Guest Outpost blog by Eric Peltz
I distinctly remember the orange plastic chair bouncing underneath my jittery junior high body. That day in science class we began an experiment with plants. As my soil-stained hands rubbed the dirt between my fingers, I thought to myself “This is awesome! People get paid to do this stuff?!”
My attention then snapped to Mrs. Skinner and her scaly voice that preceded her waddling body. “Having fun there, Eric?” she asked. “Yeah,” I croaked out.
She smiled in pride and looked at my friends around the table before saying, “You know, you can be anything you want to be when you grow up, Eric.”
Flustered and slightly embarrassed by the attention thrown my way by my socially-awkward teacher (and thus, my peers), I spit out the first thing that came to mind: “I want to be a scientist.”
“A scientist?” she asked, bewildered. “You should be a doctor or a lawyer or the president…. Or a scientist, I guess.” She threw away the last comment as she rushed to a dropped, upside-down seedling on the linoleum tile floor, surrounded by the prepubescent “Ooo!” and “Ha! You’re gonna be in TROU-BLE!” I breathed out, grateful that the embarrassment had ended.
I remember little from those dreadfully humiliating junior high years – years of hair-parted down the middle, acne spreading across my face and Hawaiian shirts magically appearing in my wardrobe (hey, they’re comfortable, OK? Back off!). What I do remember are two stories of adults telling me that I was “gifted.” The former event was more painful than uplifting; my teacher, who didn’t know me that well, decided to showcase me in front of my friends, some of whom had a very difficult experience with school and clearly took the compliment as a jab at them.
The other time, though, was different. On Youth Sunday each year the youth at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Joliet, Illinois, had the chance to run worship: our words, our music, our prayers and dramas and liturgies lifted up to God in front of every adult I knew who wasn’t one my school teachers. I got chosen to do one of the mini-sermons, sharing about the summer mission trip and what it meant for my faith.
I rocked that sermonette. I saw head nods, smiles and a load of congregational affirmation. Saints who had walked with my family and me for years prior confirmed with their body language that they loved me EVEN MORE for what I had just said (or what the Holy Spirit prepared me to say, but let’s talk about me, please!).
After church, Pearl Burrows, one of the most gracious and humble spirits in the cosmos, approached me as I stood in the receiving line by the sanctuary doors. Balancing on the cane in her left hand, she took my right hand in hers, her fingers wrapped over my sweating palms in a grip of affection, not professional acknowledgement. Pearl’s eyes began to water as she looked at me and, before her throat gave out, whispered “Eric, you have the gifts to be a wonderful pastor someday.” She smiled knowingly, recovered her balance and continued down the hall to coffee hour. Several others that day confirmed that they saw gifts in me that I hadn’t seen in myself before, and it got me thinking, “Really? I could be a pastor?” That thinking led to praying, which led to college, which led to seminary and ordination and the husband/father/preacher writing this post.
What was different between Mrs. Skinner and Pearl Burrows? Mrs. Skinner knew me as someone who finished assigned tasks on time, didn’t cause trouble in class and listened to what she taught from the blackboard. She said I should be what she felt was the model of success. Pearl, on the other hand, looked at me and saw a passion. Knowing full-well what the life of a pastor looked like, she might have had the wherewithal to tell me what that passion was going to cost: nights away from home and time away from my wife; hours spent listening when I felt like talking; and little money in the pocket. But, at the time, Pearl knew that my heart was filled with the passion to preach, teach and wrestle with the faith alongside the saints who ask the same questions as I do. Pearl knew that I was gifted for the sake of a calling, not intelligent for the sake of a paycheck. She knew I could “do better” financially, but instead encouraged me to do no better than the best passions of my heart.
I believe that we all have those deep desires of the heart, places of the soul where God pulls at us to unleash our love on the world. Some listen, some talk, some shake hands and smile while some sit and cry alongside the grief-stricken. We all have particular gifts, but most of us hear from Mrs. Skinner and not from Pearl Burrows; we’re told to be successful, whatever that means, without hearing that others see a burning flame of kingdom-bringing potential in our God-given DNA.
As we learn more each day about the potty-training effect (AKA the zone of proximal development), the importance of faithful mentors and the impact of childhood experiences, I’m reminded that even when my ministry feels useless, I’m not. I’m gifted enough to recognize that the high school dork sullenly walking down the hall needs a high-five from the pastor, just as this high-school dork needed a word of affirmation from Pearl’s heart.
My prayer is that Pearl (or one of the Holy Spirit’s many other embodiments) would show up in your life and remind you that you have a passion. Someone reminded you once, opened your eyes to things as they already were inside of you, and now as a ministry leader I tell this story to remind you and myself that we get the privilege of doing this for a living. Passions don’t show up on accident, but it takes great intention for the Pearls of the world to recognize them and help them grow into something that can change the world.
Maybe today you can be a voice that affirms someone’s soul passion. Maybe today you can help them find where those passions intersect with needed kingdom work and watch their soul take wings and soar to places where God and self intertwine in acts of mercy, justice, and grace. Maybe, as I grow up, I can be a Pearl. And maybe that is the greatest gift of all.
ERIC PELTZ is a husband, father of 2.5 under 4, lover of organizational behavior, curious about governance, branding, Frisbee and an intergenerational gospel. I write sporadically about the intersection of science and faith at 1presby.com, and tweet @ericpeltz.