There is a Frederick Buechner quote that many of you have probably heard before – in fact, I think I’ve said it or written it several times. It goes like this:
“The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I’ve always appreciated this quote. There are certain spheres of life that I feel gifted in, and many that I do not. There are certain tasks that bring me deep joy and many that do not. I believe and agree that God has crafted each of us in unique ways, given us talents that are not simply for pleasure’s sake but for kingdom’s sake – and that those are the places we are called to give and to serve.
I’m realizing something else though these days, as I work in a kitchen for hours everyday: The place where God calls you is also very simple – it is the place where you are. Where you are is where God is calling you. And sometimes it isn’t work that brings you deep gladness. Sometimes it’s work that is unfamiliar and outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes it is work that leaves you exhausted at the end of the day, work that does not bring you life and that the world does not seem hungry for. Right now, the place that God is calling me is the place where a 4 ft 11 English major tries to navigate an extremely tall, Dutch kitchen, grimacing through the math that will enable her to convert between liters and cups, refilling water pitchers for the eighth time, putting down the pitcher in time to give a gentleman his coffee and unload the dish washer, calling out Dutch and German and French and Turkish names and butchering them in the process, and doing exactly the kind of repetitious and multi-tasking work that she is neither gifted in nor finds deep gladness in. But she is called here. Because this is the place where she is. And the place where we are is the place where we are called.
My youth pastor once “gave” me this quote from a movie: “You can love completely without complete understanding.” He meant it in a different context back then, but I find this quote coming to mind as I live and work in Amsterdam. I can love completely without complete understanding. I can serve completely, give of myself completely, without understanding why I am here, why God brought me here, what exact purpose I am supposed to be fulfilling. I don’t know why I am here – what I do know is that I am here. And of the very little sense of God’s presence I can glean these days, the strongest sense I can get is that the Why is not mine to try to answer. All that is mine to answer is if I lived faithfully in where God has placed me.
God has felt frighteningly absent the majority of my time working in Amsterdam. Though I pray before every shift, though I have read 63 psalms in less than a month, though I am living in a Christian community, God has been – at least He has felt – staggeringly silent. And this has hurt. To be in an unfamiliar place, doing work that feels chosen for the wrong person, and to also be begging for God’s presence and feel incredibly alone – this has been the hardest thing so far. But in and through these moments, I’m finding that the Gospel can and must be believed most deeply in the moments when it feels the least true. And that the Gospel is not for when I feel safe, it is for when I feel the most terrified – it is for when I read about a horrific shooting in my country, read the explosion of posts on Facebook, and feel a world away and utterly helpless to do anything, wondering what good it is to be working in a kitchen while the world keeps breaking around me. I wrote this in my journal a few days ago:
“Jesus doesn’t just bring beauty. He became the ugly. He’s not just in the suffering and redeeming the suffering; he became the God who suffers. I’m sitting in my room, trying to hold in the tears, begging God to feel a little closer than a universe of weakness away, and yet I know he doesn’t just see my tears but he wept them himself. And it doesn’t feel like enough – it doesn’t feel even an iota enough, because I’m still aching with a kind of loneliness I can’t describe – but I know it is enough. It is enough. I’m dying to see him, to feel him, to touch him, but I believe he died to make me touchable.”
I guess I’ll end this post by saying this: It has been hard. This has been the hardest week. And yet, I feel clearly that God is giving me grace. It’s ironic, since I just attempted to describe how utterly far he feels, and yet I mean it. In and maybe even because of his seeming absence, I feel his grace giving me a better attitude and more strength than I could possibly have on my own. The only reason I am able to pour myself out each day is because he is pouring out his grace upon me – I believe that with all of my heart. And he’s meeting me in quiet ways – especially through my friends at home, who amaze me with their support, who consistently arrange their day in order to Facetime with me, or who write me letters ,or send me relevant quotes, and who pray for me when I cannot pray for myself. I am so thankful for the community of friends at home who have been continually encouraging me. It is through their love that I am pushed to remember his. To you who are reading this – thank you. And to You who are reading this – the fact that You are reading this is enough.