I always consider myself a servant of God’s, which is not to try to baptize all my work or words with sanctity/sanctimony or presume I speak for God, but just to say that it’s my primary role and obligation, as well as my highest honor in life, to operate in the service of a very personal, passionate, and powerful Creator. St. Paul, who always introduced himself as a “servant” or “slave” of Christ Jesus, littered his letters with revealing honesty, self-doubt and abnegation, tinges of pride and wistfulness… in other words, he was utterly and unmistakably human, himself personal and passionate, sometimes plagued and sometimes maybe even petty. But it seems to me God chose such a large personality (in a small frame, it seems, and sometimes in an unimpressive package– I always imagine Paul as a kind of Al Pacino of Saints) to commission as the servant of servant, the slave of all, in order to underscore a startling point: Servanthood is not to lack selfhood, but to sublimate it. Christian spirituality, if it adheres to the recurrent claims of Scripture, does not involve the choking off of the quirks and vicissitudes of our individuality, but it does enrolling all of them in a refining school toward the likeness of a very multifaceted God with a very multifaceted goodness. Being God’s servant does not require me to dismember the things that make me distinctly me, to disembowel what moves me, but to submit to the maturation process by which those things become channels of righteousness rather than pits of self-satisfaction.
I say that now because I’m finding myself in a strange and somewhat dark period of depression, when I’m still clueless about my future direction or my long-term calling, and uncertain how the small decisions fit in. I’m always blessed to have some nice invitations and opportunities, but I struggle with making decisions because I’m not altogether sure what I’m supposed to be doing at this stage of life. I find myself deficient at every turn, as a professional, as a husband, as a father, as a student, as a scholar, as a provider, as a minister, as a friend. And yet, still wishing to fulfill all of those roles, I find myself fully accountable to none, and unable to answer to any of them adequately. As such, I suffer from a divided sense of self, unsure of who I am and what I’m supposed to do, pulled along by random deadlines and sudden demands and disgruntled loved ones. And my fleshly reaction to all this is to sink deeply into myself, to want to steal away. To go full-bore into escapist obsessions. To wallow in aggrandizement/pity. To eat things with cheese melted on them.
All this because, no doubt, I’m undergoing a refinement process, whereby stepping into my primary role as servant of God means not losing who I am or what I’m about, but sanding down many sticky layers of ego that tarnish the solid spruce God can use to sculpt something of lasting value. I’ve been depressed and confused because I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t think God wants me depressed and confused, but he certainly doesn’t want me to think I know what I’m supposed to do. One of our grand errors is to think that heredity is destiny, that our features determine our futures, that who we are delimits who we’re supposed to be. Somehow, I’m supposed to pursue the things I am and the things I love, but also expect that those things are being boldly and brazenly revised by Someone with a better plan for me than I do for myself.
The one thing I’m supposed to be, then: a servant.