Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
Today is St. Patrick’s Day. While it’s often thought of as a day for drinking and partying, I like remembering the man whom God saved by grace through faith in Christ, the saint (holy person) who was ushered into the church triumphant on this day in 461.
The story of St. Patrick is both tragic and remarkable. He was born 386 in Britain during the period it was under the rule of the Roman Empire. Tragically, he was captured by Irish raiders at age 16 and forced to become a shepherd slave. In the Confession, he describes the losses and challenges he faced as he was utterly alone, often naked and without food. His solitary and challenging circumstances allowed time for much reflection. Though he was not a Christian, he began to pray. After six years, he was guided by a vision from God that led to his freedom and conversion to Christ.
When he returned home, his parents begged him to never leave them again. But he had another vision in which he heard the voice of the Irish calling out to him, “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk among us again.” After a period of religious training, he returned as a missionary to Ireland. This missionary endeavor was literally to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) as this island was the farthest known place before the Great Atlantic and outside the rule of the Roman Empire.
Patrick’s knowledge of the Irish language and customs facilitated his work in converting and baptizing Druid priests, chieftains, and aristocrats. Patrick knew if he could reach the leaders of this people, others would follow. This was an entirely new method of missionary work, but God used Patrick’s great faith and leadership to bring thousands to Christ.
In just a few generations, devout Christ followers in the footsteps of Patrick turned Ireland from a pagan nation to a Christian one. In addition, many from the Celtic monastic tradition were sent to other unreached lands. Their story is one of the greatest missionary endeavors in history.
St. Patrick is a saint and a hero worth learning about. I think his story is particularly relevant to us as this past week marked the yearlong shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In my last post, Change Is Easy; Transition Is Hard, I shared about a podcast by Patrick Lencioni (Episode 80). He talked about the seven kinds of losses we experience in transition, which is relevant as we are in the midst of a senior leadership transition. But it’s even more pertinent as all of us are in the midst of huge shift as we begin to come out of the lockdown of the pandemic.
We have to accept that life is made up of a series of transitions and losses that we can’t escape. The first step is to name what we are losing. Then we have to choose how we will respond by asking the important question: “What am I going to do?” Lencioni outlines four options: restore, replace, redesign, relinquish. If we don’t choose how we will respond, we become victims, and that leads to bitterness and resentment. We are likely to remain stuck rather than moving forward. There is no doubt that our faith in God can help us.
Each of these options is not available with every loss. If we lose a job, we may be able to choose between whether we want to seek to restore it by getting additional training or experience or replace it by finding another similar position in a different company. Or we may decide we want to relinquish that particular kind of work completely and then redesign our lives and vocation by going in a completely new direction.
We may face several choices when confronted with losses in relationships due to separation or divorce, launching children into adulthood, or when we or others around us move from one job to another. If our loss is due to death, we have no alternative but to relinquish. But in time, God can turn our mourning to joy, bringing healing and hope and newness of life if we choose to let go and let God.
St. Patrick is such a beautiful example of someone who chose to respond by letting go of his pain and letting God do in and through and for him what only God can do. Only the power of God could take so much loss and redeem it for his sacred purposes. Only God could turn a suffering slave into a sacrificial servant. Only God could give a broken and hurting man the vision to see his enemies with compassion and kindness and to love them as his neighbors. Only God could give a man the desire to generously give his life in sharing the good news of Christ with those who had stolen six years of his life and taken so much from him.
St. Patrick’s example challenges me to think about how each of us individually and together as a church will choose to respond to the circumstances of this year. Patrick chose to relinquish his past pain and allowed God to replace that with forgiveness and love. Patrick understood he had been an enemy of God but was now a child of God, so he chose to respond by seeking to restore past experiences and relationships by becoming a missionary. He also chose to redesign the way mission work was done by reaching leaders first to be more effective in reaching more of the Irish people for Christ.
My question is how will we will choose to respond to this difficult year in our lives to move into the hopeful future God has for us? We too have to acknowledge the losses and be willing to relinquish any sense of bitterness or anger due to our experience. We have to consider those relationships and experiences that we may be able to restore as we come out of this lockdown. But some things we need to simply let go so we can replace them with a new way of living faithfully in a new era.
What excites me most is the possibilities as we consider how God might be inviting us to redesign what we do and how we do it. This is true in our families, work, and even church. How might God be calling us to let go of the busyness and productivity mindset to live more faithfully and to let God bear greater fruit in our lives? How might we live and serve differently to reach more people for Christ? We have an amazing opportunity ahead to allow God to lead us in redesigning how we do ministry to reach more people for Christ as we live out our mission of becoming like Christ together for the world.
I said on Sunday we won’t be going back to the way things were after this pandemic. We must trust our Lord Jesus, the suffering servant, crucified Messiah, risen and reigning Lord, to lead us into a new and hopeful future. St. Patrick inspires me because, like our Lord Jesus, he was willing to leave the comfort of his rightful home to seek and save and serve the lost. May God so transform our pain so we too can be empowered to live as God’s humble servants to a broken and sinful world desperately in need of the good news of Jesus our Lord.