I know next to nothing about cars, but I do know that if a car is out of alignment, it does not drive straight; it uses more gas and becomes unsafe to drive if left in that unruly state. In 2017, I made a five-day trip from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia southward through the desert region of Borna to a town near the Kenyan border. The “road” my parents, middle son, and two beloved Ethiopian ministry partners traveled was like a maze through a stone quarry. During the trip, we had five flat tires. Yes, five. With each subsequent flat and repair, the Land Rover’s alignment became more and more disjointed and dangerously erratic.
During three unrelated conversations last week, the words ‘align’ and ‘alignment’ shimmered on the outer edges of my consciousness and quickened within my heart: “Pay attention.” “Wake up.” I was curious. Is my life out of alignment? What does my behavior reveal about my values and calling? Do my responses lack cooperation with the truth of my identity?
Humanity’s need for realignment and “getting back on track” runs on the same track as God’s desire for humanity. What I need from God and what God desires for me is the same. Genuine realignment is wholistic in nature. Genuine realignment includes one’s inner world of thoughts, emotions, and sensations; the outer world of calling, behaviors, and relationships; and the uniquely individual world of values, purpose, and desires.
When I am out of alignment, I feel sluggish, anxious, and rigid. I duck my head. I hide my gifts. I satiate my hunger with lesser things of this world. My emotional responses are reactionary and self-focused. Fear and shame become the place from which my behaviors originate. My actions come from a desire for control and manipulation. My values are diluted with expectations and distractions. My calling as a spiritual companion and writer is hijacked by disappointment, fear, and demands. My voice is thin, cowardly, overly cautious, and often mute.
Being out of alignment can trigger at least three temptations. First, the temptation to become a copycat of someone else’s life, ministry, or even Instagram account. Often this temptation arises from a lack of trust or confusion about one’s own unique light in the world. Second, the temptation to push, create, or grasp for opportunities. A lack of trust in the value and worth in one’s light, as well as God’s timing, can precipitate a need to control and exploit. The third temptation is distraction. The lure of too many “good” things, be it commitments, projects, or programs can crowd out God’s delight and love, lead to exhaustion, or even a chemical or behavioral addiction.
Alignment causes a shedding of distractions, a refining of responsibilities, and a simplifying of commitments. It may call for limiting socially casual or emotionally draining relationships that sap time, energy, or focus. I often have to trim “good and worthy” obligations or projects that distract my focus and marginalize my unique work in the world.
Alignment requires honest assessment and accountability of cross-purposes of inner values and outer behavior, as well as peeling away underlying assumptions and narratives, releasing expectations and disappointments. Alignment takes off the coating and exposes the vulnerable core of my identity. Some areas need a gentle and tender realignment. Other areas need strong massage. A few may need a complete readjustment. However, becoming aligned with God’s desire for me and the truth of my identity is not without risk, suffering, and pain.
Aligning my true identity with God’s desire for me brings harmony and integrity between the inner world of thoughts, emotions, and sensations and outer world of responses and action. Responses flow from a place of exquisite love and beauty. Concentrated clarity and precision of voice can be heard. Distractions lose the luster and shimmer, and a beautiful simplicity arises.
Alignment gives a capacity for glad obedience along the journey of faith. A cooperative response between Creator and creature becomes filled with joy and love towards a common purpose of living with God thorough the ordinary and extraordinary of life.
On the freeway on the return into Addis Ababa, the Land Rover was only able to drive thirty miles/hour. Needless to say, we all breathed a prayer of thanks on our arrival. The Land Rover needed a complete readjustment, requiring multiple tools and countless attempts. I am happy to report that it once again drives smoothly on the highways and even the “stone quarry” roads of Ethiopia. Similarly, when I realign my identity with God’s delight and love for me, it opens the roads to loving and living in a way where “sacrifice and pain are but a footnote.”
Here are some “maintenance check” questions to help diagnose any areas of your life that might be out of alignment:
- Am I trying to copy someone’s voice, ministry, or life?
- Do I trust that God has given me unique light for the benefit of others and the world?
- Am I pushing to open doors of opportunity?
- Do I grasp for opportunities?
- Am I clawing to be noticed?
- What are the old narratives that shape my behaviors in the present? What are the assumptions underneath my actions?
- Am I filling my time with good and worthy activities or projects, but siphoning energy and focus for my own calling and unique light?
- Do I have self-care practices? What are they?
The next step after diagnosis is treatment and/or repair. Finding a Spiritual Companion and Director is helpful on the journey of healing, wholeness, and integrated alignment. I have included three sources if you are interested.
Other alternatives, depending on situation, circumstance, or need, might be a book, a spiritual practice, a self-directed study, or small group. The opinions are endless and depend on your unique situation and need. I sincerely invite and welcome a (free) conversation about your specific and unique alignment issues. You can reach me at email@example.com.
I have included a very limited number of Spiritual Formation Books 101:
- Invitation to the Journey by Robert Mulholland
- Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
 “Sacrifice and pain are but a footnote” was said by my friend and ministry partner, Jennifer Willhoite @Cobbleworks, during a Creative Writing workshop on 6.29.20.