The Second Call

Ever since my encounter with the little way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, I've been thinking a great deal about fidelity to the smallness and insignificance of our actions. When we start out on our spiritual journey we tend to have pretty heroic expectations and visions of ourselves. From there we either wind up driven or depressed. Driven to live up to the heroic expectations or depressed when we cannot.

But there is a third way. Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche community, calls this "the second call." If our first spiritual calling is heroic, ambitious and big the second call is toward servanthood, smallness and insignificance. Spiritual maturity comes when we respond to the second call in life, the way of the cross. Vanier in his book Community and Growth:
The first call is frequently to follow Jesus or to prepare ourselves to do wonderful and noble things for the Kingdom. We are appreciated and admired by family, by friends or by the community. The second call comes later, when we accept that we cannot do big or heroic things for Jesus; it is a time of renunciation, humiliation and humility. We feel useless; we are no longer appreciated. If the first passage is made at high noon, under a shining sun, the second call is often made at night. We feel alone and are afraid because we are in a world of confusion. We begin to doubt the commitment we made in the light of day. We seem deeply broken in some way. But this suffering is not useless. Through the renunciation we can reach a new wisdom of love. It is only through the pain of the cross that we discover what the resurrection means.
Maybe it's me getting older, but I'm feeling the second call getting stronger and stronger in my life.

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19 thoughts on “The Second Call”

  1. I cannot help but think of this:

    1 Kings 19:11-13Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

    11 Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go, stand in front of me on the mountain. I, the Lord, will pass by you.”[a] Then a very strong wind blew. The wind caused the mountains to break apart. It broke large rocks in front of the Lord. But that wind was not the Lord. After that wind, there was an earthquake. But that earthquake was not the Lord. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire. But that fire was not the Lord. After the fire, there was a quiet, gentle voice.[b]
    13 When
    Elijah heard the voice, he used his coat to cover his face and went to
    the entrance to the cave and stood there. Then a voice said to him,
    “Elijah, why are you here?”

  2. Well said.  It is becoming increasingly clear to me that the practices of this second calling are remarkably powerful in breaking the chains of bondage to the principalities and powers.  We think that "big" solutions are necessary for confronting the "big" powers, yet small things done with great love is far more powerful.

  3. I hate it when you talk about me.  You do it all the time.  I've kinda gotten used to it. 

    Yes . . . I was going to do great things for Christ.  
    By my example . . . people all around were going to cling to Christ. 
    Because of my teaching . . . hoards of people would give their lives to Christ. 
    From my giving . . .  lives would be changed and the Gospel would be elevated..
    (And this giving was a given . . .because obviously I was going to make lots of money.)

    It didn't quite work out that way.  Which may be the best thing.
    Because all that stuff "I" was going to do was also about "me".
    I didn't realize it.  But in my mind I was sharing the pedistal.
    I'm 50 years old.  I'm a slow learner.  But learn I can.

    I have learned that is is far better to be where the people are . . . down here on the ground.
    Where I am a lowly servant like the rest. 

    You're okay Richard.
    The best of company is among the servants.

  4. I'm thinking of my post on Monday, about people like Christi (who I will see tonight when I pick her up!).

    I like, for example, writing books and blog posts. And I'll do it for as long as it's fun. But at the end of the day Christi doesn't care if I'm a blogger, author, professor, or whatever. All Christi cares about is if I'll talk to her and hold her hand.

  5. So, I'm young(ish). Can I skip the heartbreak of trying to do big things for Jesus and just try to do small things for Jesus? I'd like reduce the disappointment of not meeting my own personal goals as soon as possible.

  6. I think there is certainly something to this. At the same time, it also strikes me as an invitation to subtle, and maybe more pernicious, form of spiritual pride. That form sounds something like this: “I am too good to be big and important. The better way is littleness. Look at those silly people, with their big goals and dreams. If only they were humble and mature like me, they would realize that the little things I do are more important than all of their big, prideful, dreams and accomplishments.”
    Of course, this kind of false humility is the height of pride, with a solid dose of resentment thrown in. In my experience gratitude is a much better antidote to pride than smallness. Having said that, maybe the small things really are the most important. In that case, we should approach them with even more gratitude, and even more caution about their ability to tempt us to become proud.

