One of the several ways Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant impacted me in regards to college ministry was by highlighting the importance of the everyday… including the everyday tasks, the fodder for so many of our to-do lists, the rows of have-tos or need-tos that can simultaneously overwhelm and depress me.
In the book, Peterson describes a dream in which he discovers a friend has written a best-selling book. He continues,
I left the telephone booth, went back into the bookstore, and bought a copy of Geri Ellingson’s new best-seller, Lists. I opened it and started to read. It was a compilation of lists. That’s all, lists. Grocery list, laundry list, fix-up list, Christmas card list, bill-paying list, shopping list. No text, no narrative, no explanation, no commentary – just lists.
When I woke, I knew immediately the meaning of my dream: lists are best-seller material. In my hurry to recover the essentials of spirituality in my life – a sense of the presence of God, a spacious leisure for savoring grace – I had thrown away the raw material for it, my list. The items that I thought were interfering with the holiness of my vocation were the very materials of its holiness.
Leading a congregation in worship was glorious – this weekly gathering of hungry and thirsty people around the bounteous mysteries of Word and Sacrament. But telephoning a couple of forgetful sinners later to straighten out a misunderstanding on the nursery schedule was a triviality I resented.
Teaching university students was a high calling. But getting the grades to the registrar’s office was an irritation.
Writing a book was satisfyingly creative. But getting the manuscript packaged and mailed was beneath the dignity of my office.
Praying for God’s healing and love was a priestly honor. But listening to the whine and resentment of an unattractive man was something I was going to delegate to my deacons next time around.
And then the dream showed me that each of these items was best-seller material – grading exams, standing in the post office line, putting up with the inconvenient emotions, telephoning forgetful mothers.
In my last college ministry position, I kept a regular to-do list. Only at the top, I titled it “Eternal Too-Do” – to remind myself that all these “basic” things were, because they were very much a part of my calling, eternal too.