fund, we had not anticipated writing a check of a few thousand dollars to a church, so that significantly strained our relationship for a little while. (God bless my wife for never saying the phrase, “I told you so.”)
I’ve written about that story before, but recently I started to think about why I started that ad agency in the first place. I think there was part of me that was just so tired of waiting on God. I knew in my heart that He called me to use my talents for him, and when I felt like that was not happening at the pace I preferred, I took things into my own hands. I thought, “This day job can’t be what I do with my life. Fine, you gave me a fuzzy dream, I’ll use my own wisdom to clarify it for you. I’ll start a Christian advertising agency.”
The consistent word in those thoughts is easy to see, “I.” When I feel panicked or stuck or stress, “I” want to fix “me.” And the time frame I usually give myself when I try to control life is “right now.” I want instant fixes to my problems.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever found yourself in a corner and thought, “OK, this marriage, this dream, this idea, is not going exactly where I anticipated it going. I better get busy fixing it. It’s on me, to hustle and come up with a plan to change it all.”
Maybe you haven’t, but the times I’ve done that, I have failed in horrible ways. When I grew tired of my job as a interactive copywriter at Staples, I took things into my own hands and found a new job at a software company. I was so eager to jump from where I was that I didn’t even look at where I was landing. I didn’t know anything about software, I had no idea what CRM stood for and within a matter of months, that entire company had gone out of business. (About a month after I got married and moved my Georgian wife to Massachusetts for my job. In laws love that move. Awesome.)
And as I stand on the precipice of launching a new book and continue figuring out this crazy Dave Ramsey adventure in Nashville, I hear the siren’s call to control everything myself in order to ensure success. But I’ve learned something recently.
It’s not my job to finish what God started.
It’s not my job to complete the work He began in his way, with my ways.
It’s not my job to wrestle control back from him, even if the adventure feels out of control.
You see this happen all the time in the Bible. One of my favorite examples is with Abraham. In Genesis 20, Abraham gets caught for the second time lying that Sarah is his sister not his wife. The ruler Abraham deceived, Abimelek says, “What was your reason for doing this?” Abraham explains:
“I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”‘”
I love the technicality Abraham tries to throw out, but that’s not the line that really gets me. The sentence that kills me, the phrase I think we all say in different ways is this:
“And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I __________”
What he’s saying there is, “When God sent me on an adventure away from everything I knew or felt comfortable with or understood, I had to take things into my own hands.” And we say that too, don’t we?
When God sent me to a job without making it clear why I was there, I decided to find another one as fast as I could.
When God gave me a big opportunity, I decided to make sure it succeeded by working 80 hours a week to the detriment of my family.
When God called me to ________, I knew I had to take control and do ____________.
When we feel stressed or confused about the wandering God introduces into our lives, it’s so easy to try to fix it ourselves. In big ways and small ways, we take steps away from the plan God has for us in our desire to solve it or finish it or complete it.
But it’s not my job to finish the work the Lord started. I’ll be present to it, I’ll be part of it, I will steward the opportunity to the best of the abilities he has given me. But I don’t want try to game the outcome or manipulate the situation when I face the fears that come with wandering.
He’s God. I’m Jon. When I remember that simple arrangement, life goes so much better.