Our Unique Call
So many terrible things happen every day that we start wondering whether the few things we do ourselves make any senseâ€¦Here the word â€ścallâ€ť becomes important. We are not called to save the world, solve all problems and help all people. But each of us has our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world (Henry Nouwen, Bread For the Journey).
I have known for a long time that I cannot solve all of the worldâ€™s problems. Whenever I have tried I have ended up being discouraged, overwhelmed and cynical.
When I was younger I had a more positive perspective about the worldâ€™s problems. Why I had a whole life-time ahead of me to help make the world a better place. Surely in all that time my efforts would help eliminate many of the terrible things that happen in our world. Now, at the other end of life, I can see that while I may have had a part in making the world a little better place, it seems that terrible things still keep happening every day in a lot of places.
Perhaps I first became aware of the limitations of my influence in the mid-1970s while on a mission assignment in Bolivia. Among other duties assigned to me was that of being an ambulance driver. Sometimes things just piled up to the point where I became completely exhausted. I remember heading out with the ambulance on one occasion being so tired that I could not keep my focus on the road ahead of me. I stopped beside the road for a few minutes of rest to gather energy for the rest of the journey.
I complained to God that there were so many needs all around me and that my efforts seemed to be making little difference. Poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, alcoholism, sickness and injustice around every corner all seemed to flourish in spite of my best efforts. In the quietness of that exhausted moment I thought I heard God telling me that it was not my duty to save the world, but to be faithful to what I had been called to do. That new perspective gave me renewed energy to carry on with the work I was called to do and not worry about the fact that I was not able to change the world. It also helped me resist taking on assignments that were too much for me to handle.
Nevertheless, it seems the messiah complex has dogged me throughout life. Surely, if I try just a little harder my work will be more fruitful and the world around me will change for the better. And sometimes I thought it was working. At least I could see positive changes here and there. Whenever I had taught a class at college, or preached a sermon somewhere that seemed to connect well, I was motivated to try even harder, or at least do as well next time around. On a number of occasions I bumped up against my limitations but I tried to ignore this fact and pressed on. After all, I was active in kingdom work and surely I would have the strength to keep going.
Things did not really improve on this front when I became a conference minister and editor for the Evangelical Mennonite Missions Conference. Opportunities were limitless, as were the needs I identified all around me. I put my shoulder to the wheel and sure enough, I thought I saw some positive changes as a result. But after a few years I began to sense that my gas tank was nearly empty and that perhaps I should cut back on my involvements. My body kept giving me warnings which I tried to ignore. Eventually, however, my body gave me a knock-out punch and I entered into the abyss of burn out. Now the terrible things I had been fighting against came back to haunt me as I left my work and began the long and difficult journey fighting the demons of depression, discouragement and a sense of uselessness.
To make a long story short, since I was forced to limit my interaction with larger groups of people, I gradually picked up my writing vocation again. At an earlier time I had written the book, â€śSearch for Renewal: The Story of the Rudnerweider/EMMCâ€ť during which time I had honed some of my writing skills with the help of gifted editors. I had also done some other smaller writing projects. So now I began to see my calling mostly as a writer. I began publishing essays regularly, posting them on my own website. And sure enough, after a few years I found I was overdoing it again and had to cut back.
As energies began to return once again, I became one of the founding members of a local community organization, â€śThe South Eastman Transition Initiativeâ€ť and began writing for its regular column in the local paper, The Carillon. I also found myself becoming more active in addressing local and global concerns in letters to the editor of that paper.
Now, once again, my limitations have been redefined as I am in the process of dealing with a heart issue which hopefully can be resolved soon. So I have pulled back from the Steering Committee of the Transition Initiative. But I keep writing as I am able.
Just last night I had a call from a prominent citizen of our community who encouraged me to keep writing because, as he saw it, I had a wider audience than I might think. But then I start thinking whether my writing will really make any difference in the world. Once more I am reminded that my job is not to ensure that I make a major difference in the world, but that I am faithful to what I am called. And right now my call and vocation, as I see it, is to keep writing and to leave the results to God.