I’m not Irish. My step mother-in-law is and that could possibly count for something. Otherwise, St. Patrick’s Day has never meant a ton to me, besides my memories of how hard it was to go to gymnastics class on St. Patrick’s Day never having any leotards with green in them. An entire leotard wardrobe with no green? It was so unfair. That is why I’ve spent today doing a little research into our man of the day, Patrick. In my hours of research (Just Wikipedia. And, ok, maybe it was more like 20 minutes of research. But come on, that’s still a commitment.), I’ve been challenged by the life and faithfulness of this saint who annually gets lost in a festival of green beer.
There are not a lot of legit, historical accounts of his life. Two of his letters remain but most of what’s written about him does not necessarily constitute scholarly historical recording. A lot our knowledge of his life is based on apocryphal tales. But we do know this: Patrick was a faithful man who suffered under the hands of the very people he later went on to rescue in the name of Christ.
He was born in the late 4th century as the son of a deacon in Roman Britain. He was captured at the age of 16 and taken as a slave to Ireland where he lived for the next six years until he heard God’s voice telling him he should flee his master, which he did. Patrick was able to return to his homeland in his early twenties. And within a few years he experienced another vision. In it, a man came to him, carrying letters. On one of the letters was the heading, “The Voice of the Irish.” And as he read the letter, Patrick imagined the very people he had known in Ireland, those who had enslaved him, calling out together: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” (Saint Patrick's World: The Christian Culture of Ireland's Apostolic Age, Liam De Paor, 1993.)
The dates are vague, but it appears that the Pope ordained and sent Patrick as the first Bishop of Ireland in 431. That means he waited twenty or so years after seeing the vision of the Irish people calling to him before he ever stepped foot back in Ireland. I love that. I love that Patrick waited a long time—about the length of time it takes to raise a child—before God provided a way for him to fulfill what must have felt like a very specific calling.
I often feel that daily life at home with my son is not putting to use the gifts God has given me. Giving up full time youth ministry has broken my heart in a lot of ways. I love being with high school girls. I can’t walk past the middle school on the way from my house to Trader Joe’s without my blood pressure amping up and my heart feeling the urge to pray. My favorite way to spend an afternoon is watching a high school field hockey game in the sunshine and taking a girl out for water ice. I know I am uniquely gifted for ministry to teenagers and that makes it all the more difficult to be in this season when, for many reasons, I cannot give my life away to kids.
But, I do believe in seasons. And I do believe in calling. And I believe that Patrick heard those voices saying, “walk among us,” and still had to live for another twenty years—studying, learning, praying—until God’s timing was spot on.
And it was then, when Patrick and his former captors were ready, that a grown man came back to the land where he had been a frightened boy and preached (in words and life) a gospel of forgiveness and redemption, and brought Christ into an entire culture of people.
So, wherever we are in our seasons of life, however our talents are or aren’t being used, I hope that today, with every green shirt you see and goofball pinch, you are reminded that God is always going ahead of us and there are always voices (whether they are our children’s or strangers’) begging us to “come and walk” among them.