I recently heard a story from the life of St. Francis of Assisi that captured an essential lesson for me in apostolic leadership. We need friends!
The story goes like this:
When St Francis said yes to God’s call to “rebuild” the Church, to care for the poor and sick, and to proclaim the gospel, he said no to a lot of other things. He said no to the previous direction of his life, he said no to a life of luxury and worldly success, and he said no to his parents, who were wealthy merchants. In fact he literally took the extravagant clothing off his back and gave them back to his father before he walked out into the streets.
And that was a choice he had to live with everyday. Everyday Francis would walk to the heart of his city to preach the gospel and care for the poor and sick. Everyday he would walk past his father’s shop and everyday he would face a barrage of insults and ridicule from his father as he walked by. “You’re wasting your life.” “You’ve turned your back on us.” “You are a fool.”
In the loneliness of his calling, it was difficult for Francis to keep his father’s words from taking root in his soul. Had he been a fool? Was he wasting his life?
He made a decision to hold on to his identity as a beloved and called out son of God.
So he hired a beggar to walk beside him each day and remind him of God’s calling on his life. Each day as he passed by his father’s shop, in one ear he would hear words of rejection and condemnation, but in the other ear he would hear the words that his soul longed to hear. “You are the beloved of God.”
Francis needed the truth of his new identity literally spoken into his ear. And in the absence of friends and partners to fill the role of “identity affirmer” he picked a guy off the streets to continually point him back to Jesus’ good invitation!
Who do you have to point you back to Jesus and his good calling on your life?
The identity of an apostle is a “sent one.” It is hard to be sent. When you are sent to a place you are probably also sent from a place. Leaving is hard and going is hard. Apostles stand at the point of the spear as new manifestations of the Church break into new places. And they often stand alone.
It was hard and costly for Francis to leave his life of comfort to follow Jesus in mission to the least.
I’m sure that each of the writers on this blog have stories of the costliness and even loneliness of following Jesus into APE leadership. Some have already posted stories about leaving one place to see the gospel planted in another.
Friendship in my life
In moving from California to Nebraska to see new things started on college campuses we’ve paid costs and experienced loneliness. We’re far from many of the important relationships that we’ve depended on. Fundraising is a constant challenge. And it never feels awesome to get rejected by 18 year olds!
Throughout this last semester we’ve been filled with joy as we’ve seen students come to faith and respond for themselves to Jesus’ invitation to mission. But still we’ve had a nagging voice in our ears calling our identity, decisions and sent-ness into question.
We’ve had to constantly play the role of the beggar in St Francis’ story, and remind each other of our calling, our value, and our identity as God’s beloved.
I was recently able to spend a full weekend with a great friend who lives 1500 miles away. As we spoke truth and reminded each other of God’s call on our lives I was reminded again of how absolutely essential friendship is in saying yes to Jesus and his mission for the long haul.
In the loneliness of the apostolic calling, we need friends who will remind us of who we are as the beloved sons and daughters of God. We need partners who will affirm our sent-ness, and who will point us back again and again to the one who sends us.
How have you experienced the loneliness of the apostolic calling? Where do you hear voices of condemnation and rejection? Who in your life points you back to the one who has sent you?