Moses, Jeremiah, Ruth, Esther, Jonah and…you. We hear people talk about God having a plan for our lives, but we don’t often think of it being like the heroes and heroines of the Bible. After all, God’s plan for me would never be like that, would it?
An unlikely prophet
He was born in the little village of Anathoth, not far from Jerusalem, to a good family during a very turbulent time. The Assyrian empire had all but fallen to the invading Babylonian and Median armies. Even the current Egyptian dynasty fell under the pressure of the Neo-Babylonian empire. Right in the midst of this chaos, God calls out to this young man, Jeremiah, and says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Think about it. We’re sipping our coffees, scrolling through photos on Facebook, and suddenly a voice speaks: “Hey!” Frozen, mid-scroll, we slowly lower the cup of coffee. “Yes?” we reply. “Before your parents ever thought of you, I was thinking about you; about your life and the great things that we could do together.” It’s at this point we sniff the contents of our coffee cup.
It’s easy to imagine God having a plan for someone else. It’s always someone else, isn’t it? Jeremiah fell right into this thinking when he replied, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” Never have four words summed up the insecurity that, if we are totally honest with ourselves, most of us feel: “I am only a …” “I’m only a mum,” “I’m only a teacher,” “I’m only a deli worker,” “I’m only an engineer,” or “I’m only good at computers.” It’s followed by insecurity phase number two: “I do not know how to,” which we could translate today to be, “I could never.” “I could never do that!” “You’ve got to be kidding! Start a business? I could never do that.” “Share my faith? I could never do that.” “Reach out to the lonely? I could never do that.” Whatever it is: “I could never do that.”
So, how does God reply to Jeremiah (and to us)? “Do not say, I am only a [insert what you say here]; for you shall [insert what God calls you to here]. Do not be afraid … for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” And then, after Jeremiah hears this, God touches his mouth and gives him the words to say to the Israelites. Likewise, in our Baptism, the priest touches our ears to receive Christ’s word, and then our mouths to proclaim the faith for God’s glory. Just as Jeremiah was anointed prophet, so we are anointed, too.
We are all telling a story with our lives. Given we live in Australia in 2019, it’s probably a prosperous story—even the poor in Australia are generally rich compared to other countries. Your story may involve a certain amount of success in business or family life, or both. Perhaps you’re involved in Church life, you volunteer in this way or that. You might have a friendship group that you spend time with or perhaps you occupy the online world a lot more. That’s your story. And it’s a good story. It might even be a great story of overcoming obstacles and difficulties.
If you imagine this story in three acts—like a movie—you might be in the first act; life ahead of you and you’re just starting to tell your story. Or perhaps you are in the middle of the second act right now and things are looking a little bit hairy—right in the middle of conflict or disaster. Or, you might have entered the third act and the story is starting to resolve and wind down. Wherever you are in the story, and however good or great your story is, if it’s just your story, it will come to an end.
Your 70-odd years of life, in comparison to the universe, are just a speck. Just as the psalmist said, “We are dust.” We are like the grass or the flowers of a field. The wind passes over us and then we’re gone. Perhaps we’ll be remembered, for a time. But even great men and women are forgotten eventually. When’s the last time you thought about Marcus Aurelius, Cleopatra or Socrates? It’s easy to fall into a sort of nihilism when you consider this. If this is it, if my story is all there is and I know it’s coming to an end, what is the point? Average story? Good story? What’s the difference? We all end up dust eventually. Some have even argued that the malaise, the despair of the modern world, is exactly this discovery—my story will come and go.
But God has a story, too. And, it’s a big story. In fact, all of reality is his story. It spans from the beginning all the way to the end—one might even say, the Alpha and the Omega—and even better, it’s a really good story. It’s a story of perfection and then loss, of redemption and hope, and then all things coming together in the end. If you don’t mind spoilers, have a read of the Book of Revelation, from Chapter 20 to the end. New heaven, new earth, big angelic battles and the river of life? What a way to finish a story! And, right in the centre of it, when things seemed their darkest, God enters into the big story and gives everything just so that we—you and I—could experience the joy of the ending he planned.
It’s a love story, it’s an action story, it’s a thriller, and often unbelievably, it’s a supernatural story. But this story is told in human lives, sewn together like a patchwork quilt. Each section, big and small, short and long, makes the whole picture. As we pull the camera back on the image formed by the quilt, we see the face of Jesus—the image of love and mercy.
It’s a big call, but here it is: You are invited to be part of God’s big story. Yes, we are all invited, but you specifically—the one reading this page—are invited to play a part in God’s big story. And, it’s an important part that only you can play. It’s not a bit role or the part of an extra like crowd actor # 54 in the back of the scene. It’s an integral “can’t-do-without-it” role. And, if you’re missing, there’s a bit of the story that won’t get told, leaving a hole in the quilt. There is something of Jesus that goes unseen when someone doesn’t play their part, because only that person was ever going to show it in the story. But, when we allow God to fold our story into his story, to make it part of the great redemption narrative that he has been telling with humanity, two great things happen.
Firstly, even the most painful, seemingly meaningless parts of our lives, become infused with profound meaning and dignity. St Paul tells us that our suffering in pursuit of God’s story is “preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (2 Corinthians 4:17) and that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Secondly, our whole existence becomes “on purpose” for a purpose. In an overly romantic gesture, a spouse will say: “You’re the reason I get out of bed.” When we are weaving our story into God’s big story, he becomes our reason for being, and nothing, or no one, can ever separate us from that fact (cf. Romans 8:38–39).
Faithfulness not success
How you are called to do that is between you and God, but it always begins the same: responding to God’s call. We can often imagine this needing to be like when God announced his plans to Daniel in the Bible: A hand flying in the window and writing the plan of God on the wall in laser print, probably in a nice cursive font. We look for grand signs, when God speaks mostly in gentle whispers. He guides us to be the right person in the right place doing the next right thing. This might be a simple act of kindness or stepping out of the boat and discerning priesthood. It could be being the one who begins a conversation of reconciliation, or taking that next step towards marriage.
The best part of placing our story into God’s story is realising, as St Teresa of Calcutta said, we are not called to be successful, but faithful. A faithful person continues to follow even when it gets hard. A faithful person asks, “How should I do the thing you are asking me?” not “why?” A faithful person gets up when they fall and continues to follow the call.
Yes, you are telling a story with your life but there is a bigger, grander, eternal story being told around us. Whose story will you tell?
Peter Gilmore is a CCD and evangelisation coordinator for the Diocese of Wollongong.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 (Issue No. 67) edition of the Journey Magazine.