Effie Caldarola

You may have heard this before: “The place to which God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

That line is from Frederick Buechner, an ordained Presbyterian minister, theologian and author.

Most of us, within the context of our busy lives, want to serve God, whether it’s pursuing a whole new career or just finding a volunteer role. But sometimes we get bogged down in “what is God calling me to?” and we stand still.

Maybe Buechner’s quote is a good one to pray with during the new year.

Discovering the world’s “deep hunger” isn’t a challenge. Every day, the news bombards us with the cry of the poor in this weary world. We can all name organizations in our town that need help, and we all know our parish has hosts of ministries needing assistance.

We know where the hunger is. It’s that “deep gladness” part that requires some prayer.

Years ago, when I was first married, I volunteered at a center that offered help to women caught in unexpected, and sometimes unwanted, pregnancies. I have always felt that as Christians, our response to women experiencing this situation should be bountiful and full of compassion, and that every woman should be treated with respect.

This was in the days before pregnancy tests were available at every drug store or supermarket, so we provided free pregnancy testing. Just as with home tests today, these required a urine sample. Sometimes women would produce one in our office, or sometimes they would come in with jam jars full of urine whose contents had splashed through and permeated the soggy paper bag they offered us.

Taking the specimen, we would run the test as we talked with the women about their fears and hopes. Surprisingly, it was only with the advent of HIV in the 1980s that the organization had belatedly begun using latex gloves.

Sharing the result, either positive or negative, was a grace-filled moment of intimacy with another woman. Reactions to either result might be happiness, fear, joy, relief and copious tears. We needed to be fully present to a woman at this moment.

The problem: I wasn’t. Oh, I felt the intense emotion and reacted with compassion. But I’m really squeamish. Inevitably, I had a hard time handling someone else’s urine. I could never be a medical professional — I’m darn close to being a germaphobe.

I tried to subsume my interior repugnance in my sense of the sacredness of the moment, but finally I realized this wasn’t working for me. Worse, I wasn’t at my best for those whom I hoped to serve.

Deep gladness was missing. So I shifted my commitment and became the author of the organization’s monthly newsletter, something I enjoyed and for which I had a wee bit of talent. I also produced handwritten thank-you notes for every single donation we received.

I loved this commitment. It was, as the old saying goes, right up my alley.

Often, we see a need, as when the bulletin screams, “The faith formation program needs 20 more teachers!” and we have a sense of “have to.” Sometimes taking on a “have to” project works out. But sometimes, an interior battle rages and gladness is missing.

Questions to ponder in the new year: What kind of service would bring me fulfillment and gladness? What do I do well? When am I sharing at my best? What gets me excited to serve? Where will I be wholly present to another?

Answer those, and then run, do not walk, to make this commitment.