I was with friends and family last weekend, when the topic of my recent “resignation” came up. A brother-in-law asked about my decision, and my plans, and I told my story, the way I’ve told it here. And then, the conversation shifted, and for the next several minutes each person in our circle gave an update about current career and academic accomplishments, all of which were remarkably impressive. The tone wasn’t bragging; it was oddly humble. But listening, I began to feel painfully inadequate. Without a doubt, the underachiever in this prestigious group.
Full confession. I knew it then, and I’ll admit it now. The root of such thinking, is pride.
The next morning, Sunday, my thoughts still dwelling on perceived shortcomings, I opened my Bible, ribbon-marked to Proverbs, and this one verse jumped off the page:
Pride brings a person low,
but the lowly in spirit gain honor.
Point taken. This pesky pride, if allowed to fester, will quickly bring me low.
One more illustration, this one for laughs. A couple of weeks prior to my last day at church, I was working in the basement of my in-laws’ townhouse, along with Kyle. Grammy was upstairs hosting a birthday party, and she sent us a text—an invitation to help ourselves to leftover food. Somewhat sheepishly, we made our way to the kitchen buffet, hoping to stay under the radar. But no. The dozen or so ladies at the dining room table were armed with questions. First, asking Kyle about his worn-out hip and upcoming surgery, giving advice, sharing their stories. I listened to the banter, feeling a bit sorry for my spot-lighted husband, who was actually handling the whole thing quite well. And then, a comment in my direction. “So…we hear you are joining us in RETIREMENT!” Gulp.
Oh pride, oh pride.
I knew right then, and said it out loud. I am not, quite yet, ready to retire.
Truth be told, leaving my church job has been far more difficult than I imagined. I would even say it’s been a kind of grief—which I wasn’t expecting. The last day at my office, I was wrapping things up, when a co-worker stopped in to see how I was doing. I was explaining my fragile emotions, when Kristie made a wise observation. “Our jobs can become who we are.” Fighting tears, I agreed, and nodded. Like it or not, admitting it’s true.
Which explains my struggle. Because as of a-week-ago-last-Friday I don’t have a job with a paycheck. And even though I talk about writing projects, I don’t yet have enough actual cred to call myself a writer. And even though my website includes a list of speaking topics, my last real gig was pro-bono. And while I spent a year and half taking seminary classes, I never finished my degree. And it’s been years since I’ve had a valid teacher’s license. So. All this to say. If who I am is what I’m doing…I am no longer sure how to answer the question. And Kristie was right.
So this morning I woke up already praying, God knowing exactly what is on my mind. And I confessed these things, as I’m confessing to you. Hands extended. Symbolic surrender. And then. I remembered.
I remember how years ago I sat in bleachers watching a basketball game, and I asked God to “increase my capacity to love”—which he did. And I wonder what would have happened if I’d asked him to increase my capacity for career success or academic accomplishment instead. Maybe I’d at least have a master’s degree. But instead I have a bigger than average family, and a smaller than needed blog audience, and a resume of assorted part-time jobs and volunteer experience. And I have a lifetime of His Faithfulness—enough to be convinced that to whom much has been given, much is required. And I have been given MUCH.
So this morning I say to myself, and I say to my pride—I am not inadequate. I am not an underachiever. I am not my job. And (remembering a scene from a book read long ago—I think it was George MacDonald) I DO have a vocation. My vocation is LOVE.
Or—in the words of John Mark Comer—my vocation is to live every day of my life, as Jesus’ apprentice. Doing the things Jesus would do, and loving the way Jesus would love.
That said. I am not ready to retire. There is something in me, something MORE. God-fueled passion for something next. And maybe that something is writing a book, or finishing a degree, or another season of church ministry or teaching—or none of the above. Honestly, it doesn’t matter.
This week I watched a video of myself teaching an AWANA lesson, and I realized I needed to hear my own message:
We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10
I am His handiwork. His masterpiece. His work of art. In Greek—poeima.
This is who I am.
Also. I am created in Jesus, to do work, prepared in advance, for me.
And this—in every season, past, present, and future—is what I get to do.