Two Roads - One to Emmaus and One to Damascus
This past week I had the joy of attending my second Doctor of Ministry class, Rhythms of Healthy Christian Leadership, taught by the amazing Pastor Mandy Smith and Pastor A.J. Swoboda. I am still digesting the material from this life-changing week but, as we are in the season of Lent, I wanted to talk about my own failure along the road.
In Scripture and in Church tradition there are three distinct and primary ‘calls’ in the life of the believer:
The General Call: The Call to Jesus. Some of us associate this with the conversion experience. To once be lost and now we are found.
The Effectual Call: The Call to Sanctification. That is, the call to pick up our cross daily, to lose our life in Christ in order that we might truly live. The call to transform the way we live our lives as a result of the transformation taking place inside of us.
The Vocational Call: The call that helps us see and understand what our contribution to the world is. The Latin for calling, vocare, is understood by the Church as the thing God has given you, spoken to you, for you to contribute to the world.
The challenge is, we’ve often only trained young people to look for our calling at “Damascus Road” events. In the Bible we have Moses who is given a burning bush, Isaiah is met in the temple, and Saul-who-becomes-Paul on the Road to Damascus. Let’s refer to this as “Damascus Road.” We even speak about Mother Theresa, who had a Damascus Road experience when she was on a train at 16 years old. We’ve attempted to ensure every believer has some sort of moment, an experience, where they are met in glory, and miraculously just know with full certainty, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are “called to be a x,y,z-title.”
For a while, I believed that I was meant to give my contribution to the world in the context of working and serving in Higher Education. However, I didn’t really have certainty, it was more of a good-idea-that-bore-some-fruit. And honestly, I don’t have the words yet to speak to the shame I felt in Christian circles for not really having a Damascus Road experience for my vocational call. The only thing I know is that my contribution to the world is to prepare others to be sent. While that is a good framework, I didn’t know where I am to live out that call.
When it comes to calling, I have felt more like Peter the Fisherman who is now told to be a shepherd. I sort of imagine Peter looking at Jesus and saying, “but, Jesus, I think like, John would be better at this?” I have felt much more like the Emmaus Road travelers, who don’t quite recognize it’s Jesus who is walking with them after experiencing great disappointment. Uncertain, unaware, frustrated, and defeated, fellow Emmaus Road travelers, I am with you.
I wonder if we do young people a disservice when we make them believe that they can only hear God through Damascus Road experiences? I wonder how much confusion, frustration, burnout, and failure we’ve spurred on by anointing flashes-of-light-experiences for people who are doing a job they hate, feel like a failure in, but believe they are ‘called’?
Please don’t get me wrong here. Moses, Isaiah, and even Jesus felt resistant to their calling, but they ran the right race. I think there is supposed to be a timidity toward our calling, I’m just asking that perhaps we make space for those of us who travel toward Emmaus rather than toward Damascus. And what if we’ve hung our coat on something that is a good idea, a good intention, but just not the place we are supposed to live out our framework?
Richard Rohr speaks to this when he writes about the Hero’s Quest. We all need a Hero’s Quest, we all need to build toward something. The Hero’s Quest has a breaking point though, and it’s what we do at the breaking point that really matters. In short, the Hero’s Quest is when we spend our most early years (first 30 or so) fleshing out our framework toward something that we believe we are called to only to have a moment, or a season, or a long journey that causes us to pause and wonder if this is really what we are supposed to be doing. Some may call it the quarter-life crisis. It takes a lot of courage to step down, to step out, to enter a new trajectory. But in doing so, do we allow others to pick up the task God has asked them to do?
I have doubted and I have wondered “what will people think?”. Will they see me as a failure if I step away now? Did I simply not make it?
The answer is those questions is likely, “yes.”
I’m probably seen as a failure to some. But the beautiful thing is this, I’ve failed at building my framework toward something I now know I am not meant to do. And that, at its core, is a success.
In some ways, I have failed at becoming what I was never meant to be. And I take pride in that. And while that sounds fatalistic, this doesn’t come from a hyper-spiritualized place of being ‘out of God’s will.’ It comes from being on the Emmaus Road. I have been running from an Emmaus Road calling on my life because I believed the success I experienced were larger Damascus Road moments instead of milestone markers along the road to my Emmaus.
Christ in His kindness and mercy recently revealed to me that it was He who was walking next to me, and the success was not an affirmation of what of the context, but opening my eyes to see where my contribution to the world could really make a difference.
Are you along the Emmaus Road? Give yourself grace, the road is long, the terrain can be treacherous, but that stranger who is walking with you just might be Jesus.
There are a few books I’d like to recommend for further reading. One is by Father Richard Rohr who speaks to the Hero’s Journey concept in greater detail in Falling Upward. Secondly, I just so loved Pastor Mandy Smith’s book, The Vulnerable Pastor. If you need some courage and encouragement on this journey, please give her book a read!
And, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, feedback! Feel free to use the comment feature below!
A good friend and co-laborer in the wild world of Ministry Formation is an incredible artist. A few days after writing this post she reached out to me with some lyrics for a song she was working on that spoke deeply to my heart. I wanted to “repost” this blog but include Lizzy’s music. Take a moment. Pause. Listen. Hear.