My father, Albert “Lewis” Marler, was born on July 23, 1921 and died on May 26, 1998.
He was the youngest of seven children, and raised in rural Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. His father, Robert S. Marler, was a Baptist preacher and a sharecropper, meaning they never owned the land he farmed and his family moved to wherever the help was needed.
When my father was 16 or 17, he overheard his parents having a “spirited discussion” about him as he lay in bed one night. His mother, Suzy, was asking her husband to talk with Lewis about “becoming a minister.” She thought she had sensed his struggle, and she figured a little encouragement from his father wouldn’t hurt. She was a person of strong faith, and I imagine secretly she hoped her youngest would be a preacher but never said a word to him about it.
My grandfather said in his rugged, determined voice, “If the Lord is going to call Lewis to be a preacher, the Lord is going to do it. Nothing I say is going to help.” End of discussion.
It was decades later when I was a junior in college that my father first told me this story in response to my own struggle as I tried to figure out what I was going to do with my life after college. I had already changed my major and potential future vocation a few times at Clemson.
I called him late on Sunday night as was our custom and asked, “Dad, how do I know if God is calling me to be a minister?” He shared the above story, though he had a softer tone with me.
He said, “Malcolm, all I can say is you’ll just know.” I wanted more evidence, more clarity. “Dad, how the heck am I going to know? How can I know for sure?” I demanded, and wanted him to give me the answer.
He was quiet for a moment and repeated his answer, but softer this time. “Trust me, you will just know, Malcolm,” in his reassuring voice. And then he added, “I will pray for you that you will have a peace about whatever you decide to do.” There was no hint what he wanted for me. He knew only I could ultimately decide.
Over the next few weeks, I prayed with great frustration. “God, I’ll do anything you want me to do except be a preacher.” No peace, only anxiety. Nothing. Finally, I laid it on the line. I prayed the same prayer but changed the last phrase to, “even if you want me to be a minister. But you’re going to have give me a peace about it if that’s what you want me to do!” As if I could tell God what to do. But wouldn’t you know it, a peace and calmness came over me over the next day about my future vocational choice. And it has stayed with me for thirty-four years.
When I called to tell my dad that I had a “rightness, or a peace” about this direction, he repeated what he always said to me when I made important decisions in my life, “I have no doubt you can do whatever you want to do with God’s help. I believe in you.” He said the same words when I previously was going to be a businessman, a football coach, a psychologist, and now a minister.
And this has been a life long lesson for me. Sometimes I have done it well with others, and sometimes I have not.
Encourage the person you love to find their own path in life, their own direction, their own “calling” in life if you will. Remember it’s simply not your call. It is their call. It belongs to them.
I’ve heard so many parents or spouses say over the years, “You can’t make enough money being a teacher,” or “What do you plan on doing with a psychology degree? Why don’t you consider being a doctor or lawyer?” Always trying to “call” or direct him or her in a direction s/he thinks is best.
My father was right. There is a still, small voice within all of us calling us to exercise a passion that only we can discover and know. Follow your heart.
Whether it is your child, or spouse, or partner, believe in them, encourage them, and love them, but don’t tell them what to do in their vocation. It’s not your call.
My father taught me so.