I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess —Martin Luther
I don’t write about this very much, but here we go: I am a full-time missionary. 5 months ago my husband and I, along with our toddler, joined a mission organization and moved across the country. We sold most of our belongings, gave up careers that we both had advanced degrees in, and said goodbye to our friends and family. We moved into an urban inner-city environment in one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. We did it because we knew that God loved the poor, and that he was at work among them. We did it because we knew in order to live and work with the poor for long-term, we had a lot of learning to do.
We are now about halfway through our first year (what our organization aptly calls an “apprenticeship” year). What we are doing closely identifies with the New Friars movement, which is committed to community, social justice, and seeing the kingdom of God transform peoples lives (The New Friars, as opposed to the New Monastics, generally do not live in a communal house but spread out through the neighborhood and focus more on the “missional” or “missionary” aspects of life).
I have hesitated to write about this, for several reasons.
One, is that it can be very alienating. People tend to write us off as either exceptional people or crazies (neither of which are helpful conclusions). Secondly, I am in a place of life where I am learning so much it is nearly bursting out my skin, all my questions and doubts and fears and praises, and I don’t trust myself to process it out loud quite yet. So when I think about writing in regards to vocation, I get uneasy. My life is very full at the moment, always sorrowful yet always rejoicing, the kingdom already here and not yet. God is on the move, in and among the most broken of our society, and I am privileged to be a witness to it. But on the flipside–I see so much more brokenness than I ever thought possible, hear stories nearly every day that make me come home and cry into my pillow. I think about the years stretching ahead. Am I in this for life, as I would like to so proudly proclaim? Is this my vocation? What about the other parts of me: the wife, the mother, the writer, the creative, the ESL teacher—are they a part of my call as well?
Those questions are ones I will be wrestling through for awhile; no tidy little answers here, I’m afraid. But the best way I can answer some of these issues is this: I have found that I must be obedient to what I have been called to do. That seems so simple, doesn’t it? Until, that is, you start reading the Scriptures and the ones that jump out at you seem ridiculous, unseemly, not for the right-in-the-head. Things about giving away all of your possessions, looking to the lilies of the field, of living a life in pursuit of the good news being preached to the poor, of seeing the captives unchained, the oppressed set free, of proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. Those words got under my skin, made all my other vocations not quite as jewel-bright as I once thought them. And bit by bit, both my husband and I started to be obedient to what we were being called to. And the more we started interacting with the kinds of people Jesus always hung out with—the social outcast, the refugee, the wanderer, the poor—we were changed. Looking back on my life, I realize now that they were the cold water on my face, the shock that woke me out of my quest for a safe and secure life.
So this is my story. Maybe one day I will get to use my teaching degree again; maybe I will get to write my heart into books. Maybe I will get to run some killer programs, and maybe I will see radical transformation in the lives of my neighbors. These are all hopes I have held tight in my hands, and I have had to let them all go, one by one. I have had to come to the end of myself, to see what it means to believe that God loves me just as I am, unconditionally, just as he does everyone else. I am no more special (and no worse) than you who are reading this now. And I have been asked to make my vocation one of obedience, which comes at both great joy and great cost.
We all have dreams that are good, holy, and pleasing–they are just held too tightly in our palms, never able to see the light of day. Isn’t it time to let go, to pay attention to what it is you have been called to, and to experience the freedom therein?
I’m slowly, ever-so-slowly, learning how to do this. And I am here to tell you: I’m excited. The year of the Lord’s favor is at hand; will you be a part of it?
D.L. Mayfield blogs here, and can also be found both on Facebook and Twitter. Check out the other posts in this series: Identity and Vocation Defined Being an Image of God What Does Christian Vocation Look Like? Is It Who You Are, Or Just What You Do? How Does Vocation Impact Our Places of Work? Stewarding Our Love Pursuing Vocation Alone? Serving Outside of Our Gifts Living In Transit