This weekend I was at a United Methodist church in Northfield, MN, teaching on the theology of justice and helping bring the ONE Campaign to a CROP walk. It was a great experience at the church and I had some solid feedback and questions from the adults in the audience; including trying to tackle tricky issues in the church, and how to know what your call is related to compassion or justice, and what limits there are to wedding faith with politics.
The sermon I heard that morning was a great reflection on the story of the two sons in the vineyard – the one who said yes, he would go work and then did not, compared to the one who said no, he would not work, but then ended up working. The pastor phrased this in the context of letting our commitments be a “true yes” or a “true no” – meaning we have to do what we say, and find what we’re called to, and then follow through.
Between the comments in the class I taught, this sermon, and my recent work trip to DC (where we talked a lot about both expanding and limiting our work loads), I am thinking through what my true yes and true no looks like in this season of life. Of course this is related to my recurring growing edges around boundary and discernment issues – but even deeper than that, this reminds me that there are ways to say yes, but not really be present in the work or the call; there are ways for me to say no, but then still really carry the worry or burden or work all the same. A true yes, I think, comes from excitement and gifts and calling – not guilt or competition or expectations. True yeses (sp?) need to be connected to fulfillment and joy.
My bro Tim and I were comparing notes on this last week – how sometimes the message the church gave us was that you have to be ready to suffer, leave what you love, or do awful things in the name of the cause of Christ. We agreed that yes, sometimes discipleship involves carrying the cross, and suffering (especially with others who are broken or in pain), and doing things that we wouldn’t normally choose to do because we know it’s the right thing to do. But even in those examples, there is a calling and a deep fufillment that often results. There is also a lot of biblical evidence that points us toward doing what we love, what we are wired to do, what God has gifted us to do and given us desires and connections to. I think if we turned toward what we enjoy, and what brings us fulfillment, what we have fun doing and love and is beautiful and true – that is part of how God made us to carry out our callings. God is in all of us who try to find the way and discern how to live into our call – God is already in my academic and activist interests, in my brother’s electrical and musical abilities, in my friend’s call to serve HIV/AIDS patients. Why turn away from our gifts? Feeling free to go toward whatever our calling is, for the cause of Christ, is part of Paul’s call to freedom, part of the description of the diverse body of Christ who is gifted in various ways and each must be true to that. Hands should be hands, feet, feet; ministry and calling can be found around every corner and every time we respond to life with a true yes, not just in knee-jerk, formulaic or extreme scenarios.
Then, my theory is, this let’s us also figure out our true no’s! If we know what we love and are really good at, maybe the “no’s” become more natural and obvious where they interrupt the busyness and people pleasing. I will still be who I am, with my stregnths and weaknesses, no matter what the window dressing is. Maybe some of it is saying yes to our true natures, affirming what God has already done, and following that with an openness to learn and an availability to be used (this would be instead of the ‘suffer and plod ahead for Jesus’ model). And it’s a tricky area, because the desire to be comfortable and not suffer or do hard things for God is also real for many of us – it just seems to me that the joy and the fun of following needs more air time too.
The Westminster catechism states that, “the purpose of life is to know God and to enjoy Him forever..,” enjoy God – I love that. True dat.
PS – My friend Holly has a similar (and very beautiful) reflection to this called “quarter life crisis” at her site – another great voice for this conversation!