“I am only…”

Jeremiah 1: 4-8

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

I admit to being distracted in church. I, like the teenagers, am apt to look at my iPhone or my calendar and plan what else needs to be done that day rather than pay close attention to the sermon. Still, I get myself to church because I’m hoping to be inspired in some way that will help me get through whatever the present challenge is and/or the next week.

This Sunday was not much different. The scripture (written above) was read, but then I stopped paying close attention. I perked up when I heard our preacher say we shouldn’t be limited by “I am only…” – that God has bigger plans for us if we let ourselves listen for the “call.”

I thought about my two teens at home who profess not to believe in God. How was this helpful to them? Insert the word “God” into the conversation and they tune out. This tuning out is not unfamiliar to me. I have tuned out A LOT in my lifetime. And John was tuned out when I met him. But his resistance to God-talk had more to do with bad experiences in religious contexts before he knew me. My church – the church of my family of origin and the people who attended it – appealed to him once he let down his guard and paid attention.

I thought: “There must be some way to communicate the message that putting limits on ourselves only hurts us without using the language that causes my kids to tune out.” I recalled that Oprah had talked about listening to a “little voice” inside us, a kind of moral compass that lets us know when there is danger or what the right thing to do is. Frankly, everyone has a “god” of some sort that motivates him/her. For some, it is the making of money. For others, it is fame or security or family, etc. K.J. currently believes Evolution is the ultimate creator of all things. I’ve tried to spin that out for him – suggesting conclusions from that assumption that he might not like. But he will have to come to his own conclusions. I don’t mind that he has taken a position contrary to mine. My old theology school professor used to say that you couldn’t have conversation or be moved and changed unless you first declare where you currently stand.

Still, I was wondering how to relate what for me is a message about God holding us up and pushing us forward toward a greater purpose without using the alienating God-talk. Just then, I was pulled out of my reverie by the preacher’s story:

Two railroad workers were slinging sledgehammers in the railroad yard when another man comes along and calls out to one of the workers. The worker who had been called goes off with the man who called him for a few minutes and then returns to work. His coworker asks: “Who was that?” The returning worker replies: “We both started working in this very same railroad yard 25 years ago. He is now the President of the Railroad.” The coworker asks: “If you both started working here 25 years ago, why is HE the president and YOU are not?” The worker replies: “25 years ago, I came here to work for $1.25/hour. He came to work for the Railroad.”

Now that was a story I could tell to my teens. The Railroad wasn’t God, but it intimated that having bigger dreams and goals might change the way you conducted your everyday life. If K.J. could get past “I am only… lazy and have ADD,” would he work harder in school? If Skye could get past “I am only… interested in a vibrant social life,” would she recognize her other amazing talents and skills? If Emily could get past “I am only… a student with learning disabilities,” would she tackle her college work with the confidence that she is capable? If Journey could get past “I am only… a poor reader who can’t keep up with the assignments,” would she be willing to use alternative means of learning written material? If Becton could get past “I am only… a dancer who is ostracized by my peers,” would he be more willing to stand up to bullying in positive ways?

I think about my journey into adoption. I went into adoption with the goal: “I am only… trying to become a parent.” But, thanks to open adoption, I was immediately exposed to the first parents who made the achievement of my goal possible. I suppose I could have taken my child and turned away. But God held me up and pushed me forward. I had more to learn about families and about each member of the adoption triad. And I couldn’t sit on my knowledge. I had to teach others and to keep learning. I had to try to help fix the problems in adoption-related relationships and in the system of adoption itself. It was and is exhausting at times, but it’s my “calling.” “I am only one, limited person” is not an excuse that God – as I understand Her – will allow me to use.

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