In a recent Staff meeting, Rev. Kirsty DePree led our opening Devotionals by reading a passage of scripture in which the writer spoke of being thirsty and of seeking a quenched spirit through God (Psalm 42). Then she asked us to meditate on the questions:
“Spiritually/Emotionally, are you thirsty, satisfied, or somewhere in between? And, what are you thirsty for?”
The responses were powerful as we staff members round the table began to share our answers. I found it comforting that several voiced the same thirst (desire) that I did: We want to feel that what we do makes a difference.
In answer to the question, “Spiritually/Emotionally, are you thirsty, satisfied, or somewhere in between?,” I realized that I fall into that latter category. I really am somewhere in between. As I age (having been in full-time ministry for forty-three years), I am beginning to understand that what I wanted most of all starting out will never happen. Most of us coming out of seminary in my generation naively believed that we would fix things. We were on the heels of world wars and, more recently, the Viet Nam War. We had been in school during the reign of the “peaceniks.” We honestly thought our faith, passion, and wisdom (that’s the funny part) would change the world.
Now, all these years later, I realize we didn’t really fix the world as we had hoped to do. And our time before handing the mantle over to a new generation is coming to a close. Put another way, we’re not going to fix it. We seriously believed by this point there would be no questions about racism, sexism, or environmental faithfulness. Those issues were in the process of being settled once and for all. Looks like we missed that. We believed that what we had felt to be the pain and inadvisability of war would make everyone a proponent of peace (with lots of tamer and more innocent Woodstock moments over against no more wars). Looks like we missed that, too. We thought we could awaken those who have to their God-ordained responsibility to feed, house, and love those who have not. Another check in the “Missed That” column. We thought we could preach peace until violence was defeated, and could teach kindness until prejudice disappeared, and could live Truth until deception was no more, and could demonstrate charity until greed ceased to exist. Missed that, Missed that, Missed that, and Missed that, as well.
Admittedly, there has been progress. We just witnessed a Black person serve eight years as President of our nation. We now have increased numbers of women in places of leadership in government, industry, and the institutional Church. During my first year in seminary, there were four women in the entire divinity school. Today the majority of students in America’s theological schools are women. Little by little advocates for justice, environmental concerns, and the rights of children continue to make discernible dents in the insensitivity of a society governed by lusts for money and power. So, all is not gloom and doom. And all the efforts did not result in failure. We didn’t fix the world, but it didn’t fall off the edge into the abyss either. Like I said, we exist in a land somewhere in between.
Many of us look back now and wonder, “Did it make a difference? All the sermons we preached, was anyone listening? Did it change or help anything or anybody? All the meetings we attended and all the financial campaigns we led, did they make the world a safer, saner place?” Again, perhaps the answer is in the middle land between victory and defeat. Hopefully lessons were learned and lives were touched and campaigns did bear fruit. And maybe for us the lesson is that, as Mother Theresa observed, virtue lies not in being successful but in being faithful. You and I just keep chipping away at things, day by day, generation by generation, eon by eon, trusting that the One in Whose name we labor will eventually bring the harvest. And that, by the way, is the great lesson I wish we had known starting out. It never was about our fixing things. It was, rather, about our following and serving God Who is able to transform the world in God’s own way and time.
Maybe that’s something we all would do well to remember. Just do your best day by day, challenge by challenge. And don’t give up if you cannot see miraculous results. As Paul observed, we plant the seeds but God will bring the harvest. (I Corinthians 3:6) So just keep planting the seeds. Do what you can, and love those you can, and stand up for that which you can, and enjoy life while you can. What else can we do? And maybe, maybe, that’s enough.