It is so that I have long struggled to help people understand that pastors are not the only ones who are ‘called.’ Or to communicate in a way that people understand this reality that ‘calls’ are not always dramatic in the way we hear about with young Samuel today. Indeed, in my experience, more often than not, ‘holy calling’ happens in ordinary exchanges like we hear about between Philip and Nathanael in John’s Gospel now. Or at least I thought I was trying to do so — and then I saw something in myself in these last days. This is how it has been:
But first some background. (Please note that I use no names in this telling. While the story is rich, it is not all mine to tell and so I offer it with at least a degree of anonymity.)
A few weeks before Christmas, a phone call was put through to me. It was not unexpected, for it is almost inevitable that we will receive a request from someone for help with the holiday upon them. This time it was someone calling for a friend. He had been driving through town and stopped to visit and was shocked at what he found.
His friend had been taken down by a serious health crisis this past summer. Suddenly he was unable to work and with that, not only did the medical bills mount, but so did utility bills and rent and all the rest. They have exhausted their retirement savings to try to catch up, but as it is they are still behind. While his wife still holds a steady job, it is not enough to keep food in the cupboards and certainly not enough to provide Christmas for small grandchildren who would be arriving in a few days. Could we help?
I took his friend’s phone number and called him myself. I verified the ages of the children and I called on a friend who put out the word to a couple of classes at the fitness studio she and her husband own. Our congregation pitched in some, but the folks at the studio had offered and I wanted to share the opportunity. Pretty soon we had toys and pj’s and wrapping paper and food and the day before their family celebration was scheduled, I dropped it all off. It turns out that others had heard of their dilemma as well and their refrigerator and cupboards were full to overflowing. They were beyond grateful and I was quick to let them know who to thank. Which, apparently, they did.
On Friday afternoon of last week, I thought I had reason to regret this. No, not the helping and no, not the opportunity offered to others to make a difference. Rather, for a long hour I regretted telling them where these gifts had come from.
For you see, I am used to such as this. As with many pastors, I have cause to look stark, seemingly unending human need in the face more often than I would like. Often, too often, I know I grow cynical for I have seen people ‘work the system’ and I am not always certain their need is genuine. More often than not, though, I am just discouraged, for there seems to be no end to what is needed and not enough abundance at my fingertips to share.
I regretted this because they decided to call the fitness studio directly. And when the owner called them back, she received a tale of woe which would break your heart, which included, but was not limited, to a total lack of basic things like toilet paper and paper towels and dish soap and no means to go purchase them. She wanted to help, but she called me first. And I asked one of our church staff to call him up to see what she could learn. What she learned was this: the situation is complicated and hard and it appears these poor people are struggling to negotiate their way in a world in ways they have never had to before. In this country, unexpected medical crises can do that and do that quickly. (On a positive note, we also learned that he does have a job interview next week, which won’t solve all their problems, but is a gift of hope in a dark time.)
So it was that a flurry of texts followed. I suggested that my friends at the studio could certainly help by running some basic household items over there, but more than once I insisted that they not get involved in trying to cover any bills. We’ll try to see to that next week for the need can be endless and once you get involved it’s hard to get out. In fact, I thought about not letting them get further involved at all. I thought about going out and purchasing the needed items and delivering them myself, but she seemed certain they wanted to do it and so I stepped back.
An hour later the texts started coming again. They had made the delivery and while she was there she learned that his doctor has suggested he started lifting weights to gain his strength back. This will be important in many ways, not the least of which is he will need that strength for his new job should he get it. She told me that she was going over the next day to coach him through it AND that his wife will be starting a yoga class at the studio next week.
This is a holy calling.
For it is, isn’t it? Holy through and through?
And yet, I must confess this truth: I want to help others discern their callings, I truly do, but in these last few days I have realized that far too often I have a hard time getting out of the way to actually let them do so. Sometimes I want to protect them, as was the case this week, but I suspect that just as often I am not open to seeing that perhaps God has called others to do what I never possibly could. Like coaching someone on how to start lifting weights. Like offering a free yoga class to someone for whom the gift will be profound. Like my friend did just yesterday.
For this is how it is: God prepares each and all of us to be instruments of grace and kindness and hope in this world and yes, we are prepared and gifted in different ways to do so. As we hear young Samuel’s story, we know that God intended him for the moment we hear about today and countless others which would follow. His whole life had the hand of God all over it — from the moment his mother, Hannah, rejoiced over her long hoped for pregnancy and her subsequent willingness to give him back as soon as he could be away from her. As for those whom Jesus called in our Gospel story, we hear about God using trusted relationship to bring another into the presence of Jesus: a relationship which had probably been building for years such that Nathanael would respond so quickly to Philip’s invitation.
Indeed, this is how God’s call is often heard and understood and answered, at least in my experience. The way is made, the need is demonstrated, the heart is awakened, and as we recognize all this and respond, the call is answered.
And yes, I was taught once more in these last days what I have always believed to be so.
We are all called.
Each and all and every one of us.
Sometimes I have to get myself out of the way so that others can see and hear and respond.
And sometimes, often I expect, we all have to tune our ears and sharpen our eyesight so that we can understand how God has been preparing us for just this moment. And then to answer.
For this is a holy calling.
Like young Samuel.
Like Philip and like Nathanael.
Like you and like me.
This is a holy calling. It surely is.
- As a person of faith, how have you experienced ‘this holy calling?’ How did God prepare you for it?
- In our stories today, Hannah and Eli were both instruments who prepared young Samuel to hear and answer God’s call. The relationship between Philip and Nathanael was the means by which Nathanael was first called. Who are those in your life who have helped you hear and respond to God’s call?
- Are there times you have to ‘get yourself out of the way’ so that others might discern and respond to God’s call? What have you learned in doing so?