On Assignment: A New Perspective on “Call”

November 7, 2013

Presbyterians use the term “discerning one’s call” to refer to the process of figuring out one’s vocation. In the Presbyterian/Reformed Tradition, that call is sensed not only by the ministerial candidate personally but by the Presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry and ultimately by a congregation that desires to call a candidate into pastoral service. It was a Christian community’s process over years’ time that solidified my sense of call to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. That call, exercised as a pastor-teacher, has shaped my identity and brought structure to my life since 1987.

The last seven years “without a call” (that is, without a full-time pastoral position in a congregation) has certainly stretched me. The quiet life that has evolved has enabled me to write, to counsel, to participate in the disciplinary system of the PC(USA), to fill pastoral gaps as they occur, and otherwise to serve in quiet, “thinking” ways. Nevertheless, as I stated in my November 1 post, I have felt like I was waiting for something to happen call-wise.

And then this cancer thing happens. While I am still getting used to saying “lung cancer” out loud, life has taken a sharp turn into an entirely new world. My medical vocabulary is expanding daily. My new best friends are oncologists, physicists, technicians, phlebotomists, nurses, and front-desk receptionists. My days, like yesterday, are scheduled with medical consultations and imaging appointments. Today I go under anesthesia once again to have a chemo port installed in my chest. It’s all extraordinary activity I have never ever had to do myself [though I have walked alongside many people who have taken this journey before me].

The temptation is to cry out, When can we get back to a normal life, Lord? When can I return to work? Lord, this is such an interruption; I can’t get anything done! I am not able to do the ministry you set out for me! I’m supposed to be teaching and ministering the sacrament, yada, yada, yada.

And God says, “Huh? You are most certainly doing the ministry I have laid out for you. I have sent you on a new assignment.” Jarring thoughts of Jonah come to mind . . . Moses . . . the Apostle Paul . . . Mary.  All re-assigned to participate in God’s great purposes.

I’ve been trying this idea on for size for the last few days, and it’s sticking. I realize my call has always been the Lord’s assignment, not my pursuit. Just like a buck private in the Army, I am subject to the will of my commanding officer. When God says, “Go,” I go; when God says, “Go there instead of here,” that’s what I am to do. So I have been reassigned duty to the waiting rooms, examining rooms, procedure rooms, and laboratories of Walnut Creek’s medical establishment. And already I am finding ministry opportunities just by sitting there, because my new best friends are also needy men and women looking for hope in this world.

A few weeks ago, unrelated to the current lung adventure, I was in the waiting room of a breast cancer center in Oakland while my second mammogram that week was being processed. A few of us ladies were in our fluffy white spa robes waiting our turn, when one of the women turned to me and said, “I think I’ve met you before.” I didn’t recognize her, but when she started telling her story, I remembered where our paths had crossed. We had the most amazing conversation in which the anxieties of positive mammography and past near-misses were shared, and I realized God had put me there specifically to minister to this woman. What more needs to be said? My follow-up mammogram came back perfectly clear; was that second trip to Oakland a waste of valuable time? No way! On God’s assignment I was right where he wanted me to be and I did some good, white robe and all.

Whatever skills we have developed as ministers of the gospel, whatever spirit and its fruit has grown in our hearts, whatever experience has pierced our soul or lifted our countenance . . . they are all “transferable assets” in God’s marvelous economy. For the time being, my office is my recliner; my mission field comprises the various rooms where I am getting stuck, imaged, instructed, or medicated; but my calling is God’s assignment, which he can redirect at any moment. So here is where I bring in my theme chapter for the week, Romans 8, starting at verse 28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

Predestined, called, justified, and glorified . . . all under the umbrella of God’s purposes. So the great lung adventure is not a detour, it is taking me right into the middle of God’s claim and call on my life. I rejoice in that and trust that my readers, too, will discover where God has assigned them to be his representative.

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8 Responses to “On Assignment: A New Perspective on “Call””

  1. glenalyn Says:

    Hi Mary–I’m Tim Hunt’s daughter, Glenalyn. My dad sent me your blog and I subscribed. Good stuff. You are encouraging me so much (and I am all the way in the Philippines!). Thank you for your honesty and good thoughts. Praying for you in this season–you are truly blooming where you’re planted!

  2. emd5542 Says:

    Good morning, Mary. Our Sovereign and Suffering Triune God continues to amaze us through your testimony and witness. As you continue in this new call I’m looking forward all the more to hanging with you. Praying, Eleanor

  3. Viola Larson Says:

    Mary, it is amazing how as you enter in to this hard time in your life (ministry) you are pulling us all in, in a way that helps us walk more fully into the Lord’s calling in our own lives. Thank you, your faith is a blessing.

    • Donna Schumacher Says:

      Amen!!! As Paul wrote timeless words to the followers of our Lord and Savior, from prison, certainly not a place that he had hoped to ministering to those who needed a word from the Lord. So God is using you to encourage us all. Praying for incredible opportunities for you to share the Good News of the Gospel.
      Love and prayers!!!!!

  4. L. Lee Says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey.
    This morning in a bible study on Hebrew 8 I reviewed the covenants in the Old Testament. The covenant (Gen. 9:11) with Abraham stood out because God requires him to get up and to move to a new place……then God promises to bless him and to make him a blessing. God is moving you to a new place and new places….and I pray you will be blessed, healed, and be a blessing.

  5. Connie Laffin Says:

    “Trust and obey for there is no other way tone happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey”

  6. Debbie Berkley Says:

    Mary, I wish you didn’t have cancer; but as long as you have it, I’m really excited to read what you have to say about it. I love everything I’ve read from you so far. Blessings on you.

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