Recently the producers of the CBC’s “Test the Nation were looking for clergy to join the “Believers” team on an episode of the game show. As a former “Reach for the Top” contestant, and occasional contributor to radio and printed media, I thought this sounded like fun.
On “Test the Nation” 6 different teams, representing various “types”, are pitted against each other in what is essentially an I.Q. test. Each contestant answers all 50 questions, and every team’s total score is tracked. Viewers can play along at home, either on paper, or online.
The teams included “Believers”,“Atheists”, “Nerds”, “Politicians”, “Twins”, and “Contact Sports Athletes”. The Politicians included Justin Trudeau. The Nerds star player was astronaut Marc Garneau, and the Atheist team included the actor who plays the really annoying Anglican priest on “Little Mosque on the Prairie”. The Believers had the Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo, former minister of Emmanuel Howard Park United Church in Toronto, now serving as an MPP.
My application for the show included the results of my own online IQ test, answers to biographical questions, and photos of myself. I was also asked to sign a confidentiality agreement about the process, and the production, so I will be careful what I say about it. I can tell you that I ended up on the “standby list”, which I thought was a bit like being named “Miss Congeniality” in a beauty contest. “If for any reason the winner is unable to fulfill their duties....”
I agreed to be available in case the Believers ended up short a player. I had to be ready to go into the broadcast centre that Sunday evening for the live show.
I am telling you all this as background for what I really want to discuss. In connection with my studies in the Jubilee Program for Spiritual Formation and Direction, I have been thinking about “discernment”. How do we know what God would have us do? How do we make decisions?
A day or two before the Test the Nation show, a person in my close circle was feeling quite ill. I realized that it was more important to spend Sunday evening with them, than go into Toronto to be on television. But I had made a commitment to the show!
I decided to “test my spiritual living”, rather than the nation. I prayed, and asked for the ability to discern the right choice. On Saturday evening I came to peace with the idea that if the producer called on Sunday, I would respectfully decline the opportunity.
That Sunday morning I led worship, preached my sermon, and not once did I find myself second-guessing my decision. I was mildly curious as to whether the call might come, but not at all worried about it. I was aware of how much I would enjoy the experience of being in the studio, and under the lights with some truly interesting people. At the same time, I felt absolutely “clear” that I knew where I should be. This did not feel like a “sacrifice”. It felt like the right thing to do.
When I got home from church there was an email, and a phone message from the producer, both urging me to call him as soon as I could, to confirm that I could come in for the show that night. This was an opportunity to review my decision. I found that my thoughts, feelings, my sense of God’s leading had not wavered.
When I phoned the producer, and told him my circumstances he said, “Well I am sorry about the illness, but I am actually quite relieved. I made a big mistake when I contacted you earlier. I had miscounted, and we actually have enough for the team. We had decided since I called you that we would make room for you though, if you still wanted to come.”
When I assured him that I was fine with not going, he sounded like a weight had been lifted. I felt very happy to be able to help, by saying no at the right time.
My family and I spent the afternoon and evening with the person who had been feeling ill, and together we watched about half the show. I remained clear that on the question of what I needed to be doing that evening, I had found the right answer.