Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Called to Exile

"Calling" is a tricky word. "I've found my calling," people say. "I was called to go to ___." "I'm trying to find my calling." Calling, in our culture, is used most often as a noun, a destination. It arouses the notion that by some mix of skill and circumstance and effort and success and a dash of mystery and aligning stars, we find a vocational, relational, geographical resting place that feels more like home than anything else we've found. Calling feels like a new outfit that fits just right and gives you that confident bounce in your step.

What I've noticed, is that this glorious notion of calling can actually be quite debilitating, paralyzing. What if it doesn't all happen so neatly? What if it isn't obvious to what or where you're called? What if you spend years, decades, searching for your calling? What if your interests and your gifts don't match up? What if life is just hard, and "calling" is a privilege that comes at the expense of survival? And how can you ever be really sure you've found it?

I don't mean to sound cynical, and I do believe that the God who knows every hair on our head makes unique people for unique purposes, and that it is incredibly energizing to find that one job, person, place, that seems to perfectly connect with your own personhood. Calling, though, was never meant to be so finite, so specific as to mean a job or person or place. Calling was always meant to be a verb.

"But the Lord God called to the man and said, "Where are you?"" Gen 3:9

We were called, from the beginning, to return to God. To look for him in both gardens and concrete jungles. To let him find us, naked and ashamed and broken, and to let him re-set our paths. What if to find our calling meant to find a gracious God, looking for us between trees and along garden paths, longing to redirect our steps towards a journey of grace, mercy, freedom, life? What if calling actually means listening for the whispers and shouts of "Where are you?" as we move through life, and to respond with, "Here I am." (Gen 22:11, Gen 46:2, Ex 3:4, 1 Sam 3:4, Is 6:8, Acts 9:10)

"Where are you," God calls.
"Here I am," we say.

With that, God becomes our sherpa, travel companion, path straightener, brush clearer, guide. He sends, leads, and sometimes exiles. He calls us, not to a job or city, but to find him.

I'm moving soon, and that brings up all kinds of questions of calling and notions of being sent and lead and, yes, even exiled. Because, if I'm honest, going to Florida feels more like exile. Leaving family, friends, faith communities, cities I know and love, job offers full of vision and mission I believe in, and life rhythms that are comfortable. "Here I am," but do you have to send me to Florida?

I've read and re-read passages about God's people being lead through deserts and wilderness, with the great promise of a flourishing land of milk and honey. I've longed to feel apart of that journey, to feel purposefully lead with vision for a new home.

I'm tempted to linger and wallow in those passages that talk of the great places God promises to bring his people and the ways he'll provide for them there. I long for this move, new job, new life, to feel a part of God's great plan and vision in a way that it just doesn't (even if I know- head knowledge- it is).

But those promised land and beautiful Jerusalem passages end, and like any good story the plot twists. How easily the land of milk and honey becomes wilderness and desert. How far God's beautiful plan for the world was from the cities and temples his people built in the promised land. It was never about the land, was it? It was about learning to live as a "called people." It was their called-ness to be with God, to be sought after and to seek, that made their land and life good. God called his people to the promised land to dwell with him, but the promised land became desolation as his people started to dwell alone.

Exile results. God calls his people to exile. They leave all they know- their culture and familiar surroundings. Just as he lead them to the promised land, he lead them into exile. God wasn't banishing them, he was saying to them in a new way, "Where are you?" The capture of God's people, their exile to Babylon aren't happy passages to read. The joy of journeying onward towards the promised land and basking in the bounty of God's provision seems miles away. Strikingly, though, his instructions to his people in exile aren't any different than those he gave them in the promised land. "Live, love, flourish, seek and find me" God tells them. Even exile can become a place of flourishing if life is lived with God.

God always calls his people to himself. Exile and wilderness aren't only, or even primarily, about location and lack of comfort, they are where people have forgotten to seek God, where they've forgotten their calling. The promised land and flourishing cities, similarly, aren't just prime real estate filled with great jobs, they exist anywhere God's people remember their calling- that they are called to be with God.

"Where are you," God asks.
"Here I am" I say.
"Me, too," God answers. "Me, too"