Not Fade Away

Teaching in a traditional boarding school on the East Coast, I was working overtime to adapt – but unsuccessfully. It was no one’s fault. It was simply not the right place for me. So, at 38 I realized I was a misfit in my work.

A book by Ralph Mattson and Art Miller, “Finding a Job You Can Love,” changed my life by showing me God has designed us for accomplishing particular kinds of work. We can try to shoehorn ourselves into a job but there is very little satisfaction over time. What I needed was to find work for which I was suited.

I became an evangelist for the good news about “giftedness” and have spent much of the last 40 years helping people make the same journey. I still believe it is true that there is nothing more satisfying than finding the work for which you feel you have been created. It’s then that we easily sense we are in the will of God for our lives.

However, there are exceptions and sometimes people are called by God to a work that is not a fit. It’s not punishment or intended to build character. It is not a test. It is being chosen to fulfill a purpose we cannot always understand.

Think about Peter, the fisherman, charged by Jesus to “feed my lambs.” Instead of using the final miraculous catch of fish as a taste of what Peter would be doing for his life’s work, Jesus tells the fisherman to become a shepherd.

Fishermen and shepherds have nothing in common. Imagine Elon Musk being told he would now head Human Resources at Tesla or Jeff Bezos being moved to the position of corporate chaplain at Amazon. What Jesus tells Peter to do is this pronounced and jarring for his disposition.

Fishing is an exciting sport you do when and where you choose on your own schedule. Shepherding is definitely not. It is tedious work. Shepherds live with sheep. They sleep with and smell like them.

Catching is not the same as caring. You never see a lamb mounted over the fireplace where a prize-winning blue marlin should be. No one takes a vacation to go shepherding.

In other words, Jesus takes all of Peter’s instincts and skills and, instead of anointing a natural talent, he assigns Peter a role that could not have been more unnatural. He calls Peter to give up what he would have preferred.

An Assignment

Many of you have wrestled with similar assignments – being faithful in vocations for which you had little affinity but knew it was important to stay. Perhaps you have accepted the responsibility of taking care of someone else – a parent, a child or a spouse. Over the years I have met men and women who set aside their own ambitions to guide a ministry or business through turmoil and change. It’s not volunteering.  It’s an assignment.

Yes, there are times we should find work for which we are better suited but there are also times when our assignments may require us to sacrifice our preferences.

While the world rewards trophy catches and personal accomplishments, these shepherds have chosen to tend invisibly. They have not merely resigned themselves or served out of a grudging sense of duty but have willingly and sacrificially aligned themselves with the interests of others. They, like Peter, have followed out of love for Jesus and not insisted on their own dreams, independence and work more fitting to their design.

I do not know why Jesus picked Peter to feed lambs instead of fish for men. I do not know why God places some people in difficult spots for years at a stretch instead of their being in work that is satisfying and natural to them. I do not know why He does not always use our affinities and skills in ways that make sense to us. However, I do know this. At the end of Peter’s life he does not reminisce about fishing. He says nothing about what he could have been or what he would have done had he chosen his own way to serve. Instead, he writes about what he has come to know so well – our being shepherds of God’s flock in our care, “watching over them – not because you must but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.” He is no longer the impetuous fisherman but the patient shepherd Jesus assigned him to be. No regrets. No remorse.

Was his life different from what he might have planned? More than likely. Do I understand why God would ask someone as unlikely as Peter to be a shepherd? No, but I do believe it turned out the way Jesus intended. Peter laid down his life, his plans and affinities for his friends and, perhaps, that is the Rock that is the foundation of the Church. That is Peter’s glory that will not erode or fade away.

Art by John Dunkley

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