I just wrote a memo to my Board of Education that I will no longer be teaching children’s Sunday school. It wasn’t an easy decision. I don’t know who will take my place. I just know that it’s not my calling any more.
When I was a Director of Christian Education, I used to joke that my two hardest jobs were (1) getting people to volunteer, and (2) helping people quit. And truthfully, joking aside, the second job was often much harder than the first.
Once I got to know the community, I could approach people as individuals to volunteer instead of putting out a general call. The personal appeal to someone I knew to be qualified worked best. And if no one volunteered, then the Board and I would evaluate whether or not we really needed that program.
But helping people quit was much more difficult. I’m not talking about people that we sometimes wish would quit but who sail serenely on, convinced of their indispensability. I’m talking about people who want to quit but are held in place by tradition or by peer pressure or by that greatest of all Christian forces, by guilt.
My favorite story about not being able to quit involves three couples who ran a program called “Parent Preparation for Infant Baptism.” They met with parents who wanted to have their babies baptized. As young parents, they had volunteered to develop and to run this program. It worked really well as a parent-to-parent introduction to Christian parenting. Over the years, their children grew up, became teenagers, left home, and eventually, the program became a grandparent-to-parent program. Thirty years had now gone by!
Finally, they delegated one person to come in and talk to me, the DCE, because they REALLY wanted to quit. For several years, they had tried to replace themselves, and they couldn’t convince anyone to take their job over. So they kept on doing the job, but it got harder and harder, because, really, it wasn’t their calling any more. After some discussion, we decided that they would choose a date, announce their decision to quit, and then, on the appointed date, stop running the program.
It took about a year after they quit, but the Board of Education and I eventually developed a fresh new curriculum and recruited a half dozen young parents to lead the program. (We limited their initial term of commitment to one year.)
So, basically, I just did as a volunteer the same thing those couples did when I was the DCE: I reflected, I prayed, and then I wrote that letter of resignation. I can see why it was so hard for them to do…
St. Peter, in his first letter, tells us, “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house…” (1 Peter 2:5)
A builder once told me what happens when a stone is in the wrong place in a stone wall. First, of course, they can’t get the correct stone in there because there’s no room for it. Second, eventually the wall develops a crack and collapses. So a stone out of place is not a problem only for the individual concerned; it also becomes a problem for the entire community.
Although I understand the process, I still felt intensely guilty about writing that letter. Some part of my ego is convinced that no one else will ever love or teach “my children” as well as I have.
But I know that sometimes the most important step in following Jesus is a step backwards. If I don’t let go once I have realized that I’m no longer supposed to be there, how can Jesus call me to anything else? I won’t have time. My soul won’t have room to grow into something new.
It’s really true. Sometimes the most important action we can take in following Jesus is just to quit!