Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.
In Anne Tyler’s novel Saint Maybe, a young man named Ian struggles with guilt for something he said that he believes caused his brother to commit suicide. One day he stumbles into a storefront aptly named The Church of the Second Chance. The minister speaks to him about forgiveness and restitution. Ian decides to drop out of college, take a job as a carpenter, and help his parents raise his brother’s children. He joins the church and finds solace among its community of misfits.
But as the months and years go by, Ian continues to struggle. One day he tells his minister that he wants to go back to college and get on with his life. The minister responds quietly, “This is your life, Ian.”
The minister’s words hit Ian hard at first, but he takes them to heart and begins to embrace the life he did not choose. They hit me hard as well when I first read them. At the time I was struggling with how frustratingly slow my life felt when I wanted things to happen quickly. I heard God speaking through the minister’s words, asking me to accept my life as it was and trust the horizons beyond my sight.
For most of us, acceptance of what we did not choose comes gradually, through hard work and pure grace. In acceptance we let go of magical thinking, that we’ll wake up one morning in the life we want as opposed to the life we have.
Because God also calls us to change, and to work for change, acceptance has the suspicious ring of passivity to it. But acceptance is not the same as resignation or learned helplessness. Paradoxically, we can only change what we first accept. And because we never know where our lives fall in the larger continuum of change, we can’t judge our faithfulness based on results.
This is your life.
In 587 BCE, the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the Israelites who had been taken into exile in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem. Other prophets were assuring them that their time of banishment would be brief. Jeremiah warned the Israelites not to be deceived by false dreams. Instead, he encouraged them to make their home in exile.
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage . . . Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Exile was now their life, not the one they wanted, but the life they had. Yet Jeremiah also held before them God’s vision for their future: “Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” That is what a grounded faith looks life–accepting our lives as they are while placing our hope in God.
This is your life.
During these long months of pandemic and of collective reckoning, I confess that whenever I’ve tried to imagine the future, I find myself slipping into worry and deep sadness. In prayer, what I’ve heard is the call to accept my life now and tend to the work at hand, which is what I’ve done.
But as we’ve been celebrating the life of Congressman John Lewis, I’ve been inspired by his example. He unflinchingly faced the harsh realities of racism. Yet he lived each day according to his true identity as a beloved child and God’s vision of beloved community. Inspired by Lewis’ example, I’m praying now for that same faith, grounded in acceptance yet never losing hope.
In Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change, Lewis writes:
There is one question people ask me more than any other: How did you do it? How did you hold to nonviolence when a pounding wall of vicious hate was pushing through you like waves of fire? How is it possible to be cracked on the head with a nightstick. . .and not raise your hand one time in self-defense? How could you bear the clear hypocrisy of being arrested on trumped-up charges and taken to jail for disturbing the peace when you were the one who was attacked and abused? How could you survive the threats, the bombings, and murders of a lineage of people without holding any bitterness or anger?
The answer is simple. Faith. Faith has the power to deliver us all, even from the greatest harm. . . .Faith is being so sure of what the Spirit has whispered in your heart that your belief in its eventuality is unshakable. Nothing can make you doubt that what you have heard will become a reality. Even if you do not live to see it come to pass, you know without one doubt that it will be. That is faith.
This is your life. This is your time. This is your home, not forever, but for now. As you live, may God sustain your faith in what the Spirit has whispered in your heart. By grace and with courage, may you continue on, as Lewis did, across the bridge that unites your life as it is to the vision of hope God has entrusted to you.