Go fast. Go hard. Go far.
That’s the message of our culture, isn’t it? You want to be labelled a leader? Then, you better race to the top, push all the boundaries, blaze all the trails.
Even in our churches, we sometimes double-down on that one word in the Matt 28:19-20 great commission—”Therefore GO“—and de-emphasize the steady, relationship-oriented work that must happen to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Certainly, when God calls us to go, whether it’s into a new opportunity or a new place, we need to go. But what if one way He’s calling you or me to go is by calling us to stay?
What if He’s calling you to stay the course right now? Could it be that He’s asking you to help others go forward in their faith by serving the people right in your own home, neighborhood, office, or school who need to see Jesus wrapped in your skin?
That was one of my takeaways as I studied the life of Hilda of Whitby, a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon royal also known as St. Hild. While Lydia, the first “wise woman and leading lady” in our series, was transplanted to another country with her business before being called to start a house church there, Hilda was called to be on mission right in her hometown.
Oh, she had plans to go, to head right out of England into France where women could gain ministry education and training in monastic life. In fact, she was a couple hundred miles south of her Northumbrian kingdom, ready to sail across the English Channel when God called her to go home.
This was not the misogynistic “Go home!” rebuke that ignited a firestorm last fall about whether women should serve in certain ministries. This was a call to return to Northumbria and invest in women and men to impact a nation for the gospel. After her formal call, Hilda spent a year of contemplative preparation, taught by the scholarly Bishop Aiden who first invited her to join his work. Then, she began establishing monasteries as places of Christian learning. She eventually built the historic double-monastery at Whitby, where men and women were housed separately to receive Christian education under her governance as their spiritual mother.
A place of outreach to the community, Hilda’s monastery had significant impact. Bede, a monk writing fifty years after her death, relates that it was patterned “after the primitive Church [in Acts 2:42-47], no one there was rich, and none poor, for they had all things in common, and none had any private property. Her prudence was so great…even kings and princes sought and received her counsel.” She launched the ministry careers of five bishops, three of whom served in other parts of England. She was also the first spiritual leader to support the spread of the gospel through songs written in everyday Anglo-Saxon, rather than only the Latin hymns of the church. These songs, written by an elderly cowherd named Caedmon whom she took under her wing, are regarded as the first English sacred poetry. Her name still graces schools and colleges around the globe because of her commitment to the people God called her to serve. Quite a legacy for someone called to go home, and one that offers us additional takeaways when it comes to pursuing our own callings.
Calling is often preceded by a sense of restlessness: Hilda had been a Christian from her teens, honoring her primary call as a Christ-follower, but in her thirties, she sensed God calling her to a specific, secondary calling. She assumed the path forward was to join a convent in France, one of the few places that provided Christian education for women. So, she moved forward in her restlessness as best as she could determine was God’s will. The fact that she already had a seeking heart prepared to “go” for God meant she was ready to step onto the path He revealed in His timing. How like our God to use the lack of opportunities at home to spur her on a journey to seek Him only to answer her heart’s desire by calling her to create those very opportunities in the place she thought she had to leave behind.
Our calling is interwoven with that of others: No man or woman is an island. We hyperfocus on individual accomplishments, but Hilda’s life and legacy were all about community. She lived out the great commission, but she was never isolated in that goal. From the missionary who led her to Christ, to the relationships built as a hometown girl, to the mentor/spiritual director Aiden, to the countless men and women who blossomed in faith through her monasteries, other people were part of Hilda’s story. God is glorified when we work through the body of believers under the headship of Christ to do His will on earth.
A life glorifying God creates indestructible treasure: If Hilda’s only legacy were the buildings she constructed, she’d have no legacy at all. Viking raiders destroyed her community a few hundred years after her time. We only know a bit of her history from one monk whose work happened to be preserved, and only one of her protégé’s Anglo-Saxon songs survived to modern times. And for every Hilda whose name we know, there are millions of godly people whose names are known only to their Creator. The goal of fulfilling our calling is not the earth-bound structures we build, systems we create, or causes we champion. Those are some of the tangible by-products, but what we are doing as we pursue God’s purposes is building his indestructible family of believers. Hilda, called “Mother” by all who knew her, left behind that kind of legacy in the lives of those she discipled for Christ, and we can do the same.
“Should I stay or should I go?” may be the refrain of your search to fulfill a calling, but however God shapes your influence on others for His kingdom, be like Hilda, prepared to do the work He’s called you to do wherever He’s called you to do it. And don’t forget the final sentence of Christ’s great commission:
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 19:20)