“When I reflect on the life and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr., one thing that strikes me is obvious: he didn’t start out to be who he ended up being. He didn’t set out to be a visionary leader, intent on making an impact on the country and culture of his day. He allowed himself to be created. Slowly, layer by layer, choice by choice, he became himself. He didn’t choose “leader of a mass civil rights movement” from a list of vocational options. His identity emerged gradually from within as he yielded to the guidance of the community and listened and prayed and read and participated and took the risks of creativity that were uniquely his to take.
Underneath who we think we are, who people expect us to be, are as-yet-undiscovered aspects of our true identity–layers waiting to be uncovered. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the minister of a local church, husband and father, a dedicated preacher who devoted hours to preparing sermons that were theologically sound and probing. This was a good fit for him. He wasn’t searching for a new identity. But he found himself interested in the writings of Henry David Thoreau about civil disobedience and Gandhi’s thoughts about nonviolence. He became interested in some folks who were questioning the color barriers in their town and were beginning to devise ways to stand up to them. He didn’t have answers, only questions. He followed the questions, exploring the hints that came layer by layer, thus becoming more of himself.
Thus it was surprising, and yet not surprising at all, that within hours after a seamstress named Rosa Parks had “sat down for what she believed” he had been named spokesperson for a fledgling resistance movement. When he got home and told Coretta what had happened, he said he knew at a gut level that he was being asked inwardly to move beyond words and ideas and to put theory into practice. He said he knew he could no longer stand by and do nothing because to do so was to be a perpetrator of the evil he deplored.
King knew he had a calling–to be a preacher and a father and a citizen. What he discovered little by little was that these dreams would be fulfilled far beyond his imagination. What about us? Are we still becoming ourselves? Are our deepest callings still unfolding, beyond our imagination? Or have we become too patient with being less than we really are?’