Do you remember your first day at your first “real” job? I’ll bet that you were tasked with some assignment for which you did not feel qualified. I arrived for my first day as a “real” attorney full of spit and vinegar. (Not really, I was as nervous as my rat terrier trying to navigate a wooden floor.)
My first assignment was mind-boggling – at least to me. Just a snot-nosed, young attorney, I was wholly unqualified to accomplish it. My boss instructed me to review a case file (it took up about the equivalent of four feet of cabinet space) and write an outline to prepare the case for trial. Oh yeah – “I’m meeting with the client when my flight lands in Atlanta, so you have about two hours to complete it.” What?
This is what is affectionately known as “baptism by fire.” I used to believe that this phrase originated in the Bible. Actually, it is a military term that refers to a soldier’s first time in battle. It alludes to the reality that there are just some things that you can’t learn from books or simulators. That first day on the job felt a whole lot like walking right onto a battlefield.
Doesn’t that just sum life up in so many ways? There are some things that can only be learned on the job, in the course of life, or on the battlefield. There is no simulation that approaches the reality of facing foreclosure, battling bankruptcy, or disagreeing with the diagnosis. No one can explain the feel of an empty belly with no hope for a hot meal on the horizon. There is no handbook outlining how it feels to walk into a funeral home to choose a casket for your loved one. Each and every one of these battles and so many more require that you step onto the field.
The impossible assignment wasn’t intended to assess my ability as an attorney or to provide my boss with a trial outline. Rather, he was assessing a more important quality in an employee – how I would respond under pressure. Would I crumble (thereby making me utterly useless in a real battle) or would I persevere?
Like my old boss, the “Big Boss” isn’t interested in whether we can outline an avalanche of information in less time than it takes to read a pink slip, scan divorce papers, or peruse a coroner’s report. Rather, God is watching to see how we will respond when faced with these tasks. Will we crumble or will we be useful in real battle?
When we answer God’s “Help Wanted” ad and show up for the first day of work, the assignment appears so simple. Yet, it can feel impossible. The employee handbook is a two-liner. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34. That’s it. Love your neighbor as yourself.
How? Where do I start? I’m not qualified!
We are qualified. God has uniquely called and qualified each of us according to our gifts. When we respond, we unite together to become Christ’s body on earth. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 There is no talent too small that it can’t be used to stamp out some evil or injustice.
A few years ago, I started choosing a new word to focus my intentions for the upcoming year. A friend of mine even introduced me to a bracelet made by “My Intent,” a company that will stamp whatever word(s) you choose on a small metal ring much like a washer so that you can wear it as a reminder.
For 2017, I chose “me too,” not because of the recent movement. Rather, it is a reference to an observation by Brene Brown (a research professor) who once commented, “The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.” As 2017 began, God was reminding me that he does not want me to sit passively waiting for others to share their stories. Rather, God has been challenging me to share my story(ies) first; thereby opening the door for another to find respite that little phrase – me too.
I ordered one of those crazy, popular “My Intent” bracelets. The bracelet finally arrived three months later. In fact, it arrived the same day as Brooke’s accident. It hadn’t been on my wrist for more than an hour when I kissed her cheek good-bye for the very last time. It had only been on my wrist but a few measly hours when my phone rang with the dreadful news.
Sometimes God whispers. Sometimes he roars. Either way, the call is unmistakable.
The times this year when I’d have preferred to hunker down rather far outweigh the times when I’ve felt like answering God’s call. In fact, I’d have preferred to turn back time and live the day before the accident over and over again like Groundhog’s Day until it’s time to punch my own ticket into eternity. Funny thing about the day before the day everything changes forever – I don’t even remember the day, but I’d go back there in a heartbeat. Frozen in time – never moving forward.
But that isn’t the response that God is looking for. Hunkering down on the 15th of March would make me of little use to myself and those who rely on me. You have your own “day before.” You have your own date marked where you’d choose time to freeze, but God encourages you to turn the page on your Day-Timer. It’s on the next day and the next where we will find opportunities to report for duty.
The position God seeks to fill is voluntary. The needed positions are infinite; yet, only one person is qualified to fill each one. The call to arms seems as impossible as the report that my old boss assigned so many years ago. Yet, your unique offering will yield awe-inspiring returns, no matter how large or small the perceived gift: Buying coffee for the guy behind you in line. Knitting shawls for patients hooked to a chemo bag. Donating an extra couple of dollars with your utility bill to help keep the poor and elderly warm over the winter. Delivering meals at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the third Tuesday of the month. Sewing a quilt memorializing the life of a lost loved one. Smiling at a store clerk and saying “thank you.” Walking for a cure. Lending an ear to a friend. Volunteering for a prayer chain. Baking a pie to welcome a new neighbor. The ways are endless.
As much as we’d rather turn back time, that’s not an option. God’s “Help Wanted” ad beckons each of us to love our neighbors who are broken and hurt. Me too. God’s Craigslist post pulls us out of ourselves to share our unique gifts for the comfort of our neighbors. Me too.
How are you going to respond to God’s “Help Wanted” signs? Avert your eyes and heart, pretending not to see? Or show up for the job?
By responding to God’s “Help Wanted” placards, God in turn responds to our “help wanted” pleas. As we turn our focus on our friends, family, neighbors, and strangers, our own suffering fades. Self-focused and selfless simply cannot live harmoniously in the same heart. So, our own broken hearts are soothed – even if only for the moment it takes to shift our focus.
God doesn’t give us the option of erasing the hard times as if they never existed. At times, we are afforded opportunities to make amends. Other times, the consequences are permanent during this lifetime. Regardless, God always gives us the opportunity to turn our suffering over to a greater purpose – His purpose.
Happy New Year – make it a good one.