“In all truth I tell you when you were young you put on your belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands and somebody else will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go.” (John 21:18)
Watching my husband prepare to lead a Young Vocations Conference the other morning made me think about my journey toward ordination. My journey can only be described as an adventure. It’s had its ups, it’s had its downs (and believe me, the majority of this adventure was downs!) I have seen great blessing and great joy, but I have also known great struggle. Jesus’ words to Peter (after he has asked him if he loves him, and commissioned him to be a shepherd of his people) speak something of my journey toward ordination. It speaks themes of obedience, of sacrifice, of an openness to God’s leading. All of which are required of you when discerning your vocation.
A really significant step for me on my journey toward ordination came at the end of my time at University. Like any 21-year-old, drawing toward the end of their formal education I was anxious; anxious about what lay ahead, anxious about whether I would find employment, anxious to ‘find’ my calling. And I found myself at a crossroads. One way was safe, the other was costly… For those who know me, you’ll know that I like things that feel safe, things that are familiar, things that are comfortable. And so I took the road that was safe. I so desperately wanted to stay in Chester (or the North-West at the very least!) and so I remember searching for jobs, any jobs in that area! I went through a season of struggle, where applications were either rejected or completed ignored, or where if I got an interview, that was as far as it got. But then came a post which really suited me, but which was over 200 miles away! I wrestled. I wrestled with myself. I wrestled with my friends. I wrestled with God. How could I have found my dream job, but it be 200 miles away?
Long story short… I applied for the job. But I didn’t initially get it. Case closed I thought. Clearly that’s not what I’m meant to be doing, or where I’m meant to be. But nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. The person they had appointed pulled out, and so the job was offered to me. A month after hearing it was a ‘no’, a month of accepting that it wasn’t right, a month of continuing to search for jobs, I was faced with a new question. A new challenge. A new opportunity.
Jesus’ words to Peter couldn’t resonate more with my experience. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave behind all that was safe, all that was familiar, all that was comfortable. I didn’t want to take the risk of taking the costly path. And yet, something inside of me said ‘go’. Something inside of me said ‘say yes’. I remember walking around the walls in Chester (a walk I would often do to get away from it all, to create some space to walk and talk with God) and hearing the story of Jonah. God sent Jonah to Tarshish, and instead of following the call of God, a call which was costly and sacrificial, Jonah played it safe, and ran away from God. I knew straight away… I was being like Jonah (this revealing of God was so uncommon to my experience that I knew it was significant!) God was asking me
to follow him completely. He was asking me to be obedient, to sacrifice that which was comfortable and familiar and follow him down a new road.
And that afternoon, I surrendered myself to God once again. Sat here reflecting on that experience, I am reminded of Susan’s words in ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’:
“Is he safe?”
“Safe” said Mr Beaver… “Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he is good!”
Though moving to London wasn’t the ‘safest’ option. Though moving to London wasn’t the ‘easiest’ option. Moving to London was the best option. It provided me with experiences and opportunities I wouldn’t have had elsewhere, let alone in Chester, had I stayed. And Jesus’ words to Peter, here in John’s Gospel remind us of that.
Henri Nouwen says: “‘When you were young you were dependent and could not go where you wanted, but when you grow old you will be able to make your own decisions, go your own way, and control your own destiny.’ But Jesus has a different vision of maturity: it is the ability and willingness to be led where you would rather not go. Immediately after Peter has been commissioned to be a leader of his sheep, Jesus confronts him with the hard truth that the servant-leader is the leader who is being led to unknown, undesirable, and painful places.”
That’s what it means to truly follow Jesus. And though it isn’t easy, and though at times it doesn’t feel safe, it is definitely worth it!