Wasted Potential?

Potential. We like that word.
We like to affirm it in children – they have serious potential. We love to see it in a business prospect – those with great potential of lucrative results. We screen our relationships sometimes on it – does this have potential, or is this a dead-end street?
I’ve been clubbed over the head with potential for many years – told that I have SO much potential, but that I just waste it, I don’t apply myself, I don’t put in the effort to make something from it.
Somewhere along the way, I started believing it. That I am lazy, have no drive, waste my time on unimportant things and just generally toss all that potential down the biffy on a minute by minute basis. I never get stuff done, I start well but never finish things, I put things off to the last moment, so nothing ever gets my best efforts, and I spend so much time dreaming what I might do that I never actually do anything.
As with most everything I observe, there is both truth and lies mixed up in that mess. But this is not the place to work through ’em, because that’s not really what I’m here to think about.
“Wha’?”
You heard me.
What I’m thinking about is the process of moving potential into reality. Regardless of how many self-help books you read, or blogs that tell you that you can totally remake your life and follow your dreams, the bitter truth is that most of us will never crawl out of the ruts we live in, nor are we necessarily supposed to. God has led us to settled lives – families, congregations, friends, careers or jobs, pursuits or education, just starting up and getting going, or winding down and looking toward the finish line – and if we’re where He leads us, then we’re good, perceived potential realized or not.
But what about all that potential?
My mom was going to write a book and tell the story of her and my dad – how they came together, how things fell apart and the amazing things God did in those years when it was just her and her two sons, as she headed back to college to become a teacher. And how things felt when after many, many years of silence, the man who she’d never stopped loving came back into our lives.
Did I ever tell you that my first real memories of my dad began when I turned 21? Or what it’s like to get to know your parent when you’re on the doorstep of being a young adult yourself? What it’s like to see your dad (who you’ve just gotten to barely know) turn around and follow Jesus?
Or that I sang at my parent’s wedding? And my brother was my dad’s best man?
But my mom’s potential, of telling all of her story, of writing and speaking more, and of traveling and ministering never came to be. After she retired, she (and my dear aunt) cared for my ailing grandmother. And after grams passed, it wasn’t too long until we were the ones caring for my ailing mother, as she fought cancer.
So, do we look back and just see potential wasted, or do we simply see potential diverted in ways no one but God ever expected? Lives were touched, both in her career as a teacher and even in the throes of cancer as she remained a humble, faithful follower of Jesus. Speaking and writing became instead a gracious spirit in the midst of a terrible disease, and showing us all that God remains faithful, even when it looks like one is just marking time, waiting for the end.
Lots of potential – just worked out in unexpected ways.
Speaking of wasted potential…

What if all my potential that others so remarked on all my young years never produced anything?

