We should go with our lives where we most need to go and where we are most needed.
Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark
Sometimes, we wonder what to do with the stuff of our past. The things we did, or we were, or experienced. Sometimes we bury it, sometimes we run from it, sometimes, we let it bury us.
If you are working toward freedom from the past, freedom from shame, freedom from fear, freedom from chains, you will in time come to a crossroads. Call it letting go, call it forgiveness, call it realization that you are no longer bound, but at some point, even if that point seems so far away now, it will become possible for you to forget what lies behind.
I’ve heard that phrase a lot. Most of the time, the person saying seems to be forgetting that the speaker was speaking of his successes and the laurels he refused to rest on. Because he never forgot that he was the chief of sinners. Are we really ever allowed to forget who we once were? And such were some of you seems to be a cornerstone of grace. Forgetting where we came from tends to make us holier than thou.
So what do we do with it? With the thing we’ve been forgiven for, the thing we’ve been healed from, the thing we’ve gotten through?
Some of us are given rest, I believe that. Quiet healing. Peace at last.
But some of us are called to speak up, to light the path, and let our lives become a means of encouragement. Maybe we’re just a few steps ahead of someone who is desperate to know which way to go. Or maybe we’re in a place of peace someone is doubting even exists — just knowing you were once where they are now will give them hope that their life won’t always be as dark as it is at present.
But I believe this, too, we know when we are called. We don’t have to wonder.
In the stillness when the TV goes off, when the people are asleep, when the phone rests out of reach, you feel it. In the moment when the preacher is preaching and the burn radiates in your chest, it rises up in your mind and you see it. In the task when the Eric Liddell-like rush of When I run, I feel His pleasure overwhelms you, you hear it.
A calling doesn’t let go of you. Oh, you can suppress it for a while, and you will very likely doubt it — maybe even for a long time after you’ve stepped into it. But if you don’t answer it, calling hangs onto you like a blackberry bramble, pricking you every now and then with a spiked thorn. It’ll quit bothering you, of course, if you develop a callus. But if you feel the sharp sting, and you pay attention to it, the poke will lead you to where you are most needed.
How do you know where you are most needed?
Well, honestly, sometimes, you’re asked. But more often, especially if you are the gentle or reticent sort, you have to suck up your fears and raise your hand. And sometimes, the thing you are resisting the most is the very thing you are being called to do.
And for some of us, the stuff of our past is shaping our calling. People going through hardship need to know they aren’t alone. It helps to know there is someone out there who gets it.
That doesn’t mean we have to launch a ministry, though that might be what you are being called to. We don’t have to start a business, though that also could be it. But more than likely, we just need to notice the need around us: the hard place someone is going through that is a place we’ve known well; the thing that almost killed us, but here we are, still breathing; the darkness that consumed us for a time, and no one would know it if we didn’t say a word. Someone is in need of the hope you have to offer them just by your existence.
We’re stepping out into the unknown when we agree to open up the past and let it become hope for others. Sure, our discomfort might mean we don’t belong, but it could also mean we’re in the right place.
We won’t always feel the thrill of this is the thing I was made to do. When it no longer sparks joy, we will wish we could throw away our calling like the jeans we’ve been hanging onto for someday. Just because you are called to something doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, I can say with total confidence that it won’t be. If it was, we wouldn’t need a power greater than ourselves.
But sometimes, when you look around you in that space you are compelled to fill, you notice how few are called to it and how much you are depended on in that way no longer makes you want to run away. You are there just exactly because of who you are and what you’ve been through and not in spite of it — you, with all your imperfections, fears, and doubts.
You are the one who is needed and you know beyond reason that you need to be there.