By Ferrell Foster
Looking back 30 years in a journal can be interesting. It reminds you of things you had forgotten, and you can learn some things about yourself.
In the latter half of 1991, Trese and I celebrated the birthdays of two of our children (we had three at the time), bought a new car (the first of our married life), went on a vacation to Florida with our dear friends (the Johnsons), and hosted my mom and dad for a visit (to Illinois from Texas).
As might be expected, I also wrote much about career stuff. I was frustrated in my work as associate editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper and looking for a challenge. Because of my faith approach to living, that struggle was accompanied by a lot of prayer and trying to understand God’s will.
I became convinced I needed to go back to school for a doctorate, then in a matter of two or three months I seemed to forget about that convincing. I received an opportunity to be interim pastor of a small mission in East Illinois and struggled with that before accepting it. I flirted again with my lifelong desire to enter politics. Trese said she saw me as a teacher.
After all of that, on Nov. 18, 1991, I wrote, “Maybe I’m a writer after all.”
Then, on Dec. 18, after interviewing a woman for a story to be in the Illinois Baptist I wrote: “It seems God puts some special stories in my life. Maybe He wants me to be a writer after all.”
Thirty years later, the difference between age 36 and 66, did I figure it out? My career, that is.
No. I never really figured it out. You might think me a bit dense if you realized how much I have gone back and forth in my mind trying to figure out my career path—or “calling,” as we put it in my faith tradition.
Basically, these past 30 years, Trese and I just lived it out, making a few bold moves just as we had before age 36. Mostly, I stayed pretty committed to employers even as I searched for my place in the working and serving world—not bouncing from job to job even as my brain bounced.
Here’s my job rundown since 1991:
— Associate editor (Illinois Baptists)
— Editor (Illinois Baptists)
— Co-pastor / substitute teacher / paperboy (Grace Church, Virden, Ill.)
— News writer (Texas Baptists)
— Creative services director (Texas Baptists)
— News & information director (Texas Baptists)
— Communications director (Texas Baptists)
— Associate director of Advocacy/Care Center (Texas Baptists)
— Director of ethics & justice / coordinator of Texas Baptist Hunger Offering (Texas Baptists)
— Senior specialist for care & communication (Prosper Waco)
Bottom line: lots of change within two long-term commitments (Illinois & Texas Baptists) and two short-term commitments (Grace Church & Prosper).
Throughout it all, I have always been a writer, teacher, and encourager. The middle role, teaching, came primarily in my off hours through church service. But a friend of mine once said writing was a manifestation of the spiritual gift of teaching.
I was confused and frustrated back in 1991. Why? I think it’s because I could never have figured out for myself all the possible directions my life would take. God wired me in a unique way, as God does with all of us, and I just had to live it—day to day, faith to faith.
Trese had to put up with my frustrations, but I’m thankful she’s a Steady Stella, unruffled by the unpredictability of life. In fact, she likes adventure.
Now, at age 66, my word to those who are 36: Keep praying, keep working, keep open to all kinds of possibilities.
Some people seem to know at an early age exactly what they want to do in life or feel called to do. Many of us have a different path; we have to figure it out as we go.
But we’re not alone, or at least I don’t think we are. One of the truest indications to me that there is a Divine Spirit is that this Divinity seems to be there guiding us, even when we don’t want to be guided or are confused in our understanding of the guidance.
I have turned down opportunities, and opportunities have turned me down. I sense that God has been part of that process. I suspect I could have been strong-willed and fought against God, but servant-willed seems to be better even though I’ve done it imperfectly.
How do you know God’s will? That does get tricky when it comes to occupations and careers. I am convinced of this, Divine will never involves work that harms others, unless those it harms are doing evil.
In other words, it would have been right in the 19th century to have a career devoted to ending slavery, even though it would hurt the slaveholders. They were deriving their wealth from an evil, humanity-crushing economic model. Your anti-slavery work would hurt those slaveholders, but it would be good for the slaves and all humanity. In fact, in the long run, it was better for slaveholders even if they never admitted it because it delivered them from their evil ways, even while many of them were going to church.
In today’s world, there are probably careers that involve evil, humanity-crushing activities, but often it’s more a matter of doing any job in a way that takes advantage of others.
For example, you can be an honest car salesperson, or you can be a dishonest one. The problem is often that the individual salesperson may be an honest person who works for a company that expects them to do things that take advantage of customers. This kind of corporate or organizational sin is highly prevalent. We should be extremely thankful when we work for or encounter a company that genuinely looks after the interests of customers while pursuing fair profits.
In other words, it’s a messy world out there—a fallen one in Jewish and Christian terms. We shouldn’t be surprised when our own paths through that world get messy, as well.
It was messy for Paul, that Christian apostle, as well. After writing about the mysterious thorn in his flesh, he said God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NRSV).