Moses tried to weasel out of being God’s chosen prophet because “I’m bad at public speaking!” Samuel somehow mixed up God’s voice with his teacher Eli’s. (And Eli wasn’t much help figuring out what had gone wrong.) Jonah got called to Nineveh and ran in the opposite direction.
At least I’m in good company. Over the last ten years of following Jesus, I have done a lot of hand-wringing about wanting to know God’s will for my life when really, God’s will is not that complicated.
Okay, so actually it is kind of complicated. Because while the basic instructions are the same for everyone (love God with whole self, love neighbors as self, check and check), we all have to figure out how to live them out in our real lives, as the real people that we are.
Even Jesus didn’t call everyone to do the exact same thing. Some people he called to follow him; others he sent home to share their story of encountering him. Some people he sent out into the world without guarantee of food or shelter; others he let feed and shelter him.
Back before I actually read the Bible, I used to be rather confused about this and thence, I think, the cause of much of my angst. I knew my life wasn’t like other people’s lives, and sometimes I didn’t feel equipped to do the things they did, so I thought something must be wrong with me.
In college, with many opportunities and no shortage of enthusiasm, I tried out a lot of different kinds of service, but most of them didn’t seem like “my thing.” In fact, I sucked at most of them. I worried that the fact that I couldn’t seem to figure out “where my deep joy met the world’s deep need” meant I was somehow constitutionally unfit to follow God’s will.
I figured I probably had too much baggage from my childhood traumas. None of my awesome servant-hearted friends seemed to have relatives with addiction or mental illness. At least, they never talked about it. And good Christians didn’t seem to let such things stop them, so I kept my mouth shut about my emotional struggles.
I got out of college and I really, really wanted a job where I could serve others. I applied to so many postings from Idealist, you have no idea. But because of my earlier lack of focus, I wasn’t skilled enough at any type of service to get a job doing it, especially not in a tough market. Eventually I ended up working in customer service, which pretty much convinced me God had a cruel sense of humor.
I worked my dumb, glory-less, seemingly totally meaningless job. I asked, “How can I help you?” a million times a day.
I cleaned the apartment I shared with the love of my life, and I cooked her dinner.
I did the jobs at church no one else wanted to do, so they didn’t care if I sucked at them. Like fundraising calls. No one seems to like those.
I struggled with my conscience during this time because I wasn’t doing anything glorious and world-changing.
And yet, the whole time, God was changing me. God was teaching me the meaning of true service. I learned it might not look like I thought. I learned there had been calls to serve others all along, but I hadn’t heard them because I was expecting them to come with praise or a warm fuzzy feeling or a paycheck.
I started to realize there were unmet needs in my own family that I was, by definition, uniquely fit to address. There was material, emotional, spiritual poverty in my own family. I started to realize that by calling my mother on the phone every week, I had the power to change her world.
Up until that moment, my past had been a burning building I tried to flee. But now that God had healed me some, I found I had the strength to go back in there and try to help other people get out.
And now, God is starting to open my eyes to the real truth: all this means much more than I originally thought.
I finally have eyes to see that the very family experiences that broke my heart can also be opportunities to empathize with and help others. I finally have eyes to see that, in a country where suicide and mental illness and addiction of many kinds are seemingly everywhere, no one should have to feel like the only one whose life is shadowed by these things.
So what will God call me to do next? I know I’m just getting started with really learning how to love God and my neighbor.
I’m going to have to learn to love people enough to fight alongside them for the things they need to survive.
I’m going to have to learn how to speak my story even when I’m terrified, because stories heal both the teller and the listener.
And I’m going to have to learn, as I’ve learned so many times, to stop listening for what I think the call is and just listen. On all frequencies. Because you just never know how the message is going to finally, finally, finally get through to you.