Have you earnestly searched for an answer but found none? Have you prayed for a clear path to move forward but noticed no clarity ahead? At that moment I would have been thankful for such uncertainty. Regrettably, God had rather soundly and conspicuously shared His decision, and the answer was a resounding “no.” As much as I wanted to deny it, even I had to acknowledge that the door of academic opportunity had miraculously closed.
Matthew 7:3-5 has been vital in my understanding of the experience: “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
When God redirected my academic life, He did so by providing the financial and practical means to study social work. I fought God every semester until I graduated with a Master of Social Work degree. I got my clinical social work license, but I could not see why. During the early years of my career I persisted in my hope that God would miraculously steer me in a different direction. To my surprise, there was no change in plans. God had indeed given His final answer. I have come to read Matthew 7:3-5 as God’s loving invitation to remove the plank from my eye. My plank was pride. I had wanted to spend my life doing something a little more—prestigious. Instead I was thrust into a profession focused on meeting the basic human needs of the most vulnerable and oppressed.
As a clinical social worker I have worked in an inpatient psychiatric hospital with those experiencing a psychiatric emergency. I have had the privilege of serving in a hospice and palliative-care setting, spending time with the dying and those who must endure the pain of losing a loved one. I have spent years as a psychotherapist, supporting those struggling with interpersonal problems, addiction, and other issues that impact their lives. Most recently I have focused on oncology social work, where I work with those diagnosed with cancer to support their emotional well-being and that of their family. Daily I can practice social work’s core values of (1) service; (2) working toward social change, particularly with and on behalf of the vulnerable and oppressed; (3) respect for the dignity and worth of the person; (4) the importance of human relationships; (5) integrity; and (6) competence.
As I look back on my social work career, I find a second application of Matthew 7:3-5. More than once I have been tempted to think that my “experience” and education allow me to guide an individual seeking help. Jesus’ words, however, caution me against that temptation. He asks me to pause so that I may see my shortcomings, faults, and struggles. He asks me to see that despite those shortcomings, He can use my feeble efforts so others may experience grace, forgiveness, and peace.
It’s not unusual for my clients to speak about regret. I worked with a man who was very ill and very lonely. His guilt and shame were more overwhelming than the physical pain and daily deterioration he experienced. Since I was working for an organization that welcomed spiritual conversations, I asked if he believed in a forgiving God. The answer was slow and painful: “I have nothing else. I have to believe.” With those short sentences he put away his pride and opened the door to God’s direction. We talked about human failing and divine power; humans being adrift but God firmly in control. That was one of several moments in my career when God quietly whispered in my ear: Remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. At the end of that session, I spent some time alone with God and submissively acknowledged that His plans are infinitely better than mine. I am still thankful for God’s final answer.
What plans do you have? What plans does God have for you? As you consider the road ahead, I pray that you may spend time seeking an answer from above. He will help you clearly see how you can find meaning and purpose in your life. You will not be disappointed.