To Say Yes To God and the Gifts That Follow
Sarah M. Whitman
This story is a reflection on being
led to undertake a task and the unexpected gifts
that can follow when you say yes to God.
In our family, my husband is Jewish
and I am Quaker. For our daughter's religious training,
we have decided to do alternating years of religious
education, one year of Jewish instruction alternating
with her attending Quaker Meeting with me the following
year. The 2006-2007 year was to be our daughter's
Quaker year, so it was with great concern that I
heard at the end of last summer that the middle school
First Day School program at our Meeting was up in
the air. If no one came forward to direct the program
for middle schoolers, there was even concern that
it might be eliminated.
The idea came to me of helping with the middle school,
perhaps for a month or two. However, a spiritual
practice I am learning to follow is to hold all decisions
involving more than minimal time commitment in the
Light before saying yes or no. There are many, many
things which spark my interest, but I am learning
to practice discernment to determine which of these
I am called to do. To my surprise, instead of being
led away from taking on any First Day School responsibility,
over the following few weeks I felt guided to take
on that role even more fully - to lead the middle
school program, rather than help, and to do this
for the whole school year.
I feel I am only in the beginning stages
of learning discernment, but there were several clues
I used to figure out what God's plan was for me.
The idea of being involved with the middle school
program returned to me repeatedly, and seemed to
come to me, more so than my struggling intellectually
over the pros and cons of the decision. I also had
a growing sense of peace and excitement about doing
the work, rather than increasing apprehension or
concerns about it. The last clue that this was a
leading struck me as somewhat funny, as if God had
a teasing sense of humor. This clue was a sense of
inevitability about the leading. It was a sense,
deep-down, that I was called do this, but that God
would be patient while I went through my human muddlings,
until I accepted.
Despite a growing feeling that this
was a leading, as I contemplated doing that work,
it brought up insecurities for me. Do I know enough
about Quakerism? Do I practice Quakerism well enough?
Am I cool enough to work with middle schoolers?
As I took time to hold these concerns in the Light,
I began to see more clearly the opportunities I had
been given to prepare for this work. A few years
ago, another Friend in our Meeting had worked with
the middle school class for the whole year. I had
enjoyed talking with him occasionally about his experiences
from that year. I remembered being inspired by and
thankful for his taking on such a big commitment
for the young teens. Now I began to see how these
conversations had also served to plant a seed to
enable me to consider doing this task.
The most important preparation, however, was teaching
in the younger First Day School last year under the
guidance of Christie Duncan-Tessmer. (Christie is
currently the PYM Children’s Religious Education
Coordinator.) She demonstrated teaching in an exciting,
and deeply spiritual and deeply respectful way. As
I saw and experienced it, this teaching was based
on 1) valuing experiential learning rather than just
talking about Quakerism, 2) teaching the younger
children how to center and listen for God's guidance,
3) teaching Quaker discernment by having them practice
it, and 4) trusting in the discernment process enough
to follow their leadings about topics and activities.
During the section I helped teach, I had the sense
of humbly serving as a facilitator to help the children
uncover their own relationship with the Divine.
I felt in awe of the intricacies of God's plans when
I looked back at the experiences I had had that enabled
me to be prepared to accept this leading.
Several Friends in my Meeting voiced concerns about
my being out of Meeting for Worship for a whole year,
in terms of missing the spiritual nourishment that
happens there. But I felt, very securely, that my
worship for this year would be grounded in the middle
After asking my Meeting to hold me
in the Light as I undertook developing and teaching
the middle school program, I stepped forward. This
year so far has been a gift to me in unexpected ways.
During this year of teaching middle
school, I have felt completely clear that I am called
to do this work. This sense of clarity has been in
contrast to other decisions in which the direction
I was being called to take has been murkier. I have
thus been enabled to put aside anxieties and to trust
that, if I was being led to do this, I would be given
the resources to do a good job.
During this year, I have had the experience
of each lesson coming together easily - both which
topics to teach as well as how to teach them so that
they matter to middle schoolers. Each week, ideas
have bubbled up, sometimes when I have been thinking
about that week's lesson as well as spontaneously.
I have felt that I am not developing these lessons,
but rather that they are being given to me. I do
feel that I need to consider the lesson and prepare,
but that this happens in a light and easy way. (Manna
from heaven had to be gathered up from the ground,
but that nourishment, too, floated down freely.)
Given that this is God's curriculum, I also feel
that it is not up to me if it is "successful." I
am responsible for the work, but the outcome is in
God's hands. In accepting this guidance, I have felt
what it is like to trust God more fully.
The most profound blessing I have received is a sense
of continual connection with God. All week, I feel
I am waiting upon God, remaining in connection with
the Divine, and receiving messages from God. It is
an open channel. What is all the more striking about
this is that, over the last few years, I have been
looking for ways to increase my sense of connection
to God during the week. I have wanted to add spiritual
practices, in addition to Sunday Meeting for Worship,
that deepen my spiritual connection to God. I have
tried mid-week Meeting for Worship with a few Friends,
different types of meditation, and a spiritual companion's
group, yet none of these has felt quite right. So
in an unexpected calling, I have found an answer
to a deep desire.
While I was unknowingly being prepared over the last
few years so that this leading could grow and produce
wonderful fruit, I also wonder if there was another
crucial component. This was my wanting to ensure
that my daughter had an opportunity to experience
Quakerism and explore her own relationship with God.
It was at the moment of being unsure if this would
be available for my daughter that this leading first
became known to me. Because my own deepening relationship
with the Divine has been nurtured through Quakerism,
I wanted to share with her that which is increasingly
important to me.
ln wanting to ensure that my daughter
had a chance to experience the power of a relationship
with God through the middle school program, I ended
up receiving that very experience myself