Summer seems to allow us at times to interrupt our routines and to sit back and reflect. You may think that this is stereotypical, and that our summers have long become part of the yearlong rat race. Nevertheless, I have recently enjoyed several conversations and not just one, where people expressed surprise by the fact that their calling here at church has developed in such unexpected ways.
I want to give you an illustration, but I will use myself as an example so as to not break trust. However, the underlying principle is the same for many of us. In fact, I suspect that it shapes much of our life experience far beyond the walls of the church.
As you probably know, I like music, the history of ideas, adult education, preaching, and visiting with people. I used to not like numbers, brick and mortar, and social networking. Ah! Social networking was the worst! I would always prefer a library or archive room over against a ballroom. Yet… and you know the rest of the story.
As I indicated, several of us share similar experiences. We like certain things, but life employs us differently. And this is not limited to the realm of the church. Few of us are able to stay faithful to their college majors through the rest of life. Is this not so?
And so I am wondering what it means. As we grow older, we ask ourselves perhaps a bit more often to what degree our life has been successful. But what is success? Prior to understanding this as a spiritual question, we might simply identify success with reaching a pre-set goal. A goal could be to successfully build a career in a certain field of interest. The degree by which we deviate from this goal would then be a measure for failure and success.
This is pre-spiritual, I said. For I am not sure Christians can ultimately think that way. There is always this one word of our Lord in the way, and no earthly power can remove it: “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36) It summarizes our religious experience that God may have different plans, that his thoughts are not our thoughts.
Recently, my father-in-law sent me a collection of religious sayings. One of these turned out to be a modern footnote to the quote from the Gospel of Mark: “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” At first, this may just be a surprising swap of terms. But wait a moment, perhaps there is more! Have you ever thought that ending up in a life-place other than the intended may contribute to your inner growth?
By contrast, if we only follow the things we planned our inner growth may never reach its full bloom. However, I want to be careful here. When Jesus said, “not what I want, but what you want,” he was not talking about a plan for his future life, but his death on the cross. Our comparison must stop at this point, where we remain behind, allowed to plan our lives, when he was not.
I greet you with these thoughts and wish you all a blessed a meaningful summer.