The Nonsensical "I Have To"
In March 2014 I reached a tipping point. I couldn’t ignore it any longer: there was a nagging and tugging at my soul that literally refused to be ignored. I laid my daughter down for her afternoon nap, threw on a TV show for my son’s “quiet time,” and then pressed “print” on my computer. With the printer talking in the background, I watched page after page emerge: chapters of Scripture, countless verses, and blank spaces. What would God say and what inspiration would He implant in my Spirit?
I wasn’t sure. I wouldn’t have called it this at the time, but what I had on my hands was an “I have to.” I was to write a Bible study. The mandate came with both a weight and a clarity unmatched by anything I’d experienced to that point in my life. The stories of five distinct and unique women found in the lineage of God’s Son was the topic. A quiet but convincing voice urged me forward: “Don’t think. Just start. Ready, set, go.”
Over the course of the year-plus it took me to write that study, I wrestled with the kinds of questions you might expect. Did I have any idea what I was doing? Who in the world was going to read this? Wasn’t I grossly underqualified for such a task? Was I crazy? This whole “God’s calling you to write a Bible study” thing—had I made it all up in my head? Was I a mad person slaving away over my computer in my home office, day after day, with no real clue if any of it would mean anything to anyone, ever?
Have you ever had this kind of experience, one in which you feel compelled—called—to something that doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense? Have you ever wondered if you’ve temporarily, or perhaps more permanently, lost your mind?
The truth is, our “I have to’s” frequently can make us feel this way: like mad people, that is.
Take, for example, Galileo, who was quite convinced that, contrary to popular thought, it was not the Earth that sat at the center of the solar system, but the Sun. Ridiculed, scoffed at, and labeled as a fool, he was forbidden to teach any such theories and later sentenced to life imprisonment; lucky for him, it was later reduced to house arrest. His “I have to” certainly seemed, to most observers, completely nonsensical.
The Wright brothers, of Dayton, Ohio, credited as the first individuals to ever fly a mechanized airplane heavier than air and under its own power, had a similar experience as Galileo.
“Along with the costs of experiments in flight, the risk of humiliating failure, injury, and, of course, death, there was the inevitable prospect of being mocked as a crank, a crackpot, and in many cases for good reason . . . long before the Wright brothers took up their part, would-be ‘conquerors of the air’ and their strange and childish flying machines, as described in the press, had served as a continuous source of comic relief.” One newspaper asserted: “Man can’t fly.” Of course, the Wrights would continue, in spite of opposition and all types of challenges, to believe flight was well within the realm of possibility. And in Le Mans, France just eight years into the twentieth century (and five years after their first actual flight in December 2003 in North Carolina), they proved—this time with the entire world watching—that they were right.
The stories of these three men teach us that there will always be those who stand in disapproval, convinced that our “I have to” is ludicrous and altogether unattainable. And sometimes, as was the case for King David, those closest to us throw the first and most painful stone. When it was time to move the ark of the covenant to its home and resting place in Jerusalem, David accompanied it. Along with the other priests, David worshipped and danced, rejoicing in the significance of a monumental event. Wearing a linen ephod (the appropriate attire of a priest), the text tells us, “David was dancing before the Lord with all of his might” (2 Samuel 6:14). There is one onlooker, however, who was far from impressed by David’s unashamed worship and celebration before the Lord. His own wife, Michal, watched from a nearby window, and his performance caused her so much distress and embarrassment that she despised David in her heart. She goes on to scold him brashly: “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” (2 Samuel 6:20).
A question: what if these men hadn’t pushed through in spite of the criticism? What if they had succumbed to others’ expectations of them instead of striving for a dream yet unproven? What if they had stayed where it was safe and comfortable instead of finding the courage to conquer unchartered territory? Our world would be very different today if not for the unparalleled risks of men and women like the ones I’ve described here.
Our “I have to’s” will inevitably feel nonsensical; history serves as undeniable proof of that fact. One question remains: what will we do in the face of criticism, mocking, and outright persecution? How will we react when others point, laugh, snicker, and say, “That (whatever your that is) doesn’t make any sense”? David gives us insight with his response to Michal: “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes” (2 Samuel 6:21, 22).
David is saying: You might call me crazy, but I’ll take every criticism you can hurl, and I’ll stand my ground. This is my “I have to,” and I will lay down my ego, sacrifice my reputation, and risk it all because of the One who gave me the assignment.
This week we examine what happens when your “I have to” is nonsensical. My hope for us all is that, at the end of our five days of study, we take a page from David’s book and learn to dance unashamedly in spite of who’s watching.