The Things We Leave Behind

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him...
— Genesis 12:1-4

One of the great lies that has been propagated by our generation is the idea that we can have it all. (Don't even get me started on the lie that we deserve it all). The notion that we might actually have to sacrifice one thing in order to gain possession of another thing has been rejected as a self-imposed limitation. After all, why should we have to give up anything?

When the Lord called Abram, He made it abundantly clear that Abram would be required to leave some things behind when he set out to follow Him.

And the things God asked Abram to leave behind were big things, not mere incidentals - his country, his kindred, his father's house. These were undoubtedly the most significant things in Abram's life. They represented everything that was comfortable, familiar, secure and safe to him. The things God asked Abram to walk away from represented everything by which Abram defined himself and everything by which others would have defined him.

God's message to Abram was clear - you can't have it all.  In this case, Abram's pursuit of one thing would necessitate his neglect of another.

Abram's life is not the only Biblical picture we have of this principle.  Jesus would repeat this message like a resounding gong to those seeking to be His disciples.

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
— Luke 14:33
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
— Luke 9:62

The idea of sacrificing one thing in order to inherit another is a Kingdom principle. Just as Abram willingly left behind all the things in which he had placed his hope so that God could become his only hope, we willfully give up parts of our lives in order to gain possession of God's promises.

As followers of Christ, this principle will color many of the decisions we make as we go about the business of living, but will take different shapes and forms in each of our lives.

At the time my husband and I got engaged to be married, I was completing the final year of my master's degree at The University of Texas. I had done well enough in the masters program to gain entrance into the school's doctoral program. I remember sitting down with my faculty mentor to discuss my decision to decline the invitation to continue my studies. She made no attempt to hide the fact that she felt I was making a mistake.

She was one of the younger faculty members at the time and was already making a name for herself in the world of academia. On top of being an amazing lecturer, she was conducting research studies, publishing articles and contributing book chapters left and right. She was my academic idol - young, talented, passionate and hard-working, she represented everything I wanted to be. So you can imagine the dissonance I felt when she sat me down to ask why on earth I was turning down the opportunity to pursue my doctorate - especially given my "promising future" in the department.

Don't think the very same question hadn't crossed my mind. It had. In fact, I had given the decision quite a bit of thought. The truth was that I knew exactly where I wanted to focus my efforts in the years following my academic career and (as unpopular a notion it was with my professor) - it wasn't on my professional career.

Giving up one thing in order to wholeheartedly pursue another is a Biblical principle.

She wanted to make sure that I understood the repercussions of my decision to leave the program when I did - there would be no job offers from prestigious universities and no tenure track possibilities in my future. Honestly, I was flattered by her concern over the loss of all my possible possibilities, but I was well aware of what I was giving up.

I also knew exactly what I hoped to gain.

I didn't have the resources necessary to nurture a young marriage, raise the babies that I hoped would arrive in the coming years, and manage a demanding career. I knew my tendencies toward perfectionism too well. In trying to have it all, I would have ended up destroying myself.

So I made the hard choice to give up one thing in order to whole-heartedly pursue another.

I still think about that choice sometimes.  On occasion, I have even asked myself if what I lost was worth what I have gained.  

I don't have to think about it very long, because without a doubt, it has been.

Like Abram, somewhere along the way I have come to peace with the truth that I can't have it all.

There are those who will spend a lot of time and energy fighting hard against this idea, hoping to prove it wrong.  But as for me, I have found this revelation to be incredibly freeing. The realization that I can't have it all has freed me from the pursuit of it all (which is desperately tiring, don't you think?) I now possess the ability to choose what I want. To neglect certain things in order to faithfully pursue others.  And at a certain point, I even got to the place where I could look back on those things that I lost - all those once-upon-a-time hopes, dreams and wishes - with the understanding that there was beauty in the act of leaving those things behind so that I could put my hope in something better.


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