When the Familiar Becomes Strange, Part 3: Work

Last week in the early evening I scrubbed at the hood of my car with one of those squeegees on a plastic stick – unsuccessfully purging dozens of dirty white deposits of bird feces that exploded on the black paint. The fecal bombs dropped from the leafy tree that looms above our parking space. My rhythm was feverish, frustrated. I gritted my teeth with every swoosh of the spongy tip.

I stopped at the gas station after leaving the basketball gym I baby-sit three nights a week – where the pastoral responsibility of preventing cussing, dunking, and sagging is growing increasingly complex. My emotional fatigue was both transferred and intensified by the resilience of that bird crap. Underneath the fluorescent glow of the Exxon lights, I struggled, as I have with more frequency recently, to understand what I’m doing.

I spend two other days of the week teaching college freshman how to interpret Scripture. Parables, parts of speech, historical context, literary genres, observations, blank stares. Recently I’ve come to the conclusion that teaching at this level, in this way, is akin to an explicit affair. Both parties show up as arranged, do the deed, and then head their separate directions. Only what has taken place, regardless of the awareness of either party, is the vulnerable sharing of oneself with the other. And as in many casual encounters of this kind, the self-giving is unequally distributed. One party inevitably is more give, and the other more take. I often walk away from class feeling unfulfilled and dissatisfied.

Certainty has not accompanied any decision I (we) have made over the past four years – although I’ve pretended to have it or fretted over lacking it. I do not know what I’m doing or where I’m going. I am joining a generation that is systemically under-tooled for following God in thickness of life. We have been led along like hungry consumers – devouring our way from one experience to another – trained to avoid the tension that emerges when our appetites are no longer fed by the next big thing. Our confusion leads to frantic searching for something else – hyperventilation of the soul, which manifests itself in hurried, destructive habits. But God is not over there. Our attempts to recapitulate the allusion of certainty or safety miss God here.

So I have a choice to live out of my frustration, confusion, and fear through desperate attempts at control, or to trust in the midst of my frustration, confusion, and fear through surrender. Some days I do the former, and other days, by God’s grace, I trust.

As I navigate my way through this fog, I am reminded how many devices I have for short-circuiting God’s work in my life.  There is a habit of searching for the escape hatch when the pressure increases – rather than watching, waiting, hoping. Like the bewildered disciples post-resurrection, in the midst of my confusion I find myself climbing back in the boat and pushing out to sea – retreating to safe habits. But there are no fish this day. Although my actions are familiar, my striving is frustratingly fruitless. Empty nets. Yet, almost unrecognizable, Jesus waits for me at the shore – a fire, a meal. Communion.

I recently realized that even though the disciples pulled in a bountiful load at Jesus’ direction, Jesus already had fish there to eat. Enough.

Out of my emptiness I abide.

“Do you love me? Follow me.”

Calling grows from abiding.