  7. That's an interesting question. I'll have to go back to this passage, but it does seem that Vanier has a developmental notion in mind here. If so, the question becomes: Is this "new wisdom of love" something that can be simply adopted, like a decision, or must it be learned by life experience?

  8. ISTM that opting for that approach would not have served well those few who, like Saul of Tarsus, Moses, and Abraham before us, are actually called to do something big and splashy...and who have no idea beforehand that they are so identified but are rather called "out of the blue."

  9. I was just talking about something like this with my spiritual director.  At age 43, after two theology degrees and over a decade of ordination, I've grown to really have nothing at all to say.  I don't want to run things, I don't want to have answers, I don't want to "lead" like we think of leadership in the church.  This has felt like something I needed to struggle against, but it is also incredibly liberating.  Maybe it is the start of something new and not the end of something.  

  10. My own sense is that regardless of whether you're thinking about doing the big thing or thinking about doing the small thing, if you're thinking about the thing, thinking about what the thing is or what it means or how it all fits in or what your piece is all about... you're thinking too much. Would it not be preferable, maybe, to just look and see the thing that needs to be done, big or small, and do it as it needs to be done, and let G-d sort out the rest? 

  11. The Kingdom of God is like a pine nut or a mustard seed. I just want to be small; to think small. Good post and comments.

  12. I'm really looking forward to reading a book called, "Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life," by Richard Rohr that seems to deal with what you're talking about here, Richard. 

    From the description on amazon: "Rohr seeks to help readers understand the tasks of the two halves of life and to show them that those who have fallen, failed, or "gone down" are the only ones who understand "up." Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of life, but the whole thesis of this book is exactly the opposite. What looks like falling down can largely be experienced as "falling upward." In fact, it is not a loss but somehow actually a gain, as we have all seen with elders who have come to their fullness."

  13. I really, really like this. I've found in my limited ministry that "muddling toward things that are helpful" is a better description than "leading" or "building" or "changing the world."

    Yet I'm also haunted by the feeling that the whole thing is a failure of nerve. There are so many hospitals, orphanages, and major operations to halt the sex trade, and they all all (it seems to me) stand because a group of Christians decided they would "lead" and "build" and "change the world." Meanwhile, I'm mowing a neighbor's lawn and handing out cool glasses of water--and wondering if that is, really, all that Jesus calls me to.

    All my life I've been haunted by two contradictory feelings. One is that, if I reach the end of my life with no great novel published, without walking on the moon or becoming President or radically transforming a Third-World country, I'm somehow wasted. The other is that I'm just trying to make it through without hurting anyone else too deeply, and if I can be minimally humble or helpful or even a decently nice guy, I've somehow succeeded. I bounce back and forth between these two feelings surprisingly often.

  14. I vacillate between expecting big and small things in being a disciple. At times I feel that I want/should just live life looking for ways to help my neighbor, etc., and stop trying to help or influence numbers of people. At other times I feel that blogging/podcasting/writing books, etc. is a helpful way to affirm and foster what God is doing in the lives of others who might not have relationships that will affirm them in their walk with Christ. I don't want to get to the end of my life and think "I could have done more" or "I could have taken more chances", but I also don't want to get to the end of my life and realize that I ignored the seemingly insignificant opportunities that presented themselves every day.

  15. This post stirs within me, and also reminds me of other readings. The first that came to mind was Henri Nouwen's Road to Daybreak. Have you read it?

  16. Thank you for this incredibly encouraging post... Funny, it was just a little over a year ago when I read a book about St. Therese of Liseaux.  I didn't think too much of her Little Way, since I had my eyes set on exciting missionary goals - orphanages, taking on sex traffickers bare handed.  ...Now I find myself with a baby on the way and married to a man who while is Christ-friendly, isn't a Christ-follower.  I've been so depressed, trying to accept that fact that I ruined my life before even hitting 30.   I know the post doesn't necessarily refer to when sinful choices (and the wonderful redemptive gift of life that sometimes comes with those choices ^_^) put your dreams and aspirations out of reach.  But even so, this gave me hope that even in my circumstances, I can give Jesus something with my life - and that He still wants it.  Perhaps not overseas, perhaps not in even recognized Church ministry, but in being faithful and loving in the daily.  So again, thank you

  17. "The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noted or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous . . . Dorothy Day [was] a person willing to go down and down into the daunting, humbling, almost hopeless local presence of the problem - to face the great problem one small life at a time." - W. Berry

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