Most of us are stuck in a story of without. We go about our tasks and get through our day without much hope, without our dreams realized, without deep friendships, and without experiencing the presence of God. Somewhere along the way, we got focused on doing more rather than being more. The result is that we feel overwhelmed, unseen, disheartened, out of time, and isolated.
We strive for validation and success. But even when that happens, it doesn’t satisfy at a soul level. We hunger for more…but can’t seem to find it.
Allen Arnold claims that there’s a better story…and it all comes down to one simple word – with.
A few years ago, I met Allen at a writer’s conference. Amongst literary agents, publishers and the business of book making, Allen stood apart from the pack. I had an opportunity to consult with him about my writing and he said, “Forget about industry trends and what’s selling, What is God calling you to create with Him?” Our conversation changed my life. I exhaled in relief finally realizing that my writing is not about productivity, it’s about creating with God each day.
Recently, I got to interview Allen about his new book, The story of With, over a plate of fajitas and many bowls of salsa.
In your book, The Story of With, you say that we should live in a place of expectancy. Unpack that a bit more for us.
There is an ocean of difference between expectancy and expectations. Expectancy is the posture of a son or daughter with a good Father. A young child will follow their dad anywhere because there is absolute hope and a trust. A belief that whatever happens, it will be okay because he is with him. More than just see us through, he will be there each moment of the journey, orchestrating the details. It is living in pursuit of his presence more than chasing productivity or finding validation in our performance.
Expectations, on the other hand, are our list of what we expect to happen. The desire to control replaces hope and trust. This ends up making our world smaller and smaller because we are trading a story of his making for one limited to our own strength. And since we really don’t control much of anything (including our next breath), control isn’t something we have anyway. When you hold tight to your Expectations, you are living as an orphan because it’s all up to you. That’s why those who live with rigid expectations are weary, burnt out, offended, and disheartened. Expectancy ushers you into the Freedom Realm because you allow yourself to live in wonder, not knowing what the next moment holds but knowing whatever it is, you won’t face it alone but together with your good Father.
We all want doors to open and many times we believe an open door is an opportunity from God. But you tell readers that even our Enemy can open doors that look like good options. How do we learn to become discerning about what door is truly from God?
When facing major decisions – whether tied to our marriage, children, career, finances, or health – we try to figure the answer out based on either past experience and we know the formula or logic our way to a decision based on a list of pros and cons. So we pass on a vacation because it didn’t turn out well last year. Or we send three college applications out and proceed with whichever one says yes.
But this really isn’t walking with God. It’s taking our cues from the external world – much like saying if it rains today, God must not want us to go on a bike ride. Or the last time I went on a bike ride, I fell down so I’ll pass on the next invitation to go bike riding. Whether we go through a door that opens or stop at a door that was previously closed, we are letting the door determine our future rather than God. As I say in my book, the enemy doesn’t really care which door you go through as long as you’re entering it without God. The way to know which door God is inviting you into is to be in intimate conversation with him. The job offer that comes through may look great, but God’s council is to pass on it. The door to another opportunity is closed tight – and God says to be patient. That he is going to make a way.
And what about the issue you’re facing where it seems there are only two options and neither is good? Rather than settle or lose hope, remember that God has countless options – ones our minds can’t even comprehend. But we’ll never arrive at those using a list of what we know and understand. We have to lean into him. We have to enter into a better story where we take each step with God.
You say that the areas of our lives most opposed, offers clues to our unique callings. How do we discover God’s true calling for our lives?
I believe before we were born, God knit into each of us unique passions and talents. The reason wasn’t primarily so we can be productive for God. We aren’t machines that God sets in motion just to get more things done. We are relational beings. The ultimate goal was not for us to just do more but to be more. And so like a father teaching his daughter how to dance, God gives us specific passions and talents as a way for us to get to know him better.
The enemy opposes this aspect of our lives from the start – not because he really cares if we’re a chef or a teacher. He opposes it because he understands what God’s greater invitation is – a chance to awaken our heart into intimacy with the Father through what we’re most drawn to.
That’s why in the book I show how to use the scars and setbacks of our past as a roadmap to discover our truer selves. What’s been most opposed in our lives is actually a strong clue to what our larger destiny involves.
