Giving Up and Leaning In {The Grove: Niche}

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It’s the first day of school, about an hour before students arrive. I’m in a brand new classroom, fluttering around doing all the things that don’t need to be done – anything to squelch the butterflies that are ever-present on day one (for me, at least). I check the room: ready; my first-day script: ready; my water bottle: ready.

I’m writing some last-minute instructions on the board when my principal walks in, stopping by to say hello, and welcome to a new year.

He asks how I’m feeling. I tell him I’m nervous (because I always am on day one, thank you Enneagram 6 wing), but I’m good. 

Then these words tumble out:

I feel like I’m doing what I was created to do.

I remember the moment vividly. I remember what I was wearing, exactly where I was standing, the color of white-board marker in my hand. I can almost tell you what I was writing on the board. This occurred 7 years ago this month, but it is so brazen in my mind, it seems like seven days. I think it feels deeply significant because somehow, right there, my vocal cords connected with my heart – saying the words with more clarity and certainty than I even knew was there. 

I had found my niche. 

There are few places on God’s green earth where I feel more fully alive than I can feel in a classroom. Don’t get me wrong, there are the days when I want to run far, far away, but on the whole, put a whiteboard marker in my hand, stand me up in front of a room of teenagers, and I feel at home. Knowing my niche gives me clarity and guidance. It helps me know who I am and who I am not.

I believe God gifts us with our niches for a great big reason: for the benefit of His kingdom. I will stand on the rooftop and shout that there is no better place for you to serve Him than in that place where, as Frederich Beuchner so eloquently puts it, “your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

And then there’s that beautiful verse about the good works God prepared beforehand for us to do.  I think He might be talking about niches. 

But can I be honest here for a minute? This whole thing has been a bit tricky in my move overseas. It hasn’t always been quite as “nichy” as I thought it might, my moments in the classroom a bit more limited than I would choose. 

And that’s been hard.

It can make me question and wonder and long.

But I have to remember, a niche is important, but a niche does not have the final word.

I’m not advocating ignoring it, tabling it, or moving away from it in a sense of “If I love it so much God must be asking me to give it up.” I find that message contrary to the God I meet in the Scriptures. The God who calls forth Bezalel and Aholiab to do the intricate woodwork in the Tabernacle, who asks Aaron to use his silver tongue to help out a struggling brother. The God who through Paul warns Timothy: “Do not neglect the gift you have.”

No, I believe God calls us to lean into our niches. To be the best we can be in them. To become fully alive in them, and in that fullness of life, He is glorified.

But I’m also seeing that there may be seasons where it’s ok for our niche as we know it to take a back burner. Maybe for the sake of family, maybe for the sake of something we’ll never really see and understand. 

But you know what’s cool? I can say from my experience that even in those times, He is faithful to give us what we need and long for. He’s done that for me, giving me many opportunities to “niche” on a more part-time basis during this season. He’s good like that. 

When Michalangelo was working on David, niching away at his masterpiece of stone (sorry, I had to do that), he famously said these words: “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” In my life, God has used clarity about the work He has called me to as a way of chiseling off the superfluous material.  And maybe, just maybe, He even uses a season of wishing for more of it to do the same thing. 

How has your niche traveled overseas with you?  Was it an easy trans-continental transfer? 

The Grove

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6 Comments

  1. Amy Young September 5, 2019

    Maria, I LOVE the concept behind that Michalangelo quote!! Thank you 🙂

    1. Maria September 7, 2019

      I love it so much too! It reminds me that it’s less about us becoming something and more about uncovering who were were created to be. That’s a sweet shift to me.

  2. Allysa September 5, 2019

    Interestingly my niche developed once I moved overseas and rather reluctantly stepped into the classroom. It has been a beautiful journey of growing as a teacher and knowing that I was led into this particular niche. Transitioning out of this niche in the upcoming season may be a bit strange, but I trust the One who always lovingly leads me. *Enjoyed what you wrote and identified with times in the classroom not being ” quite as ‘nichy’ as I thought it might, my moments in the classroom a bit more limited than I would choose.”

    1. Maria September 7, 2019

      Allysa – that’s really sweet to hear that God has led you to your niche through this season. Is a transition ahead? (never ever easy!)

  3. Jen September 7, 2019

    Hi Maria,
    What a great article! Thank you for sharing part of your journey. My family has served overseas and are considering a move again. We will probably teach at a university and a language center too. I would love to connect with you on email. Are you able to see my email from this form?

  4. Jamie Nunes September 8, 2019

    Yes! I love that quote too! Even if we cant see yet what’s underneath, God sees and in His timing and our willingness He is making us more complete, shaping us into the image of Christ. I don’t think I know what my niche is right now or it definitely doesn’t feel like I’m functioning in it in my new role in a new country but God knows…

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