A recent new/old contact to me has made me think a lot about the power of suggestion and influence in our lives. I say a “new/old” contact because I knew the person a long time ago, when I can safely say I wasn’t who I am today. It was a long and forgotten age when I knew I was called to be an apostle – I had known for about 6 months – and yet I ran from it. While I didn’t know what an apostle was, really, I knew enough to be afraid. I was afraid of what people might think. My ministry was already not going well; I didn’t want to make more problems. I was ashamed of who I was and who God called me to be. In my state of disequilibrium, as I attempted to sort out what God was speaking to me versus what everyone else was speaking to me, I found myself often confounded and disillusioned. I thought when we pursued the things of God, people understood that. Instead, everybody picked at me – told me I didn’t have this type of experience or that type of experience; I hadn’t seen enough of the world; I was the wrong sex; I didn’t have enough money; I didn’t have enough friends; I was too isolated; I went to the wrong church; I had the wrong beliefs; I shouldn’t want to preach; I went to the wrong school; I needed a man because I couldn’t stand on my own; I needed to have children, because I was incomplete without them…and so on.
All this bespeaks the question…who determines what’s “enough” experience…or “enough” of anything, for that matter?
I remember the first time it happened. I can still see the handwriting on the card I received from a Catholic youth leader I’d met at a Catholic leadership program in 1998. When she found out I was going into ministry – and leaving the Catholic Church – she was notably horrified. When she saw the name of my ministry (back then, it was Revival Ministries International), her response to me was, “How goes your quest for Revival Ministries International? It sounds VERY (with “very” underlined) Evangelical. You best be careful before you get yourself too involved.” I read between the lines, even back then. That implication – you are doing something that I think is wrong for your life and therefore you better not do it because I think it’s wrong – left me heartbroken. I thought this was supposed to be about God, not about what she thought I should do or not do. As time progressed and I stood up to this woman, we grew further and further apart. I could feel her disapproval in every letter and discussion we had. More than disapproval, I felt her judgment. She made the decision for me that I should be Catholic. It didn’t matter what the truth about Catholicism might have been or even where God wanted me; all that mattered is she wanted me to be Catholic, and there I should stay.
It wasn’t the last time this would happen. This endless battle of control circumvented me for a number of years. For many years I was extremely impressionable about ministry and what ministry meant. I wanted my ministry to work and I thought it worked by making sure people liked me and were happy. I was impressionable to pastor a church when I was not called to pastor. (For those who might have any doubt, I am still not called to pastor, despite the numerous pressures I still receive about that issue; and while I am as polite about it as I can be, I will not do anything God has not called me to do to please others.) I was impressionable enough to believe I had no life experience, even though I clearly did, and felt inferior when people judged me based on how they perceived my circumstances. I’ve been cajoled, wheedled, and even manipulated into joining everything from Jehovah’s Witnesses to Buddhist meditation groups by people who didn’t respect the eternal boundary of NO. I thought I needed to be married and have a man in my life because somehow that was going to “help” my ministry. Even though I have never wanted them, I thought having children was somehow a “have-to” at some point as well. I turned myself inside out, compromised my personal integrity, and spent a lot of time hurt.
What did I find? I could turn myself inside out, upside down, and feel as violated and compromised as I wanted: it still was not enough. I could do everything everyone wanted and I still wouldn’t get what God had for me because I wasn’t pursuing what God had for me. Being ashamed and afraid of people, measuring ourselves by their standards, and seeking their approval was not the way to make a ministry. I didn’t need to be baby-sat. I didn’t need someone to come in and try and change me. I did not need manipulation to make me feel badly about myself. I needed to be who I was, and not ashamed of my calling in the Gospel.
At every crossroads in our lives we are confronted with many options. The world is quick to give us its standard path, and people operating in the flesh are likewise quick to try and shape us in their image. Some people like us, some people don’t, and some people never understand the choices we make because we follow God. I don’t think we quite understand what it means to follow God much of the time. We think following God is some mystical experience by which a white light shines and we follow it to an open door to a netherworld. The Christian life isn’t a video game! We are walking out our lives, obtaining experiences and insight that we gain as we go along. Experience is not staged, set-up, or planned; insight is not planned; and we gain neither when we do what other people think is best for us.
Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men,” has a whole new meaning to me now than it did in days gone by. God calls us to obedience, but every one of us will be faced with the decision to obey people – who well-meaning or not, are operating in the flesh – or obey God. There is a difference between standing strong in what God has called us to do and defiantly disregarding a leader or instruction because we have issues with authority. The difference lies in surrendering to the fleshly desires, impulses, and concepts of people (and the spirits that control the flesh) versus obeying the will of God in every circumstance. Whether we obey our flesh or someone else’s flesh reaps the same destructive consequences on our immediate, spiritual, and emotional lives.
Though I’ve never been perfect, I do know that God decides what is enough for my life. He sets the boundaries I live, abide by, and follow. Everybody can understand it, nobody can understand it; it does not matter. I have the experience I need for where I am. I am as old as I need to be. I have the amount of money I need. I have seen enough of the world. I do not need to have children. I do not get my identity from a man. I did not go to the wrong school. I am not the wrong sex. I have as many friends as I need to have. I have as much influence as I need to have. I do not go to the wrong church. I do not have the wrong calling. It is not wrong for me to want to preach. As God takes me on further, He will see to it that I have what I need, even then. This is a progress in Him, not in others. What I need for the future, He will provide, when it is time.
What I have is sufficient for my calling in Christ. Who I was is who I was, but it’s not who I am now. I did not get everything I prayed for, but everything I needed, when I needed it. While I might not have always liked the immediate results, I did what I needed to do, had the help I needed at the time, and I have been obedient to God to the very best of my ability. I have done what I needed to do. While that hasn’t put me where I am going, it has always put me where I need to be. I am not sufficient in myself, but in Christ, I have all the sufficiency I need. Like it or not, I’m doing things God’s way.
And for who I am, who God has called me to be, and where I am in my life, I am not ashamed.
(C) 2010 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.