I remember a conversation I once had with a friend many years ago. We were both seminary students at the time, both close to finishing our divinity degrees. But I had also done a concentration in marriage and family ministry and counseling, which left him second-guessing whether he had the preparation he needed.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something like, “Who knows for sure what each of us is being called to? Whatever paths we end up taking, we just need to be faithful with what training we have.”
I still believe that. And those are fine-sounding words. But I’ve been walking my post-degree path for over 30 years now, and it’s still hard sometimes to follow my own advice.
In part, it’s because I see myself as a bit of an odd duck, someone who doesn’t fit the standard boxes. I trained as a therapist and I teach budding therapists, but I am not myself a clinician. I perform ministerial responsibilities and many people consider me to be a pastor, but I am not formally on any pastoral staff. Many of my colleagues are hard-core empirical researchers with a detailed knowledge of statistics; that skill set is much valued in academia. Me? I do the occasional research project, but it’s not my passion in the same way it is for them. Instead of writing articles for learned journals, I write books for non-academic audiences.
Oh, and I write blog posts with odd pictures of ducks.
In other words, though I know that God has called me to use what gifts he has given me in particular ways, I keep looking around at what other people are doing and feeling like I’m not getting it right. And part of me wonders when someone’s finally going to pull me aside and tell me.
As we’ve discussed in previous posts, at the end of the gospel of John, we find Jesus and Peter walking along the beach. Jesus tells Peter that he is destined to show his love and devotion to Jesus by following in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, footsteps that will lead him all the way to his own death by crucifixion.
Then Peter turns around and sees the beloved disciple following them in silence. Peter asks Jesus, “What about him?” — probably meaning something like, “Are you also calling him to die for the cause?”
Jesus answers, “If I want him to remain until I come, what difference does that make to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22, CEB). As John will make clear, Jesus did not mean, “No, Peter, his destiny is to remain alive until I return.” Rather, it’s a way of saying that it’s none of Peter’s business: What if I asked you to die tomorrow, like you said you were ready to do? And then what if I said that this other guy is going to live a thousand years? What difference would that make to you? Your job is to follow the path I’ve given to you.
Somebody else’s path might look better, for any number of reasons. And it’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, to judge our significance, our success or failure, by what we see others doing, by what they are asked to do.
Jesus’ response? You must follow me.
Even if it means some kind of sacrifice: anything from outright crucifixion to being the odd duck out.