The Gift of Boundaries: Reflections on The World is Not Ours To Save

By Timshel Matheny

“As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.” – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

It is a mysterious kind of gift to be told that you can not do everything. I have a hard time shaking the idea I was given when I was growing up: that my options for vocational work are endless, that my capabilities (if given the right amount of will-power) are without a ceiling. As a Christian, my knowledge of the cross argues against this. And yet, in my daily walk there is a vein, deep in my identity, that bristles at any talk of my own limitations.

In his new book The World Is Not Ours To Save, author Tyler Wigg-Stevenson reminds us that vocations have, and impart, boundaries. To be called to this means not being called to that. Vocation, by nature, is a specific thing. It demands a narrowed spiritual focus that involves definitive edges and personal details for each individual. If I am pursuing a vocation, then I am necessarily walking down a path that has its own peculiar set of limits.

So often in the gospel Christ says of his own actions  “I have not come to do what you are asking of me but instead to do this other thing, this one thing.” To his mother at Cana. To Peter at the Transfiguration. To his disciples as he begins the journey on to Calvary. He must be about his business and his business does not involve the five other things that seem to be so urgently needed or obvious to the bystander (again, his own mother, his disciples,… us). He distinguishes where he is called to act and where he is not in each moment as it comes and passes. And often, where the world perceives his actions as a form of great weakness, in actuality they are the greatest strength. He was publicly humiliated and executed on a cross, after all.

Tyler tells us this, “Christian calling is grounded in the peace that comes with accepting our limitations and finitude—an acceptance that allows us to pour ourselves out in divine service.”

Does it seem a contradiction to say that by embracing our limitations, our shortcomings, we can actually be of more service to God? If it does, it seems to be identical to the inherent contradiction in taking up your cross every day, and then trying to accomplish anything else. This to me, has always been a wonderful mystery. In a literal sense, if you take up your cross every day, then your hands are  unavailable to help anyone, even yourself. Does this mean we should take up our cross for half of the day, and spend the other half helping widows and orphans? Obviously not. These two things in the Gospel are mysteriously united as part of the same singular act or calling.

“The world is not ours to save” Tyler tells us. And yet, he says, “the corollary to the truth that we are not everywhere and everything is that we are somewhere and something. We inhabit the portion God gives us.(p. 188)” It is interesting to me that often times, directly through our own passionate striving, God seems to press us right up against our own limitations. So that we have no choice but to acknowledge them. The more we pursue His works, we must, again and again, come to the end of ourselves, the end of our abilities, our resources. And in coming to the end of ourselves we find Him, again.

In all vocations we are continually reminded that there is only one calling: to imitate and work towards becoming more like Christ. All roads lead here. But we don’t always follow those roads by our own nature. We are not asked to look everywhere and to see everything. We are asked only to look one place. Every time our eyes and hearts wander in fatigue, overwhelmed and confused, worn down and disoriented by the burdens we encounter, we have the opportunity to remember that God calls us as his children. We are kids in his eyes.

We did not, all on our own, invent the problems we are trying to solve, or the world in which they live. Necessarily, we must constantly reconcile our own expectations of our vocation with where the Father is leading us. It is our daily vocation to reconcile our will, varied and distorted by our living, to the structure and posture of  Christ. I imagine that the walk of the pilgrim, the saint, the disciple, the activist is,  among other things, is, in part, a continuous stream of this kind of reconciliation. Over and over again we return to Him. We lay down our efforts and realize we are not our own. We are embraced, we are renewed, and we are sent back out again into the darkness.

Check out the Patheos Book Club on The World Is Not Ours to Save for more conversation on this book!

Timshel Matheny is a songwriter and musician in the band Roman Candle and writer for “Drinks With” (Paste.com). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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