A quote from the well-known Christian writer, William Willimon, caught my eye: You don’t get to choose your vocation – or pick your father.
He was making the point that when it comes to our vocation, or calling, it is God who chooses us, just as Jesus chose his first disciples. Although they were a mediocre, lack-lustre bunch, they were transformed by their encounter with Jesus and his holy Spirit (apart from Judas Iscariot.) If God calls us into something, what matters about our vocation is not our passions or desires or feelings about it, instead it is what God leads us into and equips us for that counts.
In a Western society besotted by the notion of choice, it pulls us up short to think that it is God who has the sovereign hand. Having the right to choose undergirds much of our social legislation and behaviour, be it gender, abortion, the names or pronouns we use, which toilets we use, whether we wear masks or not in the face of a pandemic, and so on. For Christians too, submitting to what God may call us to do challenges our individualistic assumptions.
Finding a birth father
Willimon’s reminder that we don’t get to pick our father also strikes a chord with me – in my case it’s my mother’s father I’m thinking of. Recently my mother who was adopted, had her DNA test done through a genealogical website. She had no knowledge of who her birth father was. The results were picked up by a relative who then did an analysis of the matches listed on the website, and was able to pinpoint who my mother’s father was likely to have been. She was 99% sure, but that analysis was subsequently backed up independently by a grand-daughter of this likely father, and now the result is definite.
Contact with this granddaughter means I’ve been able to find out what this man was like. I didn’t like what I found – he was described as a bully, he fell out with his only son and was never reconciled to him, and therefore was also permanently estranged from his grandson. He appeared to be an upright and honourable citizen, a stalwart of his local church, but his family knew differently.
A father’s rejection goes deep
I wanted to dismiss this man from the family tree when I first found out about him. (He had died about forty years ago so at least I didn’t have to decide whether I wanted to meet him.) He’d been an unknown entity for all of my life up till now, so I didn’t have to have anything to do with him.
I had second thoughts though. Like it or not, a quarter of my genetic inheritance came from him. And he only had two grandchildren, who in recent years had been able to meet and overcome the estrangement that had affected the family for so long. Initial contacts with them both showed they were keen to know about me and my side of the family – it had been a challenge for them too, to realise that their grandfather had a birth daughter they didn’t know about, who was their half-aunty, and that there were half cousins to get to know too.
I realised too, that no matter who our father (or grandfather) happens to be, we had nothing to do with choosing him. Similarly, when it comes to being children of God, then we don’t choose our heavenly Father, but he chooses us. (We are born again, not of the will of a human father, but of God himself.) And we needn’t have any qualms about the character of God, as I did about my human grandfather, because we know that God is love and his purposes for us are beyond what we could ever imagine or think.
God does not cut us off
The reason for the fall-out in the family was because my grandfather wanted his son to take over the family business. Earlier, the father had pushed his son to leave school before he sat any exams, in order to work in the business. After some years working for his father, the son could see where the business was going, and knew it wasn’t a good proposition to take it over, so he said no. His father never forgave him.
As Jesus chose his disciples, our heavenly Father chooses us, and knows what we are capable of, and what is best for us when it comes to our vocation. If we do choose to go our own way, God accepts our decision but also gently attempts to lead us back and does not cut us off.
A loving, patient Father
A number of Biblical stories feature a father patiently waiting for his child to return, or actively seeking out the lost, or meeting up with a reluctant prophet who ran away.
One of the early Christians, Titus, once wrote: “In his will is our peace,” even when he was given one of the most difficult assignments possible at that time – to go to Cyprus. Those whom the Father calls, he also equips, and through his spirit, he goes with us. It’s my experience though that God also gives us a heart for what he calls us into, and so often the gifts we’ve been given, are drawn out and used in the calling that we say ‘yes’ to.
Isn’t it great that we don’t get to choose our Father?!
Liz Hay rejoices in living in a beautiful part of God’s creation in a high country mountain basin; and she also rejoices in hearing stories of God at work in people’s lives. One of her favourite activities is reading fascinating biographies that illustrate the wonderful ways God works uniquely with each person.