You Thou Shalt Be

Written by Mark Rutland, Ph.D.

When I was younger, much younger than I am, my life view was very different. My life view has changed more than my worldview. I once thought of life as a journey, a single trek from point A to point B, progressive steps leading toward a destination of some kind. Mostly, I thought of that destination in terms of circumstances, professional or material perhaps.

What would I “do” at that point? Where would we live? How many children or grandchildren would Alison and I have?

Now that so many of those questions have been answered, I find that I think of life not as a linear journey but as a long series of transitions leading not so much to a circumstantial conclusion but to inner transformation. Our failures on that journey are not places where our careers made wrong turns but where we halted or stalled the process of personhood. It is not just a journey we are making. Rather, we are being made.

When I look back on my life, I find that I do not have a single regret about career choices. I never think, “I shouldn’t have gone to that church or accepted that position.” My regrets are personal and internal. Oh, that I had prayed more, lived more wisely, been more caring, more unselfish, and given more of myself to those who needed more. I do not regret one single cent I gave away; I regret my selfish seasons. The outward journey has been a good one. I love where I am. I look back on a line that makes sense.

The inner travels of my secret self have been more meandering. Sometimes – too often – I’ve had a stall-out or a drift sideways or even worse, backwards. The thing is, the hidden journey of our “hidden” selves is the only journey that really counts. When my career is finished and my professional journey ended, I will be left with me.

Most young people spend way too much time and emotional energy seeking God’s will and far too little seeking God. I know I did. The questions we ask early on are not wrong, they are just youthful. A young person’s questions are all about “where” and “what” and “when”. Now I am beginning to ask another set of questions that are all about “who.” Who am I?

Who am I supposed to become? Who is God? Who is Alison, and how should who I am be a blessing to who she is?

In his very first encounter with Simon Peter, Jesus spoke to him, not of what he would do, but of whom he should become. “Thou art Simon thou shalt be Cephas.” John 1:42. In other words, your journey shall make you as solid as a rock. Jesus summoned him to vocation later. First, He called him to personhood.  There is a person “thou shalt be” within you, within each of us. It is, of course, Jesus and our journey with Him that summons that person into being. Jesus knows who we are. He also knows what we do not, the person we are called to become in Him. That is what Jesus says to Peter in this passage. I know who you are. I know it better than you do. I also know the person you shall be.

The hope in that sweet revelation thrills me. I do not have to hide who I am from him. Indeed, I cannot. Furthermore, I do not have to hammer myself into being. He has a plan and a purpose. My job is to stay on the journey.

As you begin this semester’s portion of your own journey, I urge you toward the inner questions. Certainly classes must be attended, papers written and grades made. Nothing I say here is to minimize academic responsibility. Stay on the path of diligence and hard work and your life’s outward journey will tend toward success.

At the same time, be intentional about your inner journey. Pray, learn to pray, and work at prayer. Work at faith and love and generosity of spirit. Work at them as you might English or Algebra. Learn grace as you learn chemistry.

Life is two journeys. One will lead on to what you are to be. The other, the greater, to whom you are to be. Personhood trumps professional success.

Not easily, nor quickly nor painlessly, but only after humiliating failure, Peter became who Jesus had envisioned him to be years before. You are growing, learning and becoming.

It’s a new semester, a new school year, and a new beginning of God’s work on the “you thou shalt be.”