Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pilgrim in Progress

This morning, walking Scout Labradoodle, I found myself thinking about a narrow window of time in my life from 36 years ago! Funny how that happens. Something must have triggered the memory - something in my peripheral vision, a sound, a smell, maybe something I read; I really don't know.

What came to my mind was the few months right after the end of high school, back in 1974. I was living in my hometown of Folkestone, England (picture, above right), and I found myself at a loose end. University wasn't an option because I didn't pass anything to speak of, and going into my dad's business didn't make sense because I wouldn't have done FWM Plastics any good unless I was motivated, and unless I had something useful to contribute other than a resume that read:
  1. Failed high school
  2. Couldn't get into college
  3. Good at games
  4. Has no ambition
So I moved to my grandparents' town of Hove (near Brighton), rented a room from a family at their church, and found an absolutely terrible job working a milling machine at a manufacturing plant. 

I made £18 a week (in 1974 that was around $40). Ten pounds went to lodging, around four pounds went to taxes, and two-three pounds disappeared for personal expenses (gum, the occasional coke, snacks at work, offering at church). If I was lucky I had 50-pence to a pound left over.

I rode a rusty - borrowed - bicycle all over the town, hooked up with an amateur soccer team, played a lot of Scrabble with my grandfather, attended a very conservative church, and became so homesick I could think of nothing else.

Moving back home in the fall was - in effect - admitting a kind of defeat. I really wondered if I was destined to live at home (a very tempting option), work at meaningless jobs and play sports on the weekends for the rest of my life. If I was honest with myself I knew that I had more to offer, but I couldn't for the life of me imagine what that was.

However - and this is a point I picked up in my book, "The Unmaking of a part-Time Christian" - I knew that I wanted to follow Jesus. At the time I wasn't motivated academically, I had no great ambition to change the world and I wasn't even interested in playing professional sports. But, at the core of my identity, I did identify myself as a Follower of The Way. I was a pilgrim - even if I wasn't making any progress.

So I decided that my next step - whatever direction that happened to be or how uncomfortable it might make me, or even if it threatened to disrupt my comfortable status-quo - was going to have to fit into the framework of "pilgrim."

Maybe that's what was going on when God prompted that particular memory in my mind early this morning. Maybe God was saying - is saying, "Sometimes we don't have to figure out the big picture. Sometimes the very best that any of us can do is to ask one simple question: 'What does it mean for me to be a disciple today, in this place, at this time?'"

Then, when we look back later - sometimes 36 years later - it can be amazing to see where that pilgrim pathway has taken us. It turns out that what really counts is to live as a faithful pilgrim today.

I am amazed at where my life has taken me over the past few decades. I feel very confident that I'm not wasting any of it, that I'm contributing at a very high level, and that I am using the particular gifts I've been given to share with the world....

But one thing hasn't changed at all: It's still true that - even though I feel so fulfilled and focused - the exact same question needs to be front and center in my heart and mind - always and without exception... "What does it mean for me to be a disciple today, in this place and at this time?"

It really is a great question

No comments: