The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, 'Here I am, for you called me.' Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, 'Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." (1 Samuel 3.8-9)
I am in a profession where the term "call" is used frequently. When used as a verb, "call" is about feeling that tug between you and God toward something that at first may not seem practical, desirable, or even expected. When used as a noun, "call" can be synonymous to a job, occupation, ministry, or church -- hence the term "seeking a call."
For me, "seeking a call" simply means trying to figure out what to do next. And lately this task has felt like an impossible mission. I have always admired -- or if I'm to be honest, jealous of -- those that seem to have a clear sense of their calling. Take my husband for example, he feels very called to be a pastor. Although there are times when he struggles with the type of church or ministry he feels called to serve, he has certainty that his call is that of a pastor. I wish that was the case for me. I have always felt called to a place, such as seminary or my current congregation, but I have never felt confirmation or an affinity to my call as a pastor. This may not make sense or may seem odd, but welcome to my life.
I have always loved the story of Samuel being called. In 1 Samuel 3.7, God calls Samuel before Samuel even knew who God was, and yet Samuel had the capacity to hear the voice of God during a time when God's voice and God's visions were rare. In the depths of slumber, Samuel awakens to the sound of someone calling his name, "Samuel! Samuel!" And quickly he responds, "Here I am!" Quickly, he seeks out who is calling him. I can relate to Samuel's call story because there have been times when I have had a revelation, and it was like being awakened from deep slumber. But that is where the similarities end. Unlike Samuel's immediate response of jumping out of bed not just once but three times, I need a few alarm clocks, a splash of cold water, and maybe even a steaming hot cup of coffee before I can manage to roll out of bed. Maybe it's because I have never been much of a morning person. Ask my head of staff. He treats my lack of morning charm as a disability and eventually excused me from early morning worship services.
About three years ago, I had a wake-up call. It was an unlikely place to have a wake-up call. For one, it was late at night. It was about the seventh hour of a very long meeting, where Presbyterians gather every other month to vote on essential issues and catch up on the business at hand. This meeting was quite a controversial one as we were examining for ordination Lisa Larges, a gifted woman who has been in the ordination process for 25 years. Why 25 years, you may ask? Because Lisa Larges is gay and the ministry she was asking to be ordained is an organization that seeks full inclusion of GLBTQ people. People for and against lined up at the mic to ask Lisa questions about her sense of call and her theology. One question in particular struck me. Well, not so much the question, but Lisa's answer. The question was, "You have been in the ordination process for 25 years, why? What keeps you going after all these years?" She answered, "I ask God that question every morning."
It was in Lisa's answer that I woke up. I sat in the pews convicted of my own sense of call or my lack of taking my call seriously. I didn't wake up every morning asking God what I am called to do. I didn't question whether what I am doing is the path that God is calling me. Not that what I am doing now is not what God has planned for me, but because I didn't have to struggle or fight or be put in a position to question, I wasn't intentional in discerning my sense of call. The last time I remember struggling and deeply considering my call was when I decided to go to seminary.
Since that time, I began to do just that -- question, listen, wait, and wonder. I tried new things and opened myself up to new opportunities, curious to see where it would lead me. It was fun . . . for a while. I felt challenged, rejuvenated, affirmed, and scared (in a good way.) And then one day, someone asked me a question that I have been wrestling with since the day it was asked. It doesn't matter what the question was. But my search for the answer has got me waking up every day asking God that very same question plus a dozen more. It is this process of questioning that has taken what was an act of being intentional about my sense of call to a process of discerning what is my call. I do not necessarily expect a clear answer or even for God to complete the sentence, "Theresa, you are called to do _________." But can't a girl get a tug of conviction, a night light of guidance, or a crumb of a clue?
Last Sunday, I was preaching on Matthew 15.10-28, where the Canaanite woman cries out to Jesus to heal her daughter. In light of Jesus' refusal to address her needs, she replies, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." (Matt. 15.27) And because Jesus recognized her great faith, he changes his mind. It isn't clear if this Canaanite woman fully understood who Jesus was or what he was all about, but like Samuel it didn't matter. She not only responded swiftly, but deliberately. She saw the abundance that Jesus had to offer, enough to pursue it, demand it, and not let Jesus' inability to see her get in the way of acquiring it.
While I'd like to blame Lisa for this whole call discernment process I am currently in -- I am thankful for God using her to inspire me, convict me, and motivate me to start questioning again. I'm thankful that God doesn't demand that I have to have it all figured out . . . know enough, do enough, be enough. God meets me where I am. And like the woman, all I need to receive is a paltry morsel and a few leftover crumbs to experience the fullness of what God has to offer.
These crumbs of God's goodness become for us the gift of hope and renewal and life. But are we curious enough, do we recognize the miraculousness of what Jesus has to offer . . . enough to pursue it, demand it, and go after it? That right there has been my call process in a nutshell