“Where do you live? Do you work? What does your husband do?” These questions are the basis of small talk, and even when they are asked in all kindness and sincerity I dread them. It isn’t that I hate to answer, it’s just that the answer needs about an hour of explanation rather than the expected two minutes.
I already have a tendency to be a bit socially awkward so instead of having an answer prepared I end up mumbling something incoherent,
“Well, ug, we moved out to the middle of nowhere last year and we really felt like it was the right thing . . . and so I quit my job . . . but then my husband lost his job . . . and so we moved into town, now we are trying to follow God on to the next step . . . oh right, the next step , hmm (by this point I’m fully flustered and sputtering). Well, um, we are still sorting that out, but our lease is up in two months so hopefully we will have an answer by then . . . we are thinking about moving back to Mexico.” I shrug my shoulders, my voice trails off, I laugh a little to lighten things up and try to change subjects as quickly as possible.
It isn’t surprising that my story is met with so many confused stares. Like I said, it takes about an hour to give the full explanation and I am no good at being concise (if you can’t tell that from this blog you should ask my husband. It takes me 25 minutes to ask him if I look better in the blue jacket or the pink one).
And beyond my communications failures I am also one of those people that really wants to fit in. I want to have a normal life and a simple story. But each year, rather than becoming simpler, I find our story becoming more complex, not just to explain but even to understand for ourselves.
What are we doing? Why don’t we just settle down?
Right now in the Liturgy of Life reading group we are reading The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, it is essentially a poetic memoir of her time in a Benedictine monastery and I was interested in her thoughts on calling. She quotes Walter Brueggemann’s book, Hopeful Imagination,
“. . . a sense of call in our time is profoundly counter-cultural . . . the ideology of our time is that we can live ‘an uncalled life,’ one not referred to any purpose beyond one’s self . . .”
Brueggemann is referring to the the idea of the American Dream. We can be and do anything we want. And while this isn’t always true (certainly some of us have better odds than others), in the US, especially now with our increased mobility and access to technology, we have many open doors. No longer do we become a shoemaker because our last name is Shoemaker. We are free to become whatever we are capable of becoming. And while this is exciting, it can be tricky to navigate as a Christian. With so many options it is tempting to decide our path and then to find security in real estate and a retirement plan rather than in God (not that I’ve got anything against a retirement plan, I’d actually really like to have one someday).
Discerning a calling is not a sign of spiritual greatness. It is something that is required of us all. We are each unique and exist in a time, place and in a circle of relationships that belongs to only us. God asks the same thing of each of us, that we would live for Him, which means we use the skills and gifts that He gives us for His glory. But because we are so different, our particular path is going to result in something beautifully unique to who and where we are. God doesn’t keep His plan hidden from us, He wants us to find it. But we have to want it. We have to take at least the first step and choose to follow Him.
I was recently looking at the Voice of the Martyrs website, they are a group that supports persecuted Christians around the world.
I came across a video called Liena’s prayer which depicts a story told in a letter that Voice of the Martyrs received. Liena is a Christian in Syria and one night she was praying about her calling in ministry. As she sat down to pray and all she could hear was the voice of God asking her if she was willing to give Him all of he self, if she was ready to lay down her life for her faith in God.
She prayed and felt that indeed she was willing to die if that is what God asked. The following day she prayed again and this time she hears the voice of God asking her if she is willing to give up the life of her husband. She continues to pray and she and her husband together decide that they are both willing to die if that is what God required.
The third day she sits down to pray, this time she hears the voice of God asking her clearly if she is willing to surrender her children to Him. Their family is known for sharing Jesus with others, it is not safe for them in their country anymore. In anguish she and her husband pray and fast. She sits down with her children and explains that they may see violence. She reminds them that their lives are a gift given by God belonging to Him alone and their purpose is for God’s glory. She tells them that if God would have them stay safe they will be safe and that if God would let their lives be taken they will be taken up into His eternal love.
At the end of her story she questions herself, is she being a good mother, is it more important to keep her children safe or to live a life so full of the love of God that it is worth dying for?
My own situation certainly doesn’t feel as urgent as Liena’s. And my heart aches for the heavy decisions she must make to be a Christian in her country. She forces me to look at myself, am I willing to walk this path? Am I willing to surrender all so that I can be free to do the work that God calls me to?
So this is a long answer to those small talk questions. Right now our family trying to find God’s call for us before we take our next step. It isn’t that we are oblivious to our financial and physical needs anymore than Liena is unaware of the true danger she is in. We would certainly rather God take us to cozy house with a fire place and a shady back yard (and for many God may lead to exactly that sort of cozy spot) than to a desert or a foreign country. But we also hope that when we look back on our life we will have left behind a legacy of good works, having lived the best life that only a sovereign God could have chosen rather than be left wondering what we missed.
And so we wait and ask ourselves in Craig Barnes word’s, are we willing to give up the life of our dreams to receive from Christ the life he died to give us?
May 7th is celebrated as the National Day of Prayer. Please Join us for a 20 minute Prayer Vigil for those in the persecuted church. http://