How big do I dream? You tell the story of a fish in a fish bowl and his dream is a bigger bowl, but the fish doesn’t know about the ocean. Do we dare to dream about an ocean of opportunity? When do we give up on our big dreams?
There is never an expiration date on the dreams and invitations God has given us. And we can never out-dream God. The key is to make sure that what we are pursuing is what God has actually invited us into. And that we follow his timing rather than our own impatience for what is to come.
But rest assured, God will see through what he sets in motion. That said, his way of fulfilling our dreams might not look at all like we expected it to. We may assume an invitation to a new state is primarily about the new job. But his greater motive may be to take us on a journey into what it means to be a son or daughter. We thought the job was the point – so if it doesn’t work out, we sense failure. But the job was simply a piece of God’s larger mission and invitation…his pursuit of our heart.
That’s why when it comes to our dreams, we must stay expectant rather than carving our expectations in stone for how they will play out. Success isn’t most measured in the external outcome of the situation, but simply rather we pursued the dream with God. That’s counterintuitive, I know. It feels too vague at times. But really, it’s the only way to view success in our lives. Did we pursue our dreams with God? If so, that is the only definition of success that matters.
You were once a self-centered, hard to deal with business person until someone pointed it out to you. Then you began to live intimately with God. Was this an overnight transformation?
I’m laughing. No, it wasn’t overnight. Or even a few weeks. Transformation comes through relationship, practice, and time. It’s like saying: “You once didn’t know how to play the guitar, but now you are performing concerts around the world. Did that happen overnight?”
If only, right? We parent our children knowing it is for the long haul. We sow seeds but don’t see the crops sometimes until after high school. And God fathers us in a similar manner. The process requires intimacy, experience, and healing. And that can never be microwaved though we’ve come to expect instantaneous results in not just our food but our lives. God chooses the path that feels inefficient because he is going after our heart and his goal is rarely efficiency. Fathering is a relationship rather than a race.
Tell us something fun about yourself.
I really love salsa. The chips are totally optional…almost a distraction. So when I go to Mexican restaurants (which is quite often), I have them bring me their hottest salsa. Then I pour it into a glass and drink it. Usually the chef will need to make more because I consume quite a bit. It’s been a great way to strike up conversations with the chef and waiter.
At our ministry’s Christmas party a few years ago, we had a talent show. One woman played a classical piano piece. A man re-enacted a scene from Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. You probably see where this is leading. For my “talent”, I guzzled two large jars of Salsa in under a minute. At the end of that performance, I leaned too close to a candle and my jacket caught on fire. It was my blaze of glory…all for the love of salsa!
In your book, you make many profound statements. One that has stuck with me is, “Give your best to your best.” Would you expand on this?
Somehow our culture has convinced us that a balanced life is not just possible…but the goal. That if we can somehow just keep all the plates spinning at the right speed, we can add more without any crashing down. But a balanced life was never the goal. Everything in life isn’t an equal priority.
Rather than balance, we need to live a wildly unbalanced life. And we do that when we focus most on what matters most.
God has already told us what those few top priorities should be: Love God and Love Others. He also said we are to guard and nurture our hearts above all else.
So I encourage people to live a wildly unbalanced life. Invest an abundant, lavish amount of time on your family, on your heart, on loving well, on spending time with God. Then, spend just enough time on the rest to get done what needs to be done. It’s amazing how much easier you can breathe when you are no longer under the power of a “to do” list that never gets completed but instead choose to live in freedom as you focus most on what has eternal value.
The Story of With, is an allegory that doesn’t just take you on a journey…it will transform your personal journey. It reveals how to actively pursue life with God and with others from a place of identity, intimacy, and imagination. Through a fast-paced allegory, you’ll discover a better way to live, love, and create.
This is one excellent book! My copy is highlighted, underlined and marked up with notes in the margins.
To learn more about Allen and his book, go to www.amazon.com.
Also, listen to our radio interview here, The Good News, with Angie Austin.
Here’s a chance to get a copy of Allen’s book for free! The first person to comment on my website, www.Dawnahetzler.com and tell me the title to Chapter 10, will win Allen’s book. You can find the answer by going to the “Look Inside the Book” on Amazon.