“When I stand before God at the end of my life I would hope that I would have not a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'” — Erma Bombeck
I’m in a temporary small group study for Lent right now. I am a demographic misfit — an unattached and unencumbered “young person” (Protestants tend to drive these people away, but that’s another discussion). I was the elected leader of the young people at a previous church. I was grumbling to a dear friend of mine last month that I would just as soon start my own small group study and volunteer to host and facilitate it if my life were in a better place just to get out of dealing with the seasonal misfit group.
My life is not in a better place.
Some of the reason I’d happily avoid the whole thing is a particular difficult personality. I’m not a gossipy person, not gonna go there. To steal a line from the late pastor friend of a pastor friend of mine: we are not called to be “fruit inspectors.” I’m a strong personality too…moving on.
And yet, for various reasons, my cranky butt keeps showing up every week.
Last night’s topic was “Spiritual Gifts” — what are our gifts and how can we best use them? I know what mine are, I use them. A hiccup has been the accident that required me to resign from all of my various ministry activities because I am no longer in-charge of my own transportation to church, but I’m working on trying to figure out “What next?”
Because unless you’re dead? There is always something in God’s kingdom to be done, even if it is just the dishes (which I totally ROCK at, by the way).
I was writing to a friend this morning (and she will know who she is when she finds this):
Last night’s class didn’t go well for me (and yet I keep showing up…), but was a great session for others. I really am lost at trying to explain to people that if the Holy Spirit is the wind in your sails it doesn’t matter what you “can” or “cannot” do, because it won’t be YOU doing it. It just baffles me how many people can’t wrap their heads around “Lord, make me an instrument if thy peace.” It’s not that hard, it really isn’t, you just need to make room for God to move and let God be God. Maybe I really am foolish in the same direction as St. Francis of Asissi? I feel sorry for the next human who intones the name of Mother Teresa in the context of “someone so unattainably great I’m off the hook,” because I am going OFF on that person. I’m sick of it. People say she was a living saint. So what? She doesn’t get to carry the torch for all humanity, she is just one example of what is possible if a person takes seriously the call to do God’s work in the world. I think if I went so far as to declare that we are ALL called to be living saints, I’d be run out of most churches. Because it’s true, and because we are…though how that call manifests in the lives of each of us differs. I just don’t have an answer for this frustration.
And I don’t.
Many years ago a very dear friend of mine wrote in a letter to me that if we don’t use the gifts God gives us, it is like spitting in God’s face. She’s right. There is a big difference between talking about how and where “it might be nice” to serve and actually making the inquiry “How can I be useful?” If the communion of saints is God’s cheering section, there are no positions for the vocation of keeping the bleachers warm in the Kingdom of Heaven (sorry to disappoint — the job classification doesn’t exist — try hell…).
Life is a matter of life and death, it is not a matter of muddling through. I have heard some people say that “God grades on a curve.” Actually, no just God grades on a curve, not really. You can still be fully acceptable to God with imperfection, but God isn’t going to change your grade on the grading scale by throwing perfection out and grading on a curve. Grace? Totally. Mercy? Absolutely. Just? Unquestionably. Our imperfection will stand as our score, it’s the judgment as to whether that score of our heart (whatever it is, low or high) is acceptable (Christ as intercessor helps here).
We are doomed to imperfection, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best. I am having a series of small battles with one of the small children in my world who will ask for help before she tries. That doesn’t work with Miss Val, and trying to scrape through life without trying or applying ourselves doesn’t work with God either. If the toddler in my world scribbles on a coloring page and declares it “done,” it’s great because scribbling is all she can do. If the kindergartener in my world scribbled the same scribble it would be unacceptable to turn in to his teacher because he was being lazy and can do better work. In the Kingdom of Heaven, the perfection of the work is not the thing…what matters is the effort and motive behind the work.
And so yes, I have the argument with Christians quite frequently (I have it so often it’s starting to become an essay): “God is not calling me to be Mother Teresa.”
Really? Hmm…you don’t know much about Mother Teresa, because, yeah…he kind of is.
Her line was “do something beautiful for God.”
She didn’t set out to become Mother Teresa either. She was a nun, she saw a need, she asked a question: Can I leave the convent to help the people?
They thought she was a nut (this is NOT DONE!!!!!); the Vatican had to get involved.
She left to help the forgotten, invisible, discarded, poorest of the poor…one person at a time. She had two hands and two feet and a loving heart and the power of the Holy Spirit, what else could she need?
How about the courage to walk out the door and follow God?
What I say to people is that all Mother Teresa did was do what she could (the best she could) with what she had where she was…with the power of God. That’s all God can ever really ask of us.
And what happens when people heed the call to follow God outside their cozy, comfortable box? They “do something beautiful for God.”
Because the truth is that if Jesus Christ is Lord, he can’t be “Lord” without submission to his authority and our service to him: this is the backbone of Christian discipleship
Post-script: As I think on this — just to be clear, this is a general frustration with humanity, not any particular individual or group per se, but so many conversations on this topic have happened over the years. It never really changes. I also certainly don’t have it all figured out. — VKS