A friend from seminary recently asked for some help with theme of creation care for a sermon and the coming church year. She even said, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of you sooner.” I have spent enough time and energy in this area to develop a reputation as someone she “should have thought of sooner.”
I scoured the archives for some relevant writings to share. I was thankful to have some of my past work on this blog to point her to. Hopefully it was helpful. I realized that everything I shared with her is several years old or more. There’s nothing wrong with that. One of my good friends only reads books that are over 20 years old, because often time sifts out the junk and leaves us with those things that are worthwhile and timeless.
But it leaves me wondering what I have to say today. What is it that I want or need to write today?
The answer is that I don’t know.
I preached at my alma mater in September. It went well. I was honest about where I was at and what God is doing in my life. Afterwards a well-meaning faculty member came up to me and thanked me for the sermon. In the sermon I mentioned starting a business and some of the things I’ve done. The person asked me what I was doing now. I said that I work in the technology department at my local school district. This was followed by an awkward pause that seemed to last forever. I felt like it wasn’t really acceptable to leave it at that. She didn’t either, because she then asked if I was still doing any ministry. Feeling her anxiety and my own, I didn’t want to disappoint her or leave her with such an ordinary perception of me. So I said that I was part of an intentional Christian community. That seemed to put her at ease and allow her to walk away without feeling sorry for me.
That incident has continued to needle me like that itchy thing in your shirt or the waistband of your underwear that you can’t quite locate. Sometimes I could ignore it and pretend it wasn’t there, but then I would bend over to pick something up and there it was distracting and annoying me. I scratch my skin or run my hands over that spot on my shirt, but I can’t seem to find what it is that keeps irritating me.
So, here’s the dilemma. I don’t want to be defined by a job. I’ve mentioned before about making decisions based on something other than a job and not allowing that to be what provides my identity and security. My current job certainly isn’t how I would primarily identify myself to someone else. It’s not what I am most passionate about.
The problem is that I am constantly being reminded that my identity doesn’t fit what I’m doing and where I spend my time. I think the church should be a place of refuge for me. In many ways my community is a reminder of my identity in Christ and a place where my gifts are valued and exercised. I am trying to lean into that community more for my identity. But there are days where it feels overwhelming and my community is not enough.
I hear about jobs that I wanted, applied and sometimes interviewed for that have been filled by other people. I read articles about entrepreneurs and young people doing creative things to change the world and make it better. I wonder if I should get back on track, go back to school or do something to fulfill the kind of narrative about success that I’ve been given.
Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27,
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
I find it hard to separate athletic metaphors in scripture from Friday Night Lights. Notice that Paul says run in a way to win the prize. The point is not to win the way it is in sports today. The point is to win the prize, the thing you gain from running the race in the right way, not from being first or better than the other runners. The emphasis on self-discipline and integrity indicates something similar to the dilemma I feel. God and the gospel are calling me in a direction that runs counter to the dominant culture and way of living. It requires something of me that is difficult. Paul is commending to us the disciplines and Christian practices as a way of doing what is difficult, living out the gospel in our lives and in the world.
So, I have been brought back again and again to the idea that I have to have integrity between what I think God’s vision for the world is and how I live my everyday life. This does not require me to find the perfect job, the right church or the right relationships. It requires me to seek God in quiet and solitude and within the wisdom of my community. It requires me to be transformed by the kind of love that willingly goes to a cross and show that same love to my family and whoever I encounter. It requires me to cross over to the Other wherever they are found… and they are everywhere. It requires me to ask difficult questions and try to conform my life to the answers I find.
That’s what the race is all about and it doesn’t require any particular job, location, church or theology to run. It does require patience, grace, humility, a lot of love and the body of believers. So, from that angle it looks like I’m further down the road than I thought even though it doesn’t always feel that way.
God doesn’t follow a straight line to success. He wiggles us around and backs us up between Pharaoh and the Red Sea leaving us no way out but faith in him to do the impossible. Blessings on your willingness to be led on a path that is not for self gratification, but still has integrity.
Thanks for your words of encouragement Maria!