Saturday, April 16, 2011

Living into the Call

I've recently had an unforeseen opportunity to present a workshop on journaling as a healing tool for cancer survivors. Four years ago, in the midst of my chemo treatments, if you had told me that this would happen ( and that I'd learn PowerPoint along the way!), I'd have been incredulous. Now it seems a logical way to give back. I grew into it.  So it feels right to share this entry, which I wrote a few years ago.

When I was a child, my mother bought clothes for me that were too big, before baggy clothes were a fashion statement even among tweens. When I’d protest, she’d say, “You’ll grow into it,” and before many months had passed, the skirt or the sleeves weren’t too long, but just right.
            Lives are like that, too. We grow into the perfect fit only gradually, and only in hindsight do we see how the path brought us to the place we are now. The long backward view confirms the care of a loving God. This perspective is one of the benefits of aging, as I tell the teens in my church, who are frightened of choosing the “wrong” college or major, frustrated by the pressure to know at age eighteen what career to choose.
            I recall sitting in a church basement with my fellow seminary student, Dee, talking with her about my sense of a call that I was hoping I’d picked up by mistake. I’d been scared by a cluster of several incidents leading me to face the question I’d always brushed off: Am I called to the priesthood? Some of my professors urged me to think about ordination. Nobody laughed when I brought it up. I was deeply afraid.
            Dee was well on her way to pastoral ministry, already exercising the listening and encouraging gifts of that call. She heard my fears and then replied, “You live into the call. When I began, I didn’t see how I could visit people in the hospital or preach a funeral. But as you move forward, things become possible.”
            Her words, both then and in a subsequent letter she wrote me, brought great comfort. After all, I was already in seminary, a step that I’d flirted with for nearly two decades. I was at the moment living into a call I couldn’t name. As it turned out, it wasn’t a call to the priesthood, but to the deep longings of my heart for what I called a seamless life and the chance to write.
“I want to be a doctor, but the responsibility for those lives scares me,” one teenager tells me.
Remembering the conversation with Dee, I say to the lovely young woman before me, “You have to live into the call. You can’t do it all at once. It grows on you gradually. You take baby steps and confirm or deny the call along the way.”
            The next Sunday we looked at stories in Mark’s Gospel. I tell the class that there are two ways to look at the human Jesus. Some people believe he always knew who he was, at the very least from the time he was twelve years old and remained in the temple talking with the priests, when everyone else was on the way home after the annual pilgrimage. Other people believe the truth of his call dawned on him only after his baptism at age thirty.
            We can’t know how it was for Jesus, I tell them, forestalling what seems to me a pointless argument. He was fully God and fully human, which nobody else has been able to pull off, or to explain very well. Perhaps, though, the human part of Jesus just went about his life, realizing only gradually what was being asked of him. We’re all asked to walk by faith and strengthened along the way to live out our own call.

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