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Monday, May 23, 2011

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled...

~Maura Schmitz
John 14:1-14
Graduation Sunday
May 15, 2011

“DO NOT LET YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED. BELIEVE IN GOD, BELIEVE ALSO IN ME” although the evangelist John wrote this to early Christians during the 1st century, I have found his words expressed here to be some of my favorite and the most comforting in times of worry. My ability to worry, has been and still is one of my biggest challenges. So you can imagine that my “worry level” spiked to unimaginable heights when it came to trying to navigate college. I entered college with the idea and mentality that I had to decide what it was that I was going to do for the rest of my life, and it felt a daunting task despite how unrealistic of a reality that was. And oh man was I worried. It was something I still struggled with when I transferred to PCC and began working with the JR High Youth Group here at St. Mark’s. I got so wrapped up in trying to sort out my lifetime “call”. In fact I remember conversations I had with Maria about this where I said something along the lines of “Maria, I know what I’m doing to do for the rest of my life…” well she laughed at me and something like “ Honey I still don’t know what I’m going to do for the rest of my life!” and needless to say she was right. One thing I have learned in my life so far is that things change but God is my stability. My faith has taught me that God calls us all, and we can choose to respond to God’s call with “Here I am Lord, send me.” For a long time I didn’t know what it would look like. I assumed that being called meant that God would just speak to me like how he did to Moses or the prophets. I was so focused to trying to figure out what being called would feel like, how to know I was called and what I could do, and what I could be passionate about for the rest of my life that I missed something very vital. Yes, working in youth ministry opened many doors for me; it gave me the opportunity to get to know and hang out with an amazing group of teens, it helped me in understanding how to network but mostly it would be one other way that God tried to show me how it important the role of community is. But of course that I wasn’t the message I got then… Around the same time, I began to feel distant from God. And of course that worried me, in fact it troubled my heart so much that I did everything I could to “jump start” that feeling, I listened to podcasts and Christian music, I read multiple faith memoirs and read the most Bible I ever had in my life until that point. But the times I felt most at peace and connected to and directed towards God, were the times I was with others, whether it was in church, or during coffee hour, at youth group or even outside of the church community, I felt so much of God’s joy in those times when I was investing in others. This is something that was reinforced in my life at Cal Lutheran.

I began studying religion when I transferred to California Lutheran University. From my first class I was surprised because studying religion is completely different from what I thought it would. I expected that the more I learned about Christianity, the more I would understand and the stronger my faith would become. But I learned quickly that that is not the case, that if anything I had more questions and felt more confused. And of course this troubled me. I expected that any gray areas I already had, would become black and white, but what I found was the gray areas grew; that so much of it is a gray area, and that this is ok. I was surprised that this did not deter me from my academic studies of religion or my desire to keep learning about God and my Christian faith. That is not to say that I didn’t struggle with the growing grayness of trying to understand religion while navigating my faith, but I became increasing comfortable with that reality of the grayness. But to balance the troubled heart and the worry, I found that my friends and the community at CLU acted as a support and helped foster the types of discussions that I needed to help form the roots unique faith that was truly my own. The relationships I developed while at CLU are a result of truly and completely investing in other people and vice versa. I know and understand the importance of being invested in people’s lives because people have been invested in mine. These “investments” have changed how I envision what being called looks like. I began to interpret God’s call not as a voice speaking to me when I’m alone, but as an example set by others throughout my life.

In the last five years I have not struggled more, cried harder, given more, been more determined, grown the most, or loved more. And I have been “prepared” as best I could be for this by being planted in an amazing community in my youth that fostered a loving environment encouraging me to embrace the challenges and gifts in life. I feel that we are never truly ready for the “troubled heart” that John the evangelist writes of, but we are better able to deal with the worries in life and feel God’s presence in our lives during these times when we are surrounding ourselves in community. I know that God’s call for me is going to be centered on investing in others and fostering community. Specifically this means diving into the world of interfaith dialogue and exploring the relationships that God calls me to. In a Comparative Religions class we worked interrogate the ethical and reason based problems posed by inter-religious conflict. It is here at the meeting of global religions and ethics that I began to think about interfaith. What happens when people of different religions come together? What does it do to the individual? Where are the opportunities for tolerance, compassion, and peace? This conviction to focus on and pursue interfaith work is additional way I have come to understand God’s call to me: to embrace community and love everyone. And I am able to reflect the love of God and the work of a community and God’s call to me because I was blessed enough to have the first hand experience of an amazing community that is filled with people giving of themselves, loving each other, loving God and working to follow what it means to be called. And this community is St. Mark’s and it is this that I carried with me to CLU, that I will take with me to the Graduate Theological Union and that I hope to reflect for the rest of my life.

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