What if you were asked to drop everything and go in a different direction?
It’s amazing how often this crops up in ancient stories. To wit:
- The Hebrew prophet Jonah preaches destruction to the Assyrian city of Nineveh; the inhabitants drop what they’re doing and repent of their wickedness.
- Jesus calls a couple of fishermen to follow him; they drop their nets and go where he goes.
- Wealthy Indian merchants encountered the Buddha, heard his wisdom, and instantly joined the Sangha (the community of his followers).
- A young Jewish man named Saul persecutes the followers of Jesus—until a heavenly vision inspires him to drop everything and become a follower of Jesus.
What gives here? It’s hard to make sense of these stories when seen through the lens of 21st-century America. Even if we sensed a need to switch directions, most of us would consider it carefully, weigh options, draw up pro-and-con lists, consult family and friends, pray or meditate on it, and draw a conclusion. That’s a pretty mature way to do it. So why all the drop everything bit?
I have no idea what these stories say about decision-making techniques specifically. I do, though, hear a larger message that the immediacy of the stories dramatizes: this thing—whatever you’re dropping everything for—is more important than anything you’re doing, so stop NOW and pay attention.
To put it another way: every now and then, something—or, I would say, someone—breaks into the routine of our daily lives, no matter how good and virtuous those lives are, and commands us to listen, reflect, rethink. On occasion it changes our lives, whether immediately or (more often) over years.
If that sounds scary, well, it is. The good news: we always have the option to say no. The better news: there’s one great reason to say yes—one thing that turns the uncertainty of it all into adventure, and the worry into joy.
That one thing is the essence of the One we’re dealing with here: God, the Universe, Emptiness, whatever term you use.
In short, we’re dealing with Love itself, or the Reason to love. So wherever we go, whatever path we follow, we follow Love. Wherever Love leads us, it may be bumpy, it may be challenging, it may terrify us, but it will be good—for ourselves and whatever corner of the world we influence. No wonder the Bible’s First Letter of John tells us that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Many people have done this sort of thing, more than you’d think. It’s what moves a New York financial executive to become a monk, or a successful copywriter to write more fruitful things for much less pay (no one I know, I assure you ; ), or a young gourmand to follow Jesus into the wildest wastelands of the Algerian desert. Sometimes it’s not even as outwardly dramatic as this: the new direction might look “normal” but represents a profound shift for the one who’s called to it.
Has this sort of thing happened to you? How did you respond? What difference has it made in your life?
Finally, an invitation. I’m starting to collect stories of people like this for a book project. If you’d like to share yours—or if you know someone whose story might fit—feel free to get in touch.