Thursday, March 15, 2012

“But Lord, Why Me?”


“God Appears to Moses in Burning Bush,” St. Isaacs Cathedral, St. Petersburg, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever felt called or inspired to do something, but worried that you were not quite up to the job?  If so, this post is for you.

1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7 The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
I undertook to write in this blog each day of Lent as a discipline.  Discipline is a legitimate focus of Lent, I think, but then another issue becomes, “how can you justify doing your Lenten thing in a public way? Isn’t a spiritual discipline supposed to be private?  If done in a public  way, doesn’t that very fact undermine the private, penitent purpose of Lent?”   Well, blogging is the discipline, and blogs by definition are public.  I think there is a value in sharing, collective thought and dialogue of blogs.  I read them and respond to them, and I appreciate when others engage in the same dialogue with me.  It’s a shared journey.  I think I get a pass on that objection to blogging for Lent. 

But then, even after these objections have been dispensed with, there’s an additional one.  I even wrote a post on it.  Namely, so often, people want to talk without listening to each other.  Isn’t a blog just a one sided exercise in talking?  And, if it is, “who am I to claim any expertise in anything, to write on these topics?”  In other words, why should I feel entitled to write about any of these topics, at all?  After all, I am a nobody.  (Case in point: I do not read Greek or Latin, I have not studied theology, I am not an environmental scientist, etc.)   

I have friends who are much more put together than I am.  They always get everything right.  They study harder.  They make better grades in school.    Their science projects always work right.  And, jealous as I might be, I have to admit that, objectively speaking, they have performed better than I have.  Unlike me, they’ve painstakingly planned and researched every aspect of the project, and it shows in the quality of their work.   I , on the other hand, will never measure up.  I was the kid who would get to step 23 of a chemistry experiment and put in one drop too many of reagent, and the whole project would fail and I’d have to start over from the beginning again.  And again. 

I don’t disagree with the need to get it right.  That’s really important.  It’s important to study and plan and be painstaking in our implementation, and to get it right.  But equally important, is to take the first step, to undertake to do anything in the first place. 
I am sitting in a taxi in Guangzhou, China. I don’t read or speak Chinese. I don’t know my way around this city that’s roughly the size of New York City. I am alone. I can’t read the street signs. In my hand, I have a business card that has the name and address of my destination written in Chinese. I have practiced over and over how to say that name and location in Chinese, but it still feels awkward on my tongue. When I speak Chinese, this alien language, the shape of my mouth to make these odd sounds feels as natural and pleasant as eating toothpaste.  The sounds flow as smoothly from my mouth as if I were chewing and spitting out nails.
Adding insult to injury, even when I am brave enough to try and speak Chinese, people often can’t understand what I am saying because of my heavy American accent. When they respond to me in Chinese, I get even more confused, because I can’t understand anything in their reply. My Chinese teacher has taught me to say, “Man man lai, wo ting bu dong, qing shuo yi’dian man dian’er,” which translates, “Please slow down, I don’t understand, please repeat one more time slowly,” but the speaker usually doesn’t understand it when I say that, either. I know that the only way I can get more fluent is to speak more and practice.
So, here’s my choice in that cab: I can either speak Chinese, taking a chance that the cabbie will understand what I am saying and thus give me some practice and feedback in the real world. Or I can just silently hand him the business card with the address on it. Which shall I do? I face a choice. The hard way, or the easy way? To speak, or not to speak? Pausing a moment, I gather my courage, suck in a deep breath, and tell the cabbie, in my best Chinese, articulating every front asperative and using each of the four singing tones exactly right, “Wo yao qu Bai tian uhr bing guan.” He shakes his head side to side, turns to me, sighs, and replies,
“I don’t speak English.”
Sometimes I feel like an utter fool.

When we feel called to take some action in life, sometimes we may be tempted to ask, like Moses did, “Why me?” 

Perhaps, sometimes, the better question is, “Why NOT me?” 

Standing in front of the burning bush, Moses came up with so many excuses!  God plainly says, “Go.”  Then, what does Moses answer?      
[Exodus Ch. 3]   11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” [Then God replied and] . . .  13  Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”  [Then God replied and] . . .  (Exodus Ch. 4)  1 Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”  [Then God replied and] 10 Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” [Then God replied and] 13 Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”
Excuses, excuses!  “I am a nobody,” he says.  “I don’t have what it takes.”

And that is the point.  Each of us is a nobody, until and unless we decide that we can be somebody. 

None of us has what it takes, to start with.  We must each take the first step.  Then, as we exercise our calling, we develop the skill in the same way that a muscle is developed through exercise. 

Do you have a calling?  What is on your heart?  What is your passion? 
It’s not my place to know what is right for you.  One size definitely does not fit all.  There is also the factor of talent.  I will never be a rocket scientist, because I don’t have the training or talent for it.  But let’s talk about talent for a moment.  Moses was a stutterer!  God chose a man who couldn’t TALK to go speak eloquently to Pharaoh and to lead an entire people out of bondage and through the desert.  Yes, talent counts for a lot, but it ain’t everything.  What really counts, is our sense of calling and whether we respond to it. 

My mother once told me of visiting a beautifully decorated and appointed home, where a gracious host made her feel superbly welcome.  Every detail had been attended to, making everything perfect for her visit.  During the visit, the hostess told my Mom how much she enjoyed creating a beautiful atmosphere for her guests and also for her family to live in.   I love a beautifully appointed home.  I appreciate the time, talent and effort it makes to create such a home.  That is not neither my talent nor my passion.  Simply put, it’s not my calling.  But it may be yours.  Or something else may be yours.  Seek whatever it is that is authentically your passion.  Then …

Speak it! Do it! Pursue it!  

Have courage! 

To be told by a taxi driver that he doesn’t speak English, after you’ve tried to say a sentence in Chinese, is mortifying.  But I did open my mouth a second time, and a third.  And eventually, I was able to say the sentence so that anyone would understand it.  

Back to the context of how could I have the nerve to even write this blog, and for Lent, no less?  For me, personally, the discipline is not actually blogging.  Rather, the discipline is to muster the courage, every day, to do that which I’m called to do.  Whether I fail or not is less relevant than whether I was willing to try in the first place. 

Strangely, it wasn’t just Chinese that I was practicing in that taxi.  It was also courage.  There are so many times in life when I don’t know what I am doing.  But, I do my best to plan and prepare and know what to expect, and then do it anyway.   My view is that, as imperfect as I am, I can still do something, and something is better than nothing.    But it’s also more than that.  If each of us weaves our part of the fabric, we all live in better community.  Collectively, all of our work is important. 

As for responding to your own calling, when you are tempted to ask "Why me?" or "Can God send someone else?"  I reply with three words: "Why not you?"

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