“Are you ever going to go back to teaching?”
The question comes from a neighbor of mine as I sit on the edge of the neighborhood pool, my legs dangling in the warm water. I am here with my kids soaking up one of the last days of summer before a new school year begins.
In hearing her question, I can feel myself tensing up. Of course she doesn’t know how much I dislike when people ask me that. People always have the best of intentions when posing the question, but I feel the implication: You know, are you ever going to get back to doing something?
Because the thing is, since leaving a career in education four years ago to follow a call into music and start a ministry, I’ve wrestled with the fact that I do things, but they just aren’t visible to everyone — and sometimes the results are not even visible to me. So yeah, on most days I feel like I do nothing at all. I take a deep breath. I can remark casually about how I am still needed at home and then change the subject. Or I can tell the truth.
I opt for the truth. Most of it, anyway.
“I am a writer,” I say. Even as the words tumble out of my mouth, I want to reel them back in. I feel ridiculous saying them. I quickly clarify. “Well, a blogger, actually. I am a singer, too.”
And that sounds equally ridiculous.
Sigh. Why is my life so complicated? I remember how easy it was to tell people what I did when I was a teacher. I brought it up myself in most conversations. The teacher title felt right because I had an official badge from the county, a classroom and 120 students on my roster every year who called me “Mrs. Whitaker.”
I felt the title must be true because others said it was. They validated what I believed I should do at the time by how they treated me and what they said.
But what if God is the only One who tells you do something? What if it feels like no one sees what you do? Does it make your calling any less true?
My Ministry Journey
As a child, I had the benefit of a huge community that supported me in singing — and whatever endeavors I set out on. I always had people asking me to perform solos at church and approaching me after the service to compliment me on my voice. Similarly, when I moved into my career as a high school English teacher, I received glowing praise and reviews from my department head and administrators, so it inspired confidence in me that I was right where I needed to be.
However, although I have had prophetic words to encourage me and people who have cheered me on in my journey into ministry, in my most current stage I have not had the supports I became so accustomed to in my earlier years. God has been clear to me on what I should do with certain gifts, particularly writing, but I feel a little ashamed to tell people what I do because I no longer have a badge or a contract with a company.
I’ve felt eyebrows raise and people give me polite smiles when I tell them what God has called me to. Because so much of what I do is unseen behind a computer screen and so much of my call has unfolded in a way that is unusual or hasn’t happened yet — it makes me not really want to explain.
He’s called me to use my writing to tell how He has freed me — but that requires me to share awkward parts of my story. I want to hide sometimes. I am a people-pleaser by nature. So much of my testimony goes against the grain of what people normally reveal about themselves, I feel like I might as well wear a sign that says, “Freak.”
He’s called me to music, but He asked me to give it up for some time and walk away from the worship team I wanted to be a part of. I have no musical prospects or contacts at the moment. Like Abraham waiting on a child — I am believing God to open a door in music again. But I feel that people must look at the reality of my situation and say, “Yeah right, that’s never going to happen.”
He tells me things and has given me a prophetic gift. But I am an extremely introverted person by nature — I am terrified of approaching people I don’t know. I have terrible anxiety when I do, and yet He often asks me to say very bold statements to people. And I think, Lord, why me?
Though I don’t argue with how He has gifted me, I’ve questioned the way He’s asked me to use these gifts. And I’ve questioned how His promises in allowing me to use these gifts have played out.
In Isaiah, we see a nation, like me, that was a bit stubborn in their thinking. Anticipating that they would resist God’s methods of deliverance from Babylon by the heathen King Cyrus, Isaiah warned them with these words:
“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does the clay pot dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’ ” (Isaiah 45:9 – NLT).
Essentially, Isaiah challenged what right the nation of Israel had to question the plans of the Almighty. God, through his prophet, used some vivid imagery to remind them that they were but earthen pots in the hands of the ultimate Potter. While they might be able to contest with other people or “pots” on the same plane — who were they to question the Lord of the entire universe?
And truthfully, when we look at the Israelites’ possible arguments, they seem silly in light of the fact that God was bringing them the deliverance they wanted so badly. They seemed to forget that God had their best interests in mind — although His modes were nothing like what they expected.
The Root of My Fear in Using My Gifts
Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was another person in Scripture who struggled to accept God’s plans. She laughed in her old age when she heard that she was going to deliver a child within a year’s time (Genesis 18:10-15). And then she denied that she had laughed!
Like Israel, she found God’s methods to be different than she thought they would be. So different she found it difficult to believe He would do what He had said. But God wasn’t fooled when she tried to back-pedal and say that she hadn’t laughed. He said, “Yes, you did laugh” (v. 15). Or, in other words, “Yes, Sarah, you did doubt me.”
And so it is with me. The Lord showed me the other day why I was afraid to use my gifts. Not only do I contest the way He has chosen for me to use them — I don’t believe half the time what He has said will come true because my circumstances have been so challenging, so not conducive of the dreams He has put in my heart. Although fear is most definitely a struggle for me — the bigger struggle for me is unbelief.
I am afraid to write because I doubt He gave me the words. Did you really tell me to say that, Lord?
I am afraid to tell people my destiny in music because I doubt it will come true. Are you sure you told me this, Lord?
I am afraid to give people a prophetic word because I doubt I really heard God. Did you really speak to me, Lord?
It is not easy to tell people, like the woman at the pool, the truth when they ask what I do because my answer is an act of faith.
But what I can learn from Isaiah’s words and Sarah’s response is that not believing God is offensive to Him. He had a warning for the nation of Israel and a rebuke for Sarah over their unbelief and distrust of His methods. While I think He wants us to be honest with Him, He also wants us to trust Him.
And even though both displayed doubt in His ways — He still graciously came through for them.
The Key to Using My Gifts: Letting God Have His Way
While I want to blame other people or my circumstances and say that I would be able to have more confidence if I had the support I needed — what does it matter how many people I have rooting for me if I am convicted inside of what God has said? And what does it matter what way He accomplishes what He has said as long as it is accomplished?
A poem I never really understood in college but understand now is John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14. In it, the speaker struggles because he knows that God’s way is best, but his own human reason gets in the way. He records the struggle in these lines:
Batter my heart, three person’d God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason your viceroy [appointed ruler] in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak, or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am bethroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish thee.
The speaker concludes that he will let God “batter” him until he is God’s prisoner — in order that he can be free of himself, free to do God’s work as God intended.
Sometimes, because God’s way is so counter-intuitive — so foreign to my thinking, I think, God this cannot be the way. And because His plans require me giving up my own preconceptions, I want to fight Him even though I know He knows what He is doing.
But it is only in letting Him have His way that He can make me into what He intended me to be. It is only in laying aside my ideas of how His work should be accomplished in me that I accomplish His work at all.
For more inspiration on not being ashamed to follow your call, Pam Jenkins’ Pearls of Grace devotional provides some words from a martyred African pastor about giving up all to follow Jesus Christ where He leads.