Learning to have patience and peace in the unknown
When most people think about their spiritual journey, a memory that often comes to mind is that moment when they “dropped their nets.” This is a story Christians know all too well. It is often the narrative our pastors come back to, with good reason, when encouraging us to think about our role as disciples of a good and loving God. A God who calls us out of our own selfishness, and into a life of communion with the world. Just today our church had an itinerant pastor who spoke on this very message. After the service, I spoke with a woman named Laurie who told me of her “net dropping experience” to leave a career path and join a non-profit organization in a different city to help aid in the rehabilitation of refugee families. She’s been doing this work for four years now, and has experienced incredible self-transcendence that comes when we choose to trust in the One who is always calling us into a life of communion and discipleship. And yet, as much as I love this gospel story and receiving her testimony speaking to it, I am always left quite skeptical of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. I mean, who when told, “Follow me,” responds by immediately dropping their nets and following a random person they’ve never met before. In true academic spirit, I looked up the Greek definition for “immediately” hoping there would be error in the translation. Yet, to my chagrin the Greek, eutheōs, came out to mean: directly, at once, immediately, shortly, and straightway.
All of this is to say that when Jesus calls, one follows. And yet in my stubbornness I still wasn’t quite convinced. Looking back on my own “coming to Jesus” moment, I was not so easily persuaded. I remember sitting at my then boyfriend’s kitchen table, reteaching him my afternoon lecture on biblical hermeneutics when my initial call came within his comment of, “Morgan, you seem really interested in this.” The volume of this call would eventually become a much louder call to pursue Divinity School. Mind you, at this time I was a junior in college on track for a vocation in the medical field. I was only a year into my conversion as a Christian, and so when God asked me to drop my net — a net holding high hopes and dreams of financial stability and ease — to pursue an education in religious studies, my response was anything but immediate. Quite the contrary, my response resembled more the doubtful laugh of Sarah or even the doubt of Zechariah in the Temple. For the measure of my doubts, I was surprised an angel of God didn’t seal my mouth from speaking. But then again, I guess getting a master’s degree would be difficult without the ability to speak. And so, despite my reservations, despite my fears of an unknown future, I dropped my net and followed.
Now I am a year away from graduating from Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and looking back on my choice to be faithful to God, guess how I feel? Angry. I know, you weren’t expecting that, were you? Neither was I, so let me elaborate: When I dropped my net, doors really did open. It was quite liberating. I was accepted into two incredible Masters programs, I had the financial burden of tuition totally lifted, and I loved my classes and the professors who challenged me. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Wow, this is what happens when you follow God.” Yet, with each passing semester, I kept looking over my shoulder thinking, “Okay, I’m here God, I’m doing it… Now what?” The only way I can describe my state of mind during this time was a level of entitlement; after all, I had dropped my net, I had obeyed, and yet the edges were still all hazy. I felt that with such self-sacrifice there had to be some concreteness. There had to be a moment where God would allow me to see what was ahead, what I was to do in a year, because at this point I still had no idea what I would actually use this degree for. I felt at the very least I deserved that. And so, I grew bitter. I became angry. I remember crying and yelling at my husband saying, “I did everything God’s asked and still I am left in the dark! Why?” I believed I had done all I needed to do, I’d dropped the net, I’d gone through that difficult struggle, I’d pushed myself out of my comfort zone into the discomfort, and I’m not seeing any victory on the quickly approaching horizon. It wasn’t until the end of my second year in my program that I began to realize I had misunderstood the full gravity of what it truly means for one to drop their net.
When Laurie was telling me of her experience of being called to do non-profit work with refugees, she too admitted her hesitation in following Jesus. Her hesitation was quite strong considering this prompting had arisen within her a few times before, and each time she declared, “I do not want to do that.” And yet, now she’s been working in the organization for four years. When I asked her about her future goals with the company she said, “Well, now that I’ve become finally become comfortable in this position, God has given me a new call to drop this net.” I was shocked. I sat in the passenger seat as my husband drove us home reflecting on this.
For years I had come to believe that when Jesus told us to follow, that this was a one-and-done kind of situation. I remembered hearing pastors and writers give testimonies about that moment in their lives when they dropped their nets to pursue their current vocation and how God had continued to bless them in that. Yet, here I stood reflecting on my own journey as well as Laurie’s, and I began to realize that rarely does God call us only once. More often, if we are listening, God is continuing to call us out of our comfortability and complacency to continue being disciples in ways that challenge us. In this way, the idea that life is destinational is not as accurate as life being cyclical. It comes with hills and valleys, with summer and winter seasons, and just as we are getting comfortable, God calls. This is not to say that God is constantly taking us away from the happiness that comes from stability in our lives, but rather that in our taking risks on God, our lives are made more whole. In each step of faithfulness, despite the scariness of it, goodness that awaits. As I sit reflecting on the way God is working within my own life, I have come to be less angry. I’ve come to finally understand God’s next call in my life. This net dropping experience is different and will be more difficult than even my call to ministry because in this call I am being told to have patience in the unknown. There is no call toward a physical “next step” like I’d hoped, but rather God is calling me to find patience in the haziness of my material experience, while learning to trust in the clarity of the promises. I’m not sure what the future holds for me; I know there will be more nets to drop, more experiences where I hesitate and laugh in doubt; and yet, maybe too there will be experiences where my response is immediate.