The (Glorious) Burden of Our Call
I laughed out loud when I found out that a priest I work closely with had unknowingly chosen the same seminar option as me for a conference we were about to attend. The seminar was entitled, What To Do When You Can’t Do Less. It was evidently something that was on both our minds.
I know that many of us are in this same boat. Some days, in my stumbling journey of following Christ, I wonder whether I can be doing this right, or whether he really is asking all this of me. Days and weeks can go by without let up, and I wonder to myself, “Can this be right?!”
Let me explain what I mean. Following Christ in an intentional way, saying ‘yes’ to making disciples for him, guarantees your life is no longer your own, in an exhilarating yet relentless way. A week or so ago, I read a post Sherry Weddell had written on this very topic while I queued in a shop, tears dangerously close because her words rang so true. She speaks of the “long obedience of disciple-making”. I cannot speak of a “long obedience”, I don’t have enough years behind me yet. But over the last several years, it has definitely been true. I like the word “obedience”. In the beginning, in my parish in London, every day was an exhilarating experience. It was a “dream job” and all the conditions were as close to perfect as they will ever be. God was blessing me richly; I was having a ball. But most of life is not this experience. And yet, we still say “yes”. Christ utterly sweetens the “yes”, with his beauty and love and grace. Renewing the encounter with him frequently, how can we refuse him anything? (The danger comes when your encounter with him is not “renewed” and yet you continue to say “yes” – but that is a different story.)
I want to quote some of Sherry’s post, but I encourage you to go to the Forming Intentional Disciples forum on Facebook, and read the whole thing:
How many of us feel that there is something wrong with us, with our discernment, with our situation, with our faith, when the price of love in a fallen world comes due?
How true this is. I know that I am guilty of thinking, deep down, that if I am truly following God, life will be smooth, that only my own failings will get in the way. Sure, my failings do get in the way. But to think that my call and mission will follow a smoothly uphill path, with beautiful scenery, success story after success story – if only I am doing God’s will – is far from the reality. Any work of love, she points out, will be difficult and painful – sometimes exceedingly so. When love intersects a dark and sinful world, it will suffer. When situations are difficult, when the struggle is immense, there is no surprise at all. We are co-redeemers with Christ, and the act of redemption involves much suffering.
When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. John 16:21-22
In Sherry’s words, our call is
a burden which God asks you to carry, a seed which he places within you which you must then carry and nurture to its completion regardless of the cost to you, your relationships or your reputation. … You can bet that the cost and inconvenience will be significant and that the path to its completion will require utter reliance on him.
Of course, sometimes in life we find ourselves in situations where there is something unhealthy that we must change. But, trying to eliminate all difficulty, frustration or struggle would be completely futile and against the Gospel (“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” John 16:33). Christ holds out his hand, asking us to shoulder some of the “trouble”, some of the weight of redemption, with him – but knowing with freedom and joy in our hearts that he has overcome all things already.
And Sherry makes an interesting remark – which has struck me at different moments, too:
When I encounter adult Catholics who seem strangely unmarked by the existential cost of love and mission, I can’t help but wonder if they are in a state of arrested spiritual or personal development. Have they truly said “yes” to Christ? Have they truly said “yes” to the loves and calls that God has given them?
So – let us not be surprised by this “existential cost” which is unrelenting and the mark of love. For in our experience of this cost, this weight, we share with our Redeemer in everything.