"How does God see you?" Marion asked me.
Her question fell into the wrung-out quiet that wrapped us both in her office. It was the quiet that falls after someone sobs for 15 minutes without pause while sharing her story in fits and gulps. I looked at her through the haze of contact lenses that now needed a good clean.
"How does God see me? " I echoed, a tad dully.
Her question had caught me by surprise. After all, I'd just spent 15 minutes pouring out my anger (I'm tired of having to fight for the right to be administrative pastor), my sadness (I just want my job to be home), my longing. (Could this job not have been the place where I and my calling fit, where I could feel deep peace and a sense of rightness deep in my bones?)
"How does God see you?" she repeated.
I didn't know how God saw me. Was that why I'd finally ended up here, washed up on a counselor's couch, emotions fried, heart hollowed out, body caved in like a bomb had gone off inside my rib cavity? I mumbled something about being tired of always having to fight for the right to do my high-level roles with all the gifts and talents I'd been given. I could not have survived 17 years in the high-stakes world of Canadian ad agencies and not used all the leadership, administrative and, yes, pastoral gifts God had given me. I'd been up for that and been good at it, if the hand-written letters and bonuses direct from the agency's president were to be believed. Pastoral work at my downtown Toronto church had demanded all those leadership, administrative, and pastoral gifts and more: an irrational love for unreasonable people, no matter what. I'd been up for that too.
But now…now I was just tired, and wondering what in Sam Hill I was doing, playing at administrative pastor, just like I'd played at ad agency account director. I was tired of wondering why I could do so much—lead high-level brainstorming meetings, cast vision, preach sermons, write strategies, lead church-based cell groups, create million-dollar business plans that nailed down every detail to the nth degree, run meetings like a seasoned general, sing, mentor a staff, lead worship, write and deliver reports in glossy boardrooms to big-name marketers, play piano, teach, pray with discernment—and still feel like what I'd done meant nothing because, in my gut, I didn't belong anywhere.
I thought I knew who I was, what I'd been put on earth to do, and how to go about doing it. Why, then, did I need to know who God saw when he looked at me? Why did it matter? I dodged the question for at least a month. Then one day I took a deep breath and did what Marion had suggested: I sat on a park bench (figuratively), asked God the question, and began listening to his answers. I've sat on a lot of park benches since and the experience is never easy, perhaps because there's enough arrogance in my sinful heart to make me want to do anything else but sit and listen to God tell me how he feels about me. But choosing to sit and listen has been one of the best leadership decisions I've ever made.
Just the Sheep of His Hand
First of all, it's enlarged my understanding of calling. Tom Vicks, writing on Steve James' blog, says it best: "Jesus died on a tree for me. With blood paid for my life, maybe Jesus would like me to use talents he wrote out for me before the beginning of time." Over the years, I've learned that who God says I am and what he wants for me give purpose and meaning and protect me from sowing seed (talents and gifts) in a scattered way that won't produce blessing. To arrive there, though, I've needed to own all those gifts and talents. I've had to lay down what I thought God, my parents, and my husband expected of me. I've had to answer Jesus' question: "What do you want…?" (John 1:38) with equal directness and sincerity.
Second, knowing how God sees me has helped me make peace with the multiplicity of gifts I've been given. I am his workmanship, created to do good works prepared in advance for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). Moving deeper into God's purpose for me has freed me from the desperate striving of "either/or" work options—ministry or private sector, worship leader or media director, MBA or MDiv—and the panic of getting "it" wrong. His purpose for me shines broad and deep, more multi-faceted than any I could ever have dreamed up, as multi-faceted as the gifts he's given me. There is no "it" for me to get wrong, just a relationship with my Maker to pursue.
Third, when I sit still and listen, my Shepherd picks me up and, holding me close, brushes the twigs and brambles out of my curls, rubs sweet oil over my bruises and scrapes. He whispers to me then gently sets me down in a green pasture where I can enjoy the peace that comes with a focused spirit and heart. "Come let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our God and Maker," we sang in Sunday morning service during that first month of wrestling with Marion's question. "For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand/ just the sheep of his hand" (lyrics by Dave Doherty).
Only in his hand do I understand: My desperate longing for home, for the "fit" of my gifts and talents with the culture and needs of my employers, speaks to my heart's need for acceptance and finally, love. Sowing seed in faith, whatever and wherever the context, demands that I know God deeply loves me. My gifts cost, bought with a price that requires I bring to bear, without apology, all of who I am and the gifts with which I've been blessed, on the task of making visible the invisible—God's kingdom, here on earth.
Just a sheep, held in the hand of the Good Shepherd. A farmer, sowing seed with care and purpose. Gifted and called. Leaders know who and whose they are.
Renee James is the director of communications for Canadian Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec, and editor of its publication, The Link & Visitor. She is a former administrative pastor and a regular contributor to Today's Christian Woman, and she blogs at ReneeJames.org.