Some years ago, as I was working in hospice ministry, God started to tell me that something new was coming. As I drove from house to house to visit patients, God said: Start letting go of this. It’s time to work in parish ministry.
No clue about where … when … and how. God is like that sometimes.
At the clothing store that spring, I saw a black dress, white piping on the front, cute but ministerial looking. It looked like the perfect thing to wear on a candidating Sunday, when you preach for the congregation and they vote on your call to come to that church. So, I bought it, and it hung in my closet for two years, waiting. Each time I came across it in the morning’s wondering rush of what to wear, it reminded me that God was stirring up something in my life.
Where … when … and how were still mysteries, but the dress was a tangible sign of something new to come, a promise to God that I was listening, and a promise to myself that God was at work under the surface.
Eventually, I saw an ad for a church, and answered it, and that began a five -year conversation with the congregation. At first we talked about how my gifts and the church’s needs might connect, and then we talked about coming to town to preach, and then I wore that dress to preach for the congregation. Then our conversation grew, and we talked about their fears and hopes, their worries about their children and their dreams for their retirement, their pain about the past and their questions about who God is. And where, when, and how God works. The dress came back out to officiate at funerals of much-loved people and to lead worship on Sundays. Finally, a seam came apart, and I knew the dress had served its purpose. Like a child’s blanket, it had carried me from one chapter of life to another.
Our Christian faith is all about the things we can see and hold reminding us of the things we can’t see and hold. The bread and the grape juice don’t mean anything by themselves, but they tell us that God meets us at the communion table to give us a sign of forgiveness — one we can taste. The water doesn’t mean anything by itself. But lifted tenderly to a baby’s head or reached up to the head of a teenager who has found her way to church, it’s a sign of God’s welcome — one we can feel and remember. God is kind enough to give us what we can understand to illuminate mysteries we can’t understand.
Surely there are things in your closet that reveal God at work in your life, too, like the special tie that makes the job interview go smoothly, your wedding dress, the old, comfortable clothes you wear in the garden, where God shows up as surely as at church.
Some months ago, I left that beloved church. In that same week, I was at the store again, and there was a pair of grown-up black pumps, nicer than what I usually wear, with a low heel suitable for tromping up and down a church’s chancel steps in worship. It seemed like God was speaking at the clothing store again: Don’t give up on the church. I’m doing a new thing in your life again, and something is surely coming.
No clue about where, when, how.
God is like that sometimes.
I bought the pumps and put them in the closet. They’re another promise to God that I’m listening, and another promise to myself that God is still at work under the surface.
Mary Austin is associate pastor, First Church, Birmingham, Mich.