Joseph Yoo was 23-years-old when he discovered, “My parents and family were all just road marks letting me know what God was attempting to do.” That was the awakening moment of his personal journey of faith.
God is at work in our lives, often without our prior knowledge (and sometimes without our prior approval). In spite of God’s work, we still have a role to play in developing our own relationships with God.
Because God is at work in our lives, at times we may ask the question: Did you choose faith or did your faith choose you?
My answer: Yes.
A lot of my Evangelical colleagues (and my dad) know their exact date of salvation — some down to the exact time. Me? I think mine happened sometime (gesturing everywhere) between here and there.
I mean, my dad is a retired United Methodist pastor. His oldest brother is a retired Korean Methodist pastor. That uncle’s three kids? His two sons are pastors and his daughter is married to a pastor.
My maternal grandfather was a Presbyterian pastor. My uncle is a pastor. My aunt is married to a pastor. My mom is obviously married to a pastor.
I feel like I was born into the faith (and the church.)
On top of that, my parents (and the entire family) were convinced that I was going to be a pastor for two reasons: 1) when I was 4 (FOUR. YEARS. OLD.), I apparently asked my dad if I could be a pastor like him. That confession was apparently enough to seal my fate. And 2) my grandfather (the Reverend one) prophesied (?) that only one of my parents’ two sons will be a pastor. My parents decided that I’d be a sacrificial lamb placed on the altar of ministry.
Feeling God’s work
Despite what you may think, our family was normal. I think. My parents were convinced that the confession of a 4-year-old was solid. My father told anyone who had ears that I was going to be a pastor when I grew up. He even occasionally called me “Little Rev. Yoo” (in Korean) at home. I felt like I was “pre-destined” for this lot in life. All because my 4-year-old self couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Oh. And Grandpa’s prophesy.
I didn’t mind it. Not when I was younger. I wanted to be like my dad — who doesn’t when they’re little? But as I got older, I felt trapped and burdened by my (pre)destiny. Not because I didn’t want to be like my dad. I just didn’t want to work at a church. There was no money in that job. And church people were not always the best breed of people. Why would I want that life for me?
But of course, I’d never tell my family that.
Who knows what kind of intervention my family would pull? For all I know, my grandpa had a direct line of communication to God with all of his prophesying. When we visited, my grandpa laid his hands on us to pray (of course). Then he explained to my parents what God revealed to him whilst he prayed for us.
I was always afraid that God would rat me out to my grandpa who’d then rat me out to my parents. But strangely enough (and thankfully) my thoughts about not wanting to be a pastor remained safe. However, any time my parents asked, I’d play along. Easier to go along with the plan than bring about a God-sized intervention.
All this led to the weekend of my 23rd birthday (I only remember the time because it was my birthday weekend). Unbeknownst to my family, I had plans to apply to the graduate program for psychology at the University of Hawaii. My plan was to get in first then break it to my family that, while I hadn’t given up the idea of going into ministry, I made other immediate plans to pursue psychology.
Before even getting a chance to fill out the application, my dad informed me that there was this conference called Exploration. It was a conference for young people from like 14- to 25-years old who were exploring a call into ministry. He informed me that I was going. I pushed back (all so slightly) that it was on the weekend of my birthday and that I’d rather stay and celebrate… you know… me.
He said I could celebrate in Chicago, where the conference was being held. And so my tickets were booked. My white friends never understood why I didn’t stand my ground, after all, I was almost 23 years old. My Korean friends knew that I valued the sanctity of my life and knew my age was irrelevant.
It took nearly 18 years for me to recognize that God was pursuing me; “calling” me (the language/word we use when talking about going into ministry). It was at that conference that I knew this faith was mine. It wasn’t my dad’s plan for me; it wasn’t some weird prophesy that my grandfather had laid on me. Instead, this was my calling; my own personal and unique calling. My parents and family were all just road marks letting me know what God was attempting to do. I just chose to ignore it.
Making my own decision for faith
I finally opted in; I “chose” faith and God. But God and faith had chosen me all along.
That realization was just the beginning of my journey; of my awakening.
We often frame salvation (“being saved”) as the end game; as the final chapter of our journey when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
All I knew from that weekend’s experience was that my next step wasn’t going to grad school for psychology. It was to go to seminary instead.
Now almost 18 years after that weekend (where does the time go…), I’m still in the process of awakening. This is why I know that following Jesus is a journey. I’m still learning and growing. My thoughts are still evolving and changing. Sure, Jesus never changes but I do and so do my experiences and perspective.
But here’s the thing. God has always chosen us first. God always has loved us first. God has called us first. And God always had faith in you.
God’s faith in you has never wavered. Neither has God’s love for you ever wavered. For you’ve always mattered to God even when/if God didn’t matter to you.
~ Rev. Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, TX with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com. Rethink Church, produced by United Methodist Communications, explores the question, What is church? A place to go? A time on Sunday morning? Rethink Church believes that together, with the help of God’s love, we can establish meaningful community and share hope with one another. Rethink Church exists to share stories of how that’s happening–even now.