Question Two: What commitment am I willing to make?
This question recognizes that if change is to occur, it will come from my own free choice, not from the investment of the institution or the transformation of others. Every project of consequence or personal calling will require more of us than we originally imagined. Sister Joyce DeShano, an executive of a large health care system, understands calling better than anyone I know. She says that the call comes from a place that we do not know, that the demands placed on us will be more than we ever expected, and that if we knew what was in store, we never would have said yes.
—Peter Block, The Answer to How Is Yes, p.29
I believe this.
I think that, like in Joseph Campbell’s delineation of the hero’s call, anything that we feel ‘called’ to do that’s comfy is something else. Something important, perhaps, though often not. A calling, though, pulls us farther, even from the outset. To borrow from Campbell again, we’re drawn to the horizon, and it is a bluish, misty haze. We begin without seeing or knowing where we’ll end. If we’ve struck out in this way before, we’ve likely lost the blitheness of that first trek—”How exciting! What could possibly go wrong?”—but we faithfully step forward. Pinned to my corkboard is a line from T.S. Eliot’s “East Coker: V,” part of the Four Quartets:
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
This, I think, is what DeShano warns us about. God’s calling may not be about clear outcomes. Our commitment to it certainly cannot be—if we can’t see where the path goes, we’re not walking it because we already know we’ll like the scenery. So! Sound good? Ready to start?
Yeah, me too. As a sane adult, these cautions begin to sound like the music underpinning a horror film: “Start wincing now, because at any moment it will All Go Horribly Wrong.”
Here’s the contradictory thing I believe. My experience is that, in the times that weigh heavily, when “more than we ever expected” feels like marching barefoot across Bataan, the call (or our part in it) is even then shifting. Persisting in faith remains crucial, yes. But I believe our loving God has no interest in grinding us down or bludgeoning us in to pulp. When we’re immobilized, we’re neither living into our God-envisioned selves nor, for that matter, very useful. For myself, continuing to put one metaphorical foot in front of the other has consistently ended in some form of deliverance: a shift in family tensions, the abrupt cancellation of a commitment I’d felt honor-bound to continue. Though I confess I start watching for the rescue once the grinding begins-!
The longer I keep praying “Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you” (Psalm 143:8), the more I find myself living each day in curiosity and a kind of suspended anticipation. Even during the stretches where I pray, “God, I don’t get this. I don’t know what I’m doing here,” I connect back to a lingering sense of God-scripted adventure. I can keep walking the path while I’m shaking my head; God knows that head-shaking is part of what I bring to the party, so God must want a little of that alongside whatever else God has going-! Maybe I’ll get lucky and the path will open out a little once we get around this bend. Or maybe not… .
When I was twenty-two and laid out the five-year map of my life—a map that I craved, that I thought I was supposed to draw—I had no way of knowing that the first thing that would happen would be for God to set my map on fire. I’ve found much of the intervening quarter-century unsettling: I like maps, preferably big ones with the roads marked in informational colors, but I also prefer to learn my lessons once, and the first map-burning was enough to make me hesitant. Any maps I couldn’t stop myself from drawing I tried sketching, in pencil, and tried to keep them in my back-pocket rather than stare down at them.
But lately I’ve felt less need to pick up the mapmaker’s pencils. And the music I hear as I walk sounds a lot more like what Prokofiev wrote for Peter:
NB: This post is another lost soul, once trapped between the layers of the iPhone and now set free. It was written on August 17, 2017, back when I was still in the midst of reading The Answer to How is Yes.