Going Beyond What We Know

By Mandy Iahn

We do what we know. For example, we often cook like those who cooked for us. “It’s a family recipe!” we say with pride. My grandparents were Hungarian, and my mother was even born there so we were fortunate to eat many traditional Hungarian foods while growing up. My favorite was fonk, which is basically a donut, but when Grandma made them with love and sprinkled them with powdered sugar, they were the best donuts in the world. When my mother carried on the tradition, not only did we enjoy this family recipe, we remembered my grandmother and what a wonderful woman she was. Making fonk is not difficult, and yet, it has the power to bring back the most special memories that bond our family together.

Doing what we know crosses over into all areas of our lives, like how much we exercise, how much we watch TV and how much money we spend. These are behaviors we learn from someone, usually from family members. Sometimes, doing what we know is rather insignificant, but in other situations it can have a profound impact on who we become and the development of our lives.

My brother and I both went to Ohio University, which is the school my father and

Original art by Scott Erickson (www.scottericksonart.com).

Original art by Scott Erickson (www.scottericksonart.com).

mother attended. My father probably went there because his father went there as well. It was never even a thought that one of us would not go to college — and yet, it should have been. Twenty years after his graduation, my brother said, “I didn’t need to go to college. I would have been better off at a trade school.” For someone who struggled in math and reading, but excelled in visual relationships and problem solving, a liberal arts degree might not have been the best thing for my brother. As it was, he ended up majoring in fine art, specializing in the lost wax process for fabricating metal sculptures, which is a highly technical skill. In retrospect, instead of a costly liberal arts education, my brother believes he would have been better served honing his skills at a place more specifically suited for him.  Maybe doing what we know is not always beneficial.

Depending on what you have seen, heard and learned, doing what you know can be very fulfilling and lead to a happy life. It can also be limiting and lead to feelings of mediocrity. God is always calling us out of a limited, mediocre life into an expansive, abundant life, and thus God is always calling us beyond what we know into unknown territory. God introduces us to people we have never met so that we will mature; God pushes us into places we have never been so that we will grow.

Think of the biblical stories of Abraham and Jacob, both of who were called by God out of their homelands into foreign lands. They had to leave their security behind in order to live out the plan that God had for them. Both Abraham and Jacob trusted in God enough to follow where the Spirit took them, and for this, they are heralded as pioneers in the faith. “For surely I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Each of us is on a journey of discovery to become the child of God we were born to be, but if we simply stick to what we know, we might miss our true callings.  Certainly, God does not just want generation after generation of coal miners or cab drivers or ministers or doctors. You are made for one thing, and I am made for another.  This will require us to strike out on our own, but as J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Not all those who wander are lost.”  The truly great adventure in this lifetime is walking your path intentionally and mindfully so that you become more fully, more completely you.

Once we are convinced that we don’t simply have to do what we know, life becomes one big opportunity. On the one hand, this is exciting! You never know what is around the corner, who you will meet or where your path will take you. On the other hand, this is scary! You never know what is around the corner, who you will meet, or where your path will take you. But I think faith makes the unknown more exciting than scary.

The call to move beyond what we know is not only for the young, however. My parents were in their 50s when they decided to leave Ohio, which is where they had resided their entire lives, in order to be closer to my sister when she had her first child.  It was a bold move on their part because as we grow older, we tend to become less adventurous about entering new realms.

A friend once gave me a card that said, “To have faith is to believe the task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us.” When you trust that God has your back, you can walk forward with courage and confidence, and you can take the next necessary step on your journey: the leap of faith.

A leap of faith is putting yourself out there, going for it, jumping into thin air. Imagine a tall, stone cliff. You are standing on the very edge. Can you see land across the way or does the expanse just stretch before you? In either case, whether you have some idea or none at all, you need to back up and get a running start and … jump! Don’t worry about landing. It’s the jumping that is most important. Jumping is a spiritual act, an act of faith.

Many of us do not take the leap of faith into new realms even though it has the potential to lead to our happiness and fulfillment, and we do not leap because we are afraid. After all, we are jumping into an unknown territory. What could it be? Even more important, where do I fit in? We start to fear the unknown because we don’t know how to make it or even what it looks like to make it. This is why doing what you know is so comforting. Since you’ve seen someone else do it, you now know what to do. But when you jump into the void, you aren’t following anyone’s lead. You are just flying on the back of the Holy Spirit.

Two of the main fears preventing us from the leap of faith are failure and finances. Have you ever wanted to do something, but dismissed it, saying, “I can’t do that.” If you want something, you cannot let fear of failure get in your way. Don’t be embarrassed about who you are; don’t think you are less than anyone else. You have talents. You have passions. You have God’s grace all around you. True, you never know what will happen when you go for it, but once again, that’s the beauty! Trust that God is carrying you into your hope-filled future.

Beyond our psychological fears is a tangible, practical and realistic fear: fear of not having “enough” money. This is a very real fear for all of us to some degree. We wonder, “Will I make enough money to support myself and those dependent on me?” Each one of us has a unique financial situation, but I do know that if you are being called into the void in order to make your dreams a reality, then the safe route is to stick to what you already know and how you already make your money. The route that calls you out of safety into the realm of faith requires courage and fortitude and eternal hope. The fear of not having enough money is strong in all of us, but there is a beautiful world on the other side of the cliff just waiting for you if you open up your heart and leap into your destiny.

Not only are we called to take the leap of faith, we are called to support others as they strike out into unknown territories.  Your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, your friends, they need your encouragement.  They need your prayers.  You know from experience how difficult it can be to move beyond what you know, and most likely you remember the people who helped you get where you were going.  Even if you aren’t stepping out into new territory, you can play an integral role in helping someone else to live into the future that God has called them to.

Remember the parable of the talents from the gospel of Matthew? In this story, a master leaves one person five talents, one person two talents, and one person one talent. Both the person with five and with two talents double their money by using it, but the person with one talent buries his money in the ground because he is afraid. When the master returns, he praises those who have used their talents wisely and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But to the one who was too afraid, afraid to fail, afraid to have nothing, the master was very displeased and punished him for wasting what he had.

We don’t want to waste the “talents” God has given us because we are afraid of anything. It’s all a gift. God has gifted us with our skills and passions, our creativity and our minds. Let’s use them. Let’s give them to each other like an offering to God. What I give to you, I give as an expression of love that overflows from the divine. May it somehow bless you. May we use everything that we have to glorify God, uplift each other and build up the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Erma Bombeck, the wise woman who she was, said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”

You can use everything you are in this life, just don’t be afraid to take the leap of faith into the unknown. We begin with what we know, but we progress by going beyond what we know into our destinies.

Mandy Iahn is an Elder in the United Methodist Church and has been serving local congregations for the last eight years. She writes children’s books, screenplays for television and film and adult non-fiction (www.mandyiahn.com). She also leads workshops on walking the spiritual path in peace and with joy.

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