Didn’t See It Coming

Image credit: Theophilos

by Hadley Duncan Howard

Many years ago, armed with a degree in family studies and an intellectual desire to become a marriage and family therapist, I embarked on what has become a long and successful career in… public relations. It seems like a departure from the linear but, as with everything the Lord orchestrates, there is sense and purpose, beautiful order. He knew what I didn’t: I’m a writer.

In the mid-1990s, the very week I was to begin a post-graduate career in a totally different field, I dreamed the words public relations. I remember how it felt, being awakened so forcefully from a deep sleep, my eyes stinging with shock. My mind had seen, my heart had heard, an unmistakable directive. It came with clarity and import. It was heavy with urgency and meaning. It was a calling.

Four days later, I landed an ungettable job with the world’s largest public relations firm. I’ve written every day since.

Recently, I’ve embarked on another grand departure from the linear (there have been a few in between, as well), and have been reminded of the profound peace and confident assurance that comes when I allow the Lord to direct my life. Wherever He’s taking me is where I want to be; God’s way is always successful, and more interesting, to boot.

When I seek and receive the will of the Lord for any aspect of endeavor, I am at once humbled to be fully seen and known of God, and totally confident that my pursuit will be blessed and directed, that my exertion will be exponentiated, that success is assured because my efforts have been chosen for me by One who knows all – by One who is deeply, eternally invested in my contribution and the realization of my potential.

Indeed, if there’s one thing I know of God, it’s this: He gave his Son, who gave His life, for the sole purpose of providing me with the opportunity to realize my potential.

That’s big stuff, and the fulfillment of that promise – both God’s part and my own – involves aspiration and pursuit. A sacrifice of such magnitude requires my conscientious attention to making good on it. As Christ’s sacrifice was in the service of others, we can emulate His immense contribution only as we labor for the greater good, as we spend ourselves in the service of others. This means we must leave our comfortable places of the heart (and home) and get to work in that lone and dreary world, as He did.

That’s why seeking the clear direction of the Spirit is vital to striving – so we can be certain of what we’re striving and working for. What would the Lord have us do? And how would He have us do it? To know with certainty that our work – our precise work in a precise place at a precise time – is approved of God, we must open ourselves entirely to His plan for us, surrendering fully to what He has in mind for us individually. The deep humility of total, voluntary submission is where the Lord does His work; it’s the birthplace of a steadfast sureness in the rightness of our path.

I’ve experienced this too many times to count. Every single right decision I’ve ever made, the kind that have changed the course of my life in subtle yet compelling ways, has come from a place of surrender. In each instance, the Lord has surprised me in a “didn’t see that coming” kind of way – and, in each instance, upon reflection, I’ve quickly realized how right my new direction is, how it could never have been anything else. And yet I did not see it until God said Not that; this.

Plot twists by God: It’s how a shepherd becomes a king, how a farm boy becomes a prophet, and how you and I perform the work that only we can do, becoming our true selves in the process.

Oh, but that process won’t be linear and it won’t be easy; that’s His promise, too.

To wit: I’ve worked for tyrants and bullies and fools. I’ve worked for truly top-drawer people. I’ve worked 80-hour weeks for years at a time. I’ve been promoted, as well as passed over for promotion. I’ve been abused in every conceivable manner, and – much more often – treated with great respect. I’ve done excellent work and been surrounded by both tremendous and horrible people. I’ve loved my work. I’ve hated my job. I’ve worked for clients who changed my life in meaningful ways. I’ve declined on moral grounds offers for powerful and lucrative positions. I’ve made great money and I’ve worked for (literally) nothing. I’ve known the rush and satisfaction of outstanding work product, and the thud and fear of the struggle. I’ve been sought after and courted. I’ve been fired for refusing to allow an employer to take advantage of me. I’ve made lifelong friends and worked with people I adored, as well as those who made every villainous boss on television look like a softie. Once, on my last day at a company, my entire department blasted Abba’s “Dancing Queen” and performed choreographed dance moves as an affectionate and hilarious send-off. Another time, my employees made a paper doorway for me to run through, Super Bowl-style. I’ve thanked the Lord for the blessing of joyful work as I arrived in the office each morning; and I’ve thanked the Lord for the relief of getting the heck out of Dodge on my last afternoon.

Which is to say, I’ve seen it all.

It’s been high adventure. I’m grateful for both the suffering and the wonder I’ve experienced through my career in public relations; it’s all been instructive and transformative. It’s rich prologue.

I cannot know what God has in mind for me: Is the point of all this past? Does my life’s great work still lie in wait? Does my life even have a great work?

Yes. I believe it does. And not knowing precisely what it is while trusting the course corrections that get me there allows that effort to be entirely authentic and wholehearted, to be couched in surrender and clothed in joy, to eagerly participate in the mystery of God’s surprises, for regular work to become A Worka foreordination, if you will, a calling.

I believe that God cares how I spend my days and use my energy. I believe in Divine direction. I believe God uses for His purposes anyone who’ll let Him. I believe there is work that only I can do. I believe in opportunities that only a heavenly economy can create.

I believe He intends for me to, with words, change the world in some way that’s both ordinary and remarkable. I believe He has no plan to tell me in advance what that change will be. And I believe the glory of God’s design for my life lies right there, in the heart of the surprise.

Thanks, Lord, for keeping me on my toes.

6 Comments on “Didn’t See It Coming

  1. I love this piece so much. I’m reminded of the newly famous “Kid President” giving his pep talk about making the world more awesome. He paraphrases Robert Frost as follows, “Two roads diverged in the woods/I took the road less traveled/and it hurt, man!!” Letting go of what we know really can hurt . . . but it can also lead to glorious growth. And that makes all the difference.

    I especially love your part about why the Savior died for us . . . and how we can do no less than to gird up and do our own work in this lone and dreary world. Perhaps all that good work will lighten my little corner. Thanks!!

  2. I loved this. I’ve been seeking direction for my own path. I think you highlight an important point here: God gave us all different talents. Sometimes I think I have to save the world in a certain way because some jobs or callings are more holy than others; I’m trying to learn that every gift, whether that’s being a writer or a runner or a missionary, glorifies God and that I don’t have to save the world in order to make a difference.

  3. “Every single right decision I’ve ever made, the kind that have changed the course of my life in subtle yet compelling ways, has come from a place of surrender.” I love this! It’s so true, and yet it’s a lesson I have to keep learning over and over again.

  4. The inside scoop from a woman who has lived in such a world. WOW! Such a great post and truly profound.

    “How a farm boy becomes a profit..”

    Thank you so much. I am sure I will be chewing on this post for a while.


  5. Great post. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own career as I return to work after maternity leave this next week. This post inspired introspection. As someone above said, I’m also going to be chewing on this message for awhile.

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