The kids busy with homework, his wife Jan cleaning the kitchen, Matt* flopped down in front of the flat screen with a drink in one hand and the latest issue of Car and Driver in the other. Time to upgrade the mini-van.
But as the football stats flashed across the screen, Matt found his mind starting to wander. Work was going okay; his promotion was just around the corner. Jan seemed to be happy, although some nights the look in her eyes told him he didn’t know the whole story. He worried about their debt load and the kids’ looming college tuitions.
He hung out with the guys at the basketball court, went to church most Sundays and even volunteered at the food bank once in awhile.
So why did he feel so empty inside?
According to the web site “Ask Men,” some of the top things that make men happy are good friends, good health and a good life partner. A Christian guy might add going to church or being involved in some sort of ministry opportunity.
But what about those men who seem to really love life? They have a purpose, a sense of calling and direction that makes everyone else wish they had it too. The problem is that many guys don’t know how to get there.
“Everyone is called, not just pastors and missionaries,” says Tom Sine, founder of Seattle-based Mustard Seed Associates (msainfo.org) and the coauthor (with his wife Christine) of the book Living on Purpose: Finding God’s Best For Your Life (Baker Books, 2002).
“The good life of God is not getting the newest, the latest and the biggest. It’s seeking life. It’s losing life in service to God and others that we discover what the good life is.”
“God desires us to walk with Him. [He wants] to communicate that purpose to us,” says Ontario author and leadership coach Dave Loney (daveloney.com). “Our calling is actually something that encompasses all of these things—our work, our community, our church, the people we hang out with, our own vision.
“Too often we isolate our call to our work with the church or the mission trip that we do. It’s integrating all of these things around the context of ‘God how did you design me? What do you want me to do with my life?’”
It sounds great, but how can the everyday guy actually define his calling? There are tools aplenty online and in bookstores, but they may seem a bit daunting at first.
It can be tough to find helpful tools, agrees Sine. It’s one of the reasons he and Christine decided to write a book outlining some practical, Scripture-based steps men, women and whole families can take to live a less stressful, more satisfying life.
The goal, he says, “is to help families take their lives back, and to discover a sense of God’s call on their lives and to reorder how they use their time and money.”
“If we really want to find God’s best, we need to do what Jesus did and give ourselves to a dream that calls us beyond with actively listening to God’s call on our lives.”
The first step is to get together with some like-minded friends.
Small groups are the ideal place to start asking the questions. It’s also the place to do a lot of listening, says Sine. Take the time to really dig into Scripture and prayer.
“How is God calling us through Scripture? What has impacted you and called you beyond yourself? Write that down,” says Sine. “Then write down what you’re hearing through prayer. What are the kinds of human need that really tear at your heart? They could be God’s call on your life. Write them down.
“Write down your areas of giftedness. The things you’re passionate about, that you care about. And areas of brokenness.” Even broken areas, he says, can become a calling, pointing to Prison Fellowship founder, and ex-convict, Charles Colson as an example.
But thinking through some of these issues can be tough.
Gerry Bock has seen a lot of men come through his doors during his 22 years as a clinical therapist in Surrey, B.C. Most times it’s because something in their life “isn’t working,” he says. “My marriage is broken; my relationships aren’t working; I have trouble with my family; I’m stressed; I’m depressed. The cause may be that they don’t have any goals or priorities, but they don’t always know that’s the problem.”
It’s hard for some guys to ask for help. “Men tend to think they can handle crises on their own. They think ‘I just need to have a few drinks or go to the gym or buy a new boat, that’ll get me past my crisis.’ There are a lot of things to distract men from dealing with the real problem.”
If you’re serious about making some changes, Bock suggests taking an informal, 360 degree look at yourself. Ask yourself where you’re at, and be honest. How are you doing with your relationships with friends, your spouse, your kids, God?
Often others can identify your strengths more easily, so don’t be afraid to ask. Get together with your buddies and ask them for their honest opinions. “Other people will identify all sorts of interesting strengths about you,” says Bock.
In his 2004 book Sweating From Your Eyes: Emotional Fitness for Men, Loney offers two surveys to help guys take a good hard look at themselves. The first is personal; the second is for others to fill out.
He too says this is a time to do a “brutal, honest assessment.” When a man is emotionally healthy, he is better able to hear God’s call.
Loney likens it to working out at the gym. You need to stick to it, exercise weak muscles, build tone. And go with a buddy. “If you’re not willing to be honest about your stuff, you’re not really working out,” he says. “You’re faking it.”
“Accountability is really critical for staying on track,” agrees Bock. “If you don’t want to be accountable, one has to ask, how serious are you in your goals?”
Drawing on years of personal and corporate experience, Loney offers guys a way of plotting the survey results to figure out what “zone” they fall into and some ways to work on improving their character.
The book is written for a wide audience, but the tools align with Scripture, says Loney. While it is “selfhelp” on one level, it takes on a whole different dynamic when God is part of the picture.
“God does the work in us,” says Loney. “It’s very clear that God is involved in everything. He holds us together. Change is related to God’s work in our life.”
It had been a long two months, but Matt actually felt better than he had in a long time. Desperate to get out of his funk, he talked to his buddy Dan about his problem, only to find out Dan was struggling too. They agreed to start meeting with another friend, Len, once a week to figure out what needed to change.
Bibles open, and committed to being honest with each other, they began to listen for God’s call.
Once you have a sense of where God is calling you, and what some of your strengths and gifts might be, it’s time to hammer out a personal mission statement, one of the key steps for Tom and Christine Sine. Put what you’re hearing into words.
Then, says Tom, you can start to figure out how to reorder your life—including how you spend your time and your money—to reflect your mission. “Ordinary people are finding out that God can use their lives in ways they never imagined.”
It can be as simple as taking someone out for lunch once a week to find out how they’re doing, or using your skills in the community. Interested in cars? Help single moms with vehicle maintenance. Skilled at sports? Invest your time with some needy kids. Going on vacation? Try spending part of it (or all of it!) serving others in a new location.
It’s risky. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it, says Bock.
“You’re happier when you take steps every day to deepen your relationships with people and your relationships with God and engage life.”
Sine echoes that statement. “I find people who are having the best time are the ones who are discovering how God wants to use their lives to make a difference in the lives of others,” he says.
Matt couldn’t believe it. He’d had the most amazing day. After meeting with Dan and Len for a few weeks, the three of them noticed several homes in their community were in dire need of repair, porches sagging, shingles peeling, lawns needing attention.
And, so, the men asked if they could help. At first people were suspicious, but in time warmed to the idea. Some amazing conversations began to happen, about life and God.
Matt felt great. He had a purpose! And surprise, it was having repercussions in all areas of his life. He was more engaged with his wife and family. He felt better about his performance at work. And he was realizing he didn’t need that new car to make himself feel better. He already had it in spades (and paintbrushes and hammers). Literally. And it felt good.
Kelly Rempel lives and writes in Winnipeg. *Matt and his friends are fictional characters with real-life issues.
The article above was featured in the SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2011 issue of SEVEN magazine.