The cul-de-sac of faithfulness

February 22, 2009

This past Friday, I was out walking on a suburban street with my eighth grade English group. They come, if you can imagine, from 4-6 pm on a Friday afternoon, to do vocabulary, to read and to discuss literature with me. Oddly, they are all boys, and there are only three of them. On our walk, I asked them to pay attention to details as they looked around the California suburbs, to use those details in a writing we were going to do later.  I’d never walked on that particular street, and it turned out to be a dead end, so our walk was short.  When we got back to class, I wrote about the dead end being a surprise to me.  As I was writing, one of the students asked me how to spell cul-de-sac.  I almost laughed out loud.  He was right, it wasn’t a dead end, but a perfectly tidy, circular cul-de-sac.

When we were out walking, I was once again surprised by my own life. What a strange way to spend Friday afternoon. I finally know what I love to do vocationally, but I am hanging out with three thirteen year olds, walking down a suburban dead end cul-de-sac. This is not chaplaincy.

I do not mind so much, anymore, that it has taken me so long to find the thing that I love to do so much. But waiting to do it, the time that it is taking to equip myself to do it, that wears on me sometimes. The economic realities of my family’s life dictate that I cannot do another full-time un-paid CPE internship right now.  I need to do two more internships.  The possibility exists that I may find a paid internship, but they are rare.  I want nothing more than to be walking through a hospital, meeting people and having the opportunity to accompany them on their walk through difficult times.

Instead, I’m working at an after-school program, teaching English.  I am very grateful for the work, especially given our economy’s downhill nature these days.  My husband has been looking for work for about three months now, which is also dispiriting.  I was laid off from my ESL teaching job in January.  With all my heart, I wish I could be making a living (even a small living!) doing the work that I love.  But, for now, I simply can’t.

This brings me to faithfulness.  These days, when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we pray it fervently.  When we give thanks, as we do at every meal, we do it even more reverently.  There is something about being on the edge of poverty (I know we are not nearly as close as many) that makes us even more grateful for what we do have.  We are trying to be faithful, to hold on to just a mustard seed of faith in a time of great unknowing and great need.

I try not to despair, to think of all the things that could derail me from the path that I believe God’s asked me to take.   Jesus meant something when he told us that moving a mountain was something we could ask for and expect.  He wasn’t joking, I assume.  My husband keeps moving forward, looking for some kind of job that a former pilot could do well, even if it’s not for much money.  This continual searching without much positive feedback requires the fuel of hope and faith on his part.

Faithfulness for me, right now, means trusting that God’s hand is at work in the midst of our want and confusion, even though I can barely discern what His hand is doing.  Faithfulness is not giving up on a dream of serving His people.  It means that even though I’m walking on what looks like a dead end, as the eighth grader reminded me, it is not a dead end.  It’s a cul-de-sac.  Hopefully this time will be like a cul-de-sac in my life.  I will get to the end of it, turn around and be back out on the road that I want to be travelling.

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Isn’t it the same thing? (Evangelize/Proselytize)

December 6, 2007

Financially, my family is in a pickle. From things that I’ve read, this is a common problem in re-marriages and step-families, when substantial child support and alimony payments are part of the financial equation. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to generate more income on my end of things, as my husband is already doing all he can.

To that end, yesterday I had an interview with a company that does academic enrichment tutoring and instruction. They are looking for people to be English tutors. The company has a solid reputation in the area, and I really liked the director. I hope they decide to hire me.

Because I list my graduate degree from Fuller Seminary on my resume, it often prompts questions in secular interviews. Sometimes the questions have to do with something they heard on the radio, or they want something basic explained. Like the time someone asked me what the difference was between Catholics and Christians. I really don’t think they believed me when I tried to explain that Catholics ARE Christians.

Yesterday, my interviewer asked me where I fell on the Christian spectrum. He is not a believer and doesn’t know Christian jargon, so I tried to explain it simply. I said that I am an evangelical who believes that Jesus has asked us to bless not just our little believer’s corner, but the larger community. He asked if I was a fundamentalist. I told him that I didn’t really feel like I was in that camp, although I believe in the authority of the Bible. Then he said, “So if you’re evangelical, you’re basically saying your goal is to proselytize people.”

Remember, I’m interviewing for a position tutoring English. I said that I was pretty sure those two words are not synonymous. I explained the Greek root of the word evangelical. Euangellos in Greek is “bringing good,” so an evangelical is one who brings something good, in this case, the “good news” about redemption in Jesus. Proselytize, according to my OED, is “to make proselytes,” and a proselyte is “one who has come over from one opinion, belief, creed or party to another; a convert.” It comes from the Greek aorist form of proserk, meaning “to come to a place.”*

So is it the same thing? No, it is not. I hope that I manage to bring the good news about God in Jesus. If it causes a person to move from one opinion to another, that is really cool. But my primary work as a follower of Jesus is to share the good news, and to share it as if it really is good news. Good news is not scary or threatening. Good news doesn’t sound like, “if you don’t believe in Jesus you’re going to Hell!” You’d be hard pressed to find Jesus inviting people into his circle with that kind of talk anywhere in the Gospels. Good news doesn’t come in an argumentative or defensive tone. Good news makes a person feel relieved and comforted.**

The good news sounds more like this. In spite of the fact that I am broke, I know I serve a God who will somehow, some way take care of my needs and my family’s needs. It is good news that God loves me abundantly, and that his love can transform my life for the good. He can help me turn into a person who joyfully serves others, rather than a person that is only concerned about herself and her little family circle.

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*I had to look up the definition and root of proselyte after the interview.

** I am aware that sometimes the gospel/good news is received badly, but that is another post.