I love the story of the boy Samuel being called by God while he served Eli the priest. It is a beautiful passage that really speaks to some of the most critical aspects of growing up and growing up in God. On the one hand, in the story, God is clearly calling Samuel and thus it is time for the next move in Samuel’s life. In short, this story is the basis for Samuel’s first act as a prophet. At the same time, the text is equally clear that Samuel doesn’t know God is the one who is speaking to him. So, Samuel is arriving at the next step on his life’s journey but he doesn’t arrive there fully formed, he still has plenty of learning to do. In essence it is both a “yes” and “no” moment in Samuel’s life. Yes, it is time for the next step which in Samuel’s case is his first task as a prophet. But, no, Samuel has not yet fully matured, and thus he doesn’t completely understand what is happening or who is speaking.
We all live regularly through these types of moments where now is the time for life’s next phase but yet where we are not fully ready for what is before us in the new life moment. In fact, growing up is full of occasions that fall into this category. Riding a bike with training wheels, operating a car with a learner’s permit or taking a hard course in school with a tutor by our side are all examples. Each of these moments signal that in big and small ways, we reached a new milestone in life. We can now ride a bike, drive a car or take an advanced class. Yet, in each of these moments, as I have described them, we arrive with a safety valve in place or fallback that allows us to know that we are not alone and that we have some help.
College is perhaps one of the most critical examples of this. Going to college is a huge milestone. When we go to college we begin our first real foray into adulthood. We find ourselves taking the hardest classes academically that we have ever experienced. And, we are tasked with making many decisions on our own for the first time.
Yet, while we are adults, we still fall back on our parents for most of our needs. While we have graduated from High School, we certainly are still growing in our academic understanding. And, as we make first time decisions, we not only have our parents but trusted professors, advisors and other adults in our lives as well as God who help us navigate it all.
It is this tricky balance between trusting in our developed abilities and skills that have gotten us to this place while not becoming so sure of ourselves that we fail to embrace the natural safeguards that are ours for this moment that is so critical to maintain. After all, we are always at our best when we allow God to help us live right in the middle of this tension.
It is God who whispers into our ear that we have the skills and foundation to do well in this new place. But, it also God that can and will whisper into our ear that we don’t know everything and thus we need others and God’s daily wisdom to help us along the way. In essence this is what God was saying to Samuel and it is also what God will remind us of if we will allow God’s voice to be heard in our lives.
As Samuel lives into this in between moment, one of the most critical skills for him is that of becoming a listener. That, after all, is what the whole story is about. God is speaking and Samuel needs to learn to listen for God and also to hear God clearly. Ultimately, Samuel’s role as a leader of Israel would be directly connected to his ability to hear God correctly.
Those of you going to college and all of us as Christ followers are at the same point. We must got into life’s new seasons with confidence and courage as we listen to God remind us that we are ready for the moments that we find ourselves in. But we also must go allow God to remind us to live humbly, realizing that the more we listen to others and to God’s voice that the more we will have the help from outside of us that we need.
I appreciated a piece I read recently about a man who had survived a tornado in his community. He said that his observation was that two types of objects survived the storm – things that had good foundations and things that were flexible. Those objects with strong foundations had something to hold onto and those objects that were flexible had enough bend to adapt as the wind blew. (Glad Reunion, John Claypool, pg. 78)
That is our calling, as we go to college and as we go into new places and moments in life. Our calling is to have confidence in our foundation and a willingness at the same time to be flexible enough to take and grown from advice outside of ourselves. If we will listen, God will remind us at times of both. Amen.