The story is told that Winston Churchill stuttered as a young child. This is the Winston Churchill whose later eloquence was probably the single-most important factor in saving western Europe from tyranny in the 1940s. Churchill stuttered as a self-conscious, frightened little boy. Now there’s a developmental theory that would say his oratorical brilliance as an adult developed as a compensation for his childhood sense of inferiority.[i] This “compensation theory” says that, for example, in our childhood or youth the challenges, say, of birth defects, of illness, of discrimination, of poverty, of family craziness, or of other unfortunate circumstances provide the very stimulus for all later higher achievements. In other words, this compensation theory would say that small, sickly, self-conscious, or sad children are driven by this principle of compensation to develop into towering leaders of activity and strength. Churchill would seem an example of it, and some of us here may identify with that very notion.
But there’s another “take” on why it is we grow into who we are, which is called the “acorn theory.”[ii] Growing up is not about compensation; it’s about recovery. Each of us enters the world, something like an acorn, with the seed of calling, with a sense of identity, with a vision of destiny. And so, of course Churchill stuttered as a child! Given this nascent, daunting sense as a child that his voice, his voice would be the instrument to save the western world, of course he stuttered as a child. Wouldn’t you? We may well have glimpsed our destiny or life’s calling when we were yet a child, but we might have avoided it, or denied it, or run from it. In Jesus’ words, we may have put the light of our calling under a bushel basket.
You have this unique acorn within you. You are a certain person, and that person begins to appear early in your life… but it’s actually been there all the way through your life, from the very beginning. Life is not about our compensating for our earlier inferiorities; life is about recovering our true self. Or, in the language of Psalm 27, which we have just prayed: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life, of whom then shall I be afraid…”
In the calendar of the church, we remember today a 7th century monk in Rome who was sent to England as a missionary. This is Paulinus. He would preach, and teach, arbitrate and adjudicate, and rescue and provide sanctuary. Ultimately became Archbishop of York. He found the clarity and courage to say “yes” to his life, to his life’s vocation, to his life’s calling which had been seeded into him at his birth.
And you? What about you, in this stage of your life? Your stage may be far smaller than Paulinus’; however it’s your unique calling. All your life you’ve been getting ready, or getting readied, for now. It’s about that acorn seeded into your soul from the beginning. The light is probably dawning on you – what God is calling you to be and do – and you could easily feel overwhelmed. But God is the source of the light, and God is behind the dawning. You will have the inner light you need, and you will have light you need on the path ahead. There will be provision. God is behind your calling. God is also ahead of your calling. There will be provision. Go ahead. Say “yes.”
[i]Alfred Adler (1870-1937) – a colleague of Freud and Jung – developed the theory of compensation: the roots of later superiorities are buried in early inferiorities. Adler’s theory is challenged by American psychologist James Hillman (1926-2011) with his “acorn theory.” The studies quoted here are drawn from Hillman’s The Soul’s Guide; In Search of Character and Calling, p. 22ff.
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