Not Fade Away
Listen to “Not Fade Away” By Fred Smith
I was 38 when I realized I was a misfit in my work. Teaching in a traditional boarding school on the East Coast, I was working overtime to adapt – but unsuccessfully. It was no one’s fault. It was simply not the right place for me.
During that time I discovered a book by Ralph Mattson and Art Miller, Finding a Job You Can Love. Their book changed my life because the authors (who then became friends) showed me how God had designed me in a particular way to accomplish a particular kind of work. I could try to shoehorn myself into a job but there would be very little satisfaction over time. What I needed was to find work that gave me more energy the longer I did it.
I became an evangelist for the good news about “giftedness” and have spent much of the last 35 years helping people find the design and fit that is right for them. I still believe it is true there is nothing more satisfying than finding the work for which you feel you have been created. It’s then that we easily sense we are in the will of God for our lives.
However, there are exceptions and sometimes people are called by God to a work that is not an easy fit. It’s not punishment or intended to build character. It is not a test. It is being chosen to fulfill a purpose we cannot always understand.
I’ve thought about Peter, the fisherman, instructed by Jesus to “feed my lambs.” Instead of using the final miraculous catch of fish as a taste of what Peter would be doing for his life’s work, Jesus tells the fisherman to become a shepherd.
Fishermen and shepherds have nothing in common. Imagine Steve Jobs being told he would now be head of Human Resources at Apple or Bill Gates being moved to the position of corporate chaplain. What Jesus tells Peter to do is this pronounced and jarring for his disposition.
Fishing is an exciting sport and something you do when and where you want and on your own schedule. Shepherding is definitely not. It is tedious work. Shepherds live with sheep. They sleep with them, and they smell like them.
And catching is not the same as caring. You never walk into a home and see a lamb mounted over the fireplace in place of a prize-winning blue marlin. No one takes a vacation to go shepherding.
In other words, Jesus takes all of Peter’s instincts and skills and, instead of anointing a natural talent, he assigns Peter a role that could not have been more unnatural. He calls Peter to leave his boat and what he loved.
Many of you have wrestled with similar assignments – being faithful in vocations for which you had little affinity but knew it was important to stay. Perhaps you have accepted the responsibility of taking care of someone else – a parent, a child or a spouse. It’s not volunteering. It’s an assignment.
Yes, there are times people should find work for which they are well suited, but there are also times when their calling may require them to sacrifice their preferences.
While the world rewards trophy catches and personal accomplishments, these shepherds have chosen to tend invisibly. They have not merely resigned themselves or served out of a grudging sense of duty but have willingly and sacrificially aligned themselves with the interests of others. They, like Peter, have followed out of love for Jesus and not insisted on their own dreams, independence and work more fitting to their design.
I do not know why Jesus picked Peter to feed lambs instead of fish. I do not know why God places some people in difficult spots for years at a time instead of their being in work that is satisfying and natural to them. I do not know why He does not always use our affinities and skills in ways that make sense to us.
However, I do know this. At the end of Peter’s life, he does not reminisce about fishing. He says nothing about what he could have been or what he would have done had he chosen his own way to serve.
Instead, he writes about what he has come to know so well – our being shepherds of God’s flock in our care, “watching over them – not because you must but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.”
He is no longer the impetuous fisherman but the patient shepherd Jesus assigned him to be. No regrets. No remorse.
Was his life different from what he might have planned? More than likely. Do I understand why God would ask someone as unlikely as Peter to be a shepherd? No, but I do believe it turned out the way Jesus intended. Peter laid down his life, his plans, and his affinities for his friends and, perhaps, that is the “rock” that is the foundation of the Church. That is Peter’s glory that will not erode or fade away.