Gifts and Tasks

(Meet Sydney Richards, our newest member of the GNM community. This summer Sydney is serving as our Duke Minister Intern. As you read you will find Sydney bravely shares her call story, journey to the GNM, and hopes for our community and for the world.)

Sydney's Call Story and Question

What are we to do with the life that we’ve been given? Is it truly a gift, a constant crash course, or is it a task? These questions I have pondered, and continue to sit with, in the abruptness of embracing my calling. These questions you too might have pondered, and continue to sit with as you discern your calling and life purpose.

Just one year ago on the campus of High Point University, after attending bible study, I mosied back to my dorm room, dreading to begin my long night of paper writing and study. Just one year ago on the campus of High Point University, I was in a season of life that dealt me cards of overwhelming worry and bone chilling anxiety. There I was, drowning in the sea of 20 credit hours, leading three organizations, and working three jobs, while struggling so desperately to find God in all of it. There I was facing persecution for my religious beliefs and practice, being ostracized and bullied by my peers. There I was suffering and sulking in isolation, contemplating on willfully ending my life story with suicide.

To be quite honest, I simply had no knowledge what I was specifically to do with the willed future I hoped God would give. It was that night after bible study, that night in my last semester of college, where I entered into the door of my dorm room, finding that I would never enter the same again. Just one year ago on the campus of High Point University after attending bible study, God came to me in ways I never ever experienced before. Just five weeks before graduation I was given immediate instruction on what to do with the life that i’ve been given.

The instruction was clear. The direction was specific. The timing was impeccable. I received answers, instruction, and direction I didn’t expect. Unfortunately I didn’t want to accept any of it as truth. How could I be called to minister to people? Why was I told to specifically apply to Duke two weeks prior to the application cut off? Was this instruction truly a gift? Did I have to obey and follow this blueprint of a task? These were all questions I continued to ask myself during my first year of Duke Divinity School.

Now What? 

Facing one anxiety after another, I continued listening to God. My obedient nature annoyed me. What did I really get myself into? What does it mean to minister anyway? I had so many anxieties surrounding preaching, teaching, and serving now that weren’t there before, but why? Wasn’t I the same person I was before the call? Didn’t I still love God? It was the time of year where Field Education Interviews had began. Each interview was conducted to determine each student’s placement (unless you chose to self initiate a field education placement). Clueless, nervous and anxious, I recall boldly stating in my application and interview that I did not desire to be placed in a setting that would require me to preach.

To me preaching was HUGE. Being raised by my mother who is a preacher showed me how serious such a task was. I watched her gear up for receiving and giving the message, in posture and mind from beginning to the end. I confidently could say that I wanted no parts in any of it. For such a task that HUGE,  I simply felt too small for. Little did I know before my Field Education placement even began, God would call me to preach. I was provided my first and second preaching opportunity. To my surprise (again) God’s abrupt call and instruction has allowed me to gain courage through obedience.

Field Education Placement: A Divine Predestination

As I ask the same questions now about my field education placement and upcoming adventures, of “What to do with this life given to be lived in the space of The Good Neighbor Movement?” and “Is it truly a gift, or a task?”.  I see that God too was at work making it so that I be placed with a church that creates no limits, confines no space, and directly commits to community and justice. Although some answers to my questions have been provided, I believe God placed me here with The Good Neighbor Movement to do the work in re-imagining the structures and traditions that have been adopted and furthered throughout church history.

I am to re-think what the church truly is and what the church is charged to do. I am excited to be placed here to share the love of God in intentional community. In this community the values of service, activism, relationship, and charity ooze over into my imagination of who God is, and what work God might be trying to do in me during this process. What are we called to do with the life that has been given? I imagine that will be answered as I am actively engaged and fully immersed in the physical and mental space of my neighbors. For life is truly a gift we receive daily and a task we live out boldly. Amen