The Sound of a Million Dreams at first glance can look like it’s about vocation, and pursuing dreams God gives us. But it’s about something even more important. What one or two main points do you want readers to take away with them?
One thing I hope readers take away is that pursuing our calling is about the journey God takes us on as we listen to the things he’s telling us about what he wants to do with our lives. When we offer ourselves fully to that and submit ourselves to it, there is a process that happens in our souls that changes who we are. This definitely isn’t a how-to book. It’s not the “seven steps to figure out what you want to be when you grow up.” In fact, I would say it’s the opposite of that. It’s not about any destination, but the journey and process of how we change and transform when we seek to find our calling and to live out our dream.
I also hope people grasp the whole idea of paying attention, and listening to what’s happening inside of them. I call it “the Stirring”—things that the Holy Spirit presses at our soul about the things that we’re supposed to do, the people we’re supposed to be. It’s those things that we lay in bed in the middle of the night and think about doing, as well as the way that we’re wired, the narrative that our life has told, the threads that God has pulled through our story from the time we were little kids and on into the people we are today. In the busyness of life and all the noise and chaos of what we have to do every day just to get from one point to another—in the process of all of that, we still have to find a way to pay attention to those things that are niggling at our soul. That’s not going to happen if we aren’t intentional about making the space to listen.
Talk more about that idea of submission. What has that looked like for you for a particular calling?
In the book I talk a lot about the doing and the becoming—the tension between the things that we’re supposed to do and the person we’re supposed to become. Those two things are on parallel tracks with one another. So it’s right to pursue the things that we’re called to do, but without forsaking the person that we’re supposed to become. In fact, the becoming should overlay the doing at all times.
Our tendency as Americans is to really focus on the doing and to let that be more weighty. We wrestle with questions like, What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to be when I grow up? Am I supposed to go to school? Am I supposed to get a certain kind of job? Am I supposed to marry a certain person? But even when we have a plan, our plans are not always going to go as we think they are. That’s why it’s important to focus on the process our souls go through as we submit. Submitting to his plans always means simultaneously submitting to the fact that God is shaping us and transforming us, and that he does that through all the processes in our lives, specifically with this issue of calling and dreams. We have to submit who we are to him when our plan isn’t going quite right or how we think it should’ve, or maybe it’s just uncertain.
That’s a lot of my journey. The vocation and calling and the steps I was supposed to take were really uncertain, so I had to continually submit myself to the fact that I believed that God was in charge of my future, my present, and my past, and that he had it all under control. I had to submit to the fact that, even if I make some wrong decisions along the way, I wasn’t going to mess up the fullness of his plan for my life. I had to continue to remember and submit myself to the nature of God and who I believe him to be, and the role that he has in my life. I think that is a big piece of it.
But another piece is submitting to the things that happen to us along the journey. There is going to be good and bad and there is a lot that we have to learn about courage, about risk, about faithfulness, about doubt, about shame, about grace. So we have to submit ourselves to that process and to the fact that God uses all of those things to form us into people who are more like him, which is the most important part of the journey.
Whatever you choose to do, it never becomes more important than the person he’s transforming you to be. I feel like there’s peace in that, because it allows us to let go of some of the questions about what exact next steps we’re supposed to take. We experience a lot of freedom when we start to hold our plans—the doing—more loosely and focus more on the becoming.
How did you come to this realization that pursuing dreams is less about what we do and more about who we become?
I was on a walk with a friend one day who is a mentor, spiritual director, counselor, and pastor to me, and was lamenting the fact that I really felt like God was calling me to writing and speaking and teaching but didn’t know what I was supposed to do with that. So I kept asking her to tell me what to do.
She listened very patiently and then at one point just said, “Suanne, what if instead of asking what you want to do, you start asking who you want to be?” No one had ever asked me that before. But that question just would not leave me alone. It kept pushing me and poking me and keeping me up at night. Who do you want to be? Who do you really want to be?
So when I started asking that question, there was a freedom that came. It’s been a process, believe me! It’s not like I’ve arrived and have figured it out. But it’s become not so much about, Did I write that article? or Did these people like the talk I just gave? but, How did I treat the person who opened the door for me when I arrived at the venue?How did I treat the people who are hosting the event? Or the maintenance staff when I was leaving? I really started to lean into the becoming in every aspect of what I was working on—all of those things we call the fruit of the Spirit. Was I being faithful to what God asked me to do? Was I putting my best effort into it? Was I being fully present with my kids and family and friends, the people who needed me? Or was I forsaking them or seeing them as interruptions to pursue my dreams and my calling? I just constantly started asking myself in every situation, Okay, who do you want to be here, and is that the person God has created you to be? That was the beginning of the journey.
Both the internal work—becoming who God has made us to be—and the external work of pursuing a dream can be scary. What have you learned about fear on your journey?
I have a chapter about courage and fear because it’s such a big issue that can stand in our way. One of the big questions that most of us ask ourselves is, Am I good enough?Who am I to do this thing? I don’t have the credentials. It’s all those things that we tell ourselves about why we shouldn’t. I think at the core of it is a fear of rejection. That’s where my fears come from mostly.
I’ve learned that I just need to keep taking the steps that God has asked me to take in spite of the fear. Because if we let the fear rule us—if we listen to all those voices that say we can’t do it, or if we’re afraid of rejection or whatever it may be—we’ll never do any of it. And then we’re actually not being faithful to the things that God has called us to do because we’re choosing to believe that God is not who he says he is, that God is not trustworthy. If he’s really asked us to do something, then regardless of the fear, we have to trust that he’s going to give us what we need to do it, and step into it.
And it doesn’t mean that it will go smashingly well all the time. We might still fail. We might still be rejected. But letting the fear stop us becomes an issue of faithfulness. If I’m really being faithful to what I feel like God has asked me to do, then fear is not an option, even when I’m shaking in my boots to do it. I need to trust him through the fear.
And I imagine, if you’re continually asking yourself the question, Who do I want to be? and if the answer is, I want to be faithful or I want to be courageous, then your choice is kind of clear about what you need to do.
Yeah, it doesn’t leave us with the option to not be faithful. And it doesn’t mean that we’re not fearful, or that something doesn’t feel vulnerable or risky. It just means that we’re going to choose to believe that the Stirring inside of us, that call that God has given us, is real, and so we’ve just got to keep putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of how we’re feeling about it.
I tend to think that every risk we take builds our capacity for more risk. Did you find that—that it started to get a little easier? Or did you, at each point of risk, have to recommit yourself to faithfulness?
I think there definitely is an element of truth to that. It’s like anything that we do. When we see God’s faithfulness in it, we’re glad that we went through with it, regardless of how scary it was, regardless of the risk. We see that it was worth it.
But we have to ask ourselves what makes something worth the risk. The outcome of something is not a good assessment of whether the risk was worth it or not. Because we could take a risk, and we could fail, and it could still be worth it. I think that’s where it comes back to who we’re becoming. Were there character issues I learned? Did I learn something that I never would have learned otherwise? Did I grow as who I am because of that experience? That makes the risk worth it—when we see that the experience grew us and shaped us, and when we see God’s faithfulness in it. And I think that does increase the capacity for risk.