I never became a band teacher like some expected, or a college professor. I never wrote a symphony, never toured for adoring fans, never found a steady gig in the arts. What others perceived as my potential apparently has never seen the light of day…
“Oh, he showed some possibilities, but he never had the drive to really make it in music. He tried doing magic and stuff – even was a clown if you can believe that! – but never really got anyplace with it, except for wasting a lot of money on equipment. Then he had that long gig in radio, which seemed to be working out, but after he was laid off, he never got another full-time job.”
“He tried doing some stuff – recording a couple of CDs, playing some local gigs, messed around with making jewelry (but never had the skills to actually make anything sellable), and just kind of stalled instead of regrouping into a new career. Said they had decided that he wasn’t going to go back to full-time work, so he’d be free for ‘creative pursuits.’ Wow.”
He just faded away – all that potential wasted. Now he hangs on the fringes, doing a little radio, gigging here and there, but nothing really worth mentioning. I hear he had surgery, lost a whole bunch of weight, and looks really good, but he never got his head screwed back on straight, and so even though he’s healthier, he doesn’t do anything with it.”
“Scuttlebutt says he’s even had some mental issues, has to take meds, and sees a psychiatrist for treatment. Probably something snapped when he got launched (after all, he’d been there for almost 20 years), and he just lost it. I mean, it’s been since 2006, and he still doesn’t have a job.”
“Mostly he sits at the coffeehouse, writes stuff that nobody reads, and makes stuff out of yarn that nobody wants. Or he sits in his house while his wife is out making a living, doing nothing.”
“He has some ideas – recording more CDs, editing more audio books, gigging as a magician or storyteller, or even (if you can imagine this!) writing a book. (Yeah, right. Hope that works out for ya…) Maybe, he says, he’ll go back to school, finally finish that degree. Or he’s gonna focus on being the “domestic engineer” – keeping house for his wife, that sort of stuff. Or all of the above at the same time! (*chuckle*)”
“He talks about a lot of stuff, but nothing ever comes of it. He talks a great game, but never makes it happen. Lots of chatter, but no action. No drive, no working hard, no pushing ahead – he just sits there, dreaming crap that’ll never happen and hoping somebody drops something right in his lap so he doesn’t have to find it himself.”
“All that potential – what a waste.”
The question is, how much of that have I actually heard, how much of that is stuff I imagine has been said, and how much of it is just plain lies?
That’s the sort of stuff I need to sort through. And maybe we all need to sort through it, victims of perceived potential, wasted. Maybe potential puts a weight around our necks that we never really ever shrug off. Or maybe potential just provides fertile ground for the enemy to plant regret and get back a bumper crop every time.
After all, there’s got to be a reason “Glory Days” remains a popular song. (Besides the Boss’ righteous groove, of course.) Or why we all know the phrase, “I coulda been a contender.” Somewhere following perceived potential (by loving family and well-meaning friends) and before melancholy introspection on wasted possibilities, something went seriously awry, leaving us with an empty box, a deflated balloon and a sad heart.
If we never realize it, we jump right from “The world’s your oyster! Be all you can be! Live your dreams! Nothing’s gonna stop us now!” into “Where did the time go? I always wanted to learn to paint or play the piano. I wish I’d spent more time with him or her. I wish I’d known what’s really important back then.”
Do you see the missing piece?
Potential and possibility are fine, even good. Dreams (as I’ve previously written WAY too much about) are light for the eyes and breath for the soul.
But the lens that focuses it all is sovereignty.
God’s sovereignty – everything ultimately will be as He decides it will be. The steps are already laid out, the pieces are already in place, and the end is already written. Sovereignty can be a powerful tool to kill regret – if things are never out of His control, then there’s no point allowing regret to flourish. To do so denies He is the One who decides it all – His vote is the only one that counts.
I’m where I am today because He knows I need to be here today.
I’ve come along this path because there was no other path that would bring me to this place right here, right now, where I needed to be.
Or to randomly misquote the over-quoted line from “Love Story”: Sovereignty is never having to say… “oops.”
Do I really believe that? Yup. Just a few days ago, I said thank you to the person who had to give me the news on a cold January morning that my life as I knew it was at an end. I thanked him for laying me off. And I really meant it with my whole heart.
No layoff, no wandering time. No wandering time, no refocus. No refocus, no stepping into Weigh To Wellness. No Weigh To Wellness, no gentle nudge to surgery.
No surgery, no rebirth.
Connect the dots all the way back to when God’s wrecking ball made the first swing, and we get a direct path to today, looking back at a path that spells out Romans 8:28. I see it now, through eyes that God has refocused to His reality, and my heart is overwhelmed with His grace.
We are all born with almost unlimited potential, possibilities and dreams – after all, we bear the Image. Of course the road stretches out before us – we are creative because our Father is creative, we feel limitless at times because our Father is limitless, and we can imagine and dream vast landscapes, ideas and visions, because our Father imagined and spun worlds into existence by His word.
Then, He takes the wet clay of our lives, full of potential and possibility, and sculpts a masterpiece. Not one that we imagined for ourselves, not one that others would have predicted based on perceived potential, but the piece He had in mind before the clay was even created. No bits of clay wasted, no motion of His hands marring the piece, and all scars worked so beautifully into His vision that they don’t seem to exist at all.
If we’re to avoid the deep mud of regret at the end of the road, the journey from potential to completion must lead into His sovereign hands. Along the road, we release the “might have beens,” the “if I had onlys,” the “I wish I hads,” and all the other weights that potential can hang around our necks, to submit to the hands of the Creator, to be molded as He designs.
By the way – accepting and acknowledging His sovereignty doesn’t mean being fatalistic… “God’s already decided everything, so nothing really matters because He already planned everything so I don’t really have to even show up because He already knows what I’m going to do anyway, blah blah blah…” Nor is it an excuse for a sloppy and shoddy life, turning in less than our best efforts, or living with the words “it is what it is” tattooed on our foreheads…
Get this, kids – because I’ve never gotten it yet. But I’m starting to…
We get to be ACTIVE participants in God’s sovereignty! We get to go along for the ride, not sitting in the back seat of the SUV watching a movie and stuffing our faces, but rather on the back of the tandem bike (mine’s a trike, but I digress…), pedaling for all we’re worth!
We get to show up, to work and dream and love, to plan and try and fail and succeed. We get to make refrigerator art and hand it to our Daddy and tell Him, “see what I made for you!” And then see Him smile and put it on display for all to see. We get to sing Him songs, to do hard work because He made us able to do it, to bless and encourage each other because that’s the way it’s supposed to work, and to live every day as if He’s in control of the whole sheebang.
Because He IS in control of the whole sheebang.
We get to do, to be, to move and live and have our being in Him. Not mice in a maze, following the path and hopefully finding the cheese and not a trap. Not boxcars on a track, going where we’re pulled or pushed without any voice of our own. And not lost in the darkness, with no hope or guide. Not fumbling our way along, hoping we don’t screw it up. Not trying to precariously balance on the knife edge of God’s will, fearing that tiny misstep that will plummet us down to a foreverland of regret because we missed God’s best for our lives.
(And yes, I know that last sentence opens a 55 gallon drum of worms about God’s will and how we follow it. We’re not going to chase that bunny trail today, ‘k?)
We get to live, we get to do, to be, to make, to laugh, to love, and to shine. We get to do it all in freedom and joy, knowing that He is in it all, He controls it all, and He loves His kids. Especially when they make Him goofy stuff He can hang on the fridge.
At the end of the day, the only perceived potential that matters is the potential He perceives in us.

And as I said, His is the only vote that counts.

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