I wrote this in April 2008 for a little journal published by our denomination called Roundtable
Following God, being a disciple of the Christ. That sounds like so much Christian talk but what does it mean? Is becoming a disciple of Jesus really possible for someone today?
May I share with you part of my story?
In some ways learning to be a follower of Christ is what my life has been about since that day at camp long ago when I “asked Jesus to be my Saviour”. That was the beginning, or close to it, a choice was made and even though I was just a small child then, that choice began to shape me. It was the beginning of a relationship of disciple to master that, in spite of ups and downs on my part, has formed me, called me to my career choice, sent me off to the Congo, given me a large family to love and continues to be the major shaping relationship in my life.
Jesus welcomed the presence of children and blessed them, even saying that there is something about a child that we as adults need to capture in order to be part of his Kingdom. Perhaps it is a child’s willingness to trust people who love them or their lack of preconceived notions about putting on false fronts to hide ineptitudes. A child’s job is to learn and I was blessed with adults in my life that, following Jesus themselves, taught me that God was trustworthy, full of compassion, kind but just. The image of God as a loving Father was easily understood since my human father reflected that image to me. The adults around me in the church taught me a lot about what God was like long before I could understand the words of the Bible.
There were two time periods during which discipleship, for me, was especially difficult. My growing up years were the first of those tough times. In those pre-adolescent through teen years, I struggled to do those things that I was encouraged to do to grow in my faith – read the Bible and pray – on a regular basis. Growth happened but went on in fits and starts. Most of the time, I felt as if I was no disciple at all. I believe that the relationships with Sunday School teachers, youth leaders and camp counsellors were like infusions to my soul from an IV drip. Those relationships with God’s people – they were the nutrients of my faith.
I began to hear God’s call to service. It started sometime in my youth, with visiting missionaries and then became more specific. In my case the calls were vivid – etched in my memory now. A disciple spends a lot of time listening and learning and finally there comes a time to act on lessons learned. The fact that God would call one of the worst dental patients of all time to become a dentist because he had work for me to do in the Congo is pretty much proof of his sense of humour. Not only did he call vividly but he led, opening up the opportunities, providing for my schooling, helping me through those long years of study, and gifting me with the skills and temperament that I would need to serve my patients in his name. The years of serving God in the Congo were another of my steps in the discipleship process. As Leo and I served God there, we were shaped into new people, happy to be able to share the skills we had acquired to improve the health of people and in doing that to build up his church.
Discipleship did not end when I returned from the Congo. God had much to teach me in the years after we came back to Canada. The second really tough time in my discipleship training began. I had lost the adult friendships I had made in the Congo. My children had also lost their home and friends. I was lonely and depressed. So many changes had happened to me. Dentistry was one of the things I knew – like a rock in a changing stream that I could put my foot on without it shifting underfoot too much. I was angry at God and yet clung to him at the same time. Problems with my children seemed insurmountable and I could not see any hope of change in the situation. Didn’t God love me? Hadn’t I served him? Why was I being crushed by my problems?
Then, at the worst of times, I encountered God again, assuring me that he loved me; not because I could offer him good children or even because I had been a missionary. He just loved me for me. It was as if he touched me with his finger and infused me with himself. Wow! I was back at my master’s feet, his arm around me protecting me and leading me into a new and deeper place, drawing me into a new sort of relationship.
One of the lessons God needed to teach me was trust. I needed to trust him and I needed to learn to develop relationships with others that involved being vulnerable and open. I needed to experience God’s grace so that I could grow more deeply into him and, out of that secure place, begin new ventures in service.
Now I find myself on the verge of a new adventure – as if I have reached one peak only to see a new one just ahead. It is nearly time for me to lay aside the skills that I have used as a dentist for some 36 years. As God has led me into renewed relationships with himself and others, a deep desire has grown in me to know more of God, to spend more time back at the master’s feet, and to share what God teaches me. The course which I am completing in spiritual direction will provide me with tools I need to do this.
God calls us to a deep and fulfilling relationship with him; a full and abundant life. Out of a realization of God’s love and grace comes our desire to follow God in a life of discipleship. We are entrusted, weak and imperfect as we are, to impart God’s perfect love to the world by how we live; by the ways in which we work for justice, care for the oppressed and lonely, bring healing and comfort to the sick and care for God’s creation. We sit at God’s feet to learn; then he lifts us up, sets us on our feet, provides gifts for our task and sends us out empowered with his strength to live out his ways in the world.