Over twenty years ago, my former pathology group took over the contract for the pathology services at a very prestigious hospital in Southern California. The group that was previously contracted were all retiring and included some of the top pathologists in California. When I arrived at the hospital, I was assigned a spacious office with the walls lined by shelves containing hundreds of medical journals. My new secretary smiled as she escorted me in. “Hope you like this office. This was occupied by Dr. Smith.”
I was delighted. In an era before the internet and online medical journals, it was a privilege to have such an extensive library in my office. Dr. Smith’s prodigious appetite for learning was on full display and I was inspired and humbled to sit in his same office.
About a week later, I received a book I purchased written by one of the premier surgical pathologists in the world, documenting the birth and history of surgical pathology in America. I was fortunate to have trained at one of the hospitals that was profiled and as I read the account, I discovered this astounding quotation.
“The class of surgical pathology fellows from 1951 was considered the most intellectually gifted of any class that trained at the hospital. Jack Smith, in particular, was considered a wunderkind!”
Jack Smith! It was the same pathologist whose office I now occupied. I rushed over to my secretary’s office and showed her the passage in the book. “I can’t believe it!” I gushed. “I am so honored to be at the same desk!” She smiled and nodded her head. She had worked with Dr. Smith for the previous twenty years and dearly loved him. As I was doing this, the phone rang and serendipitously, it was Dr. Smith calling to say hello. My secretary laughed and said, “Dr. Smith! The new doctor who is sitting in your office was just reading about you in a book. The book stated you were a wunderkind! He says he is honored to sit in your same office!”
Without missing a beat, the reply came over the speaker phone.
“Tell him he should be!”
We all laughed. Dr. Smith’s rhetorical wit was equally renowned as his intellectual prowess and leadership. I was even more intimidated to sit in the office. These were very big shoes to fill and I was very unsure if I would ever be successful. It was not the first time I have stepped into a situation when I followed in the footsteps of a great person. In most of these situations, I did my best to honor the memory of my predecessor but always, in the back of my mind, fearful that I would not be able to live up to the expectations of those who knew the shoes I was filling.
The Bible gives us many wonderful examples of people following in the footsteps of great people. When Solomon became King of Israel, he was following his father, King David, who had led Israel to become one of the most powerful kingdoms in the ancient world. These were very big shoes to fill. When faced with this daunting task, what did Solomon do?
“Now, O LORD my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”
1 Kings 3:7-9 (NLT)
When our paths follow in the footsteps of a great person, there are always big shoes to fill. The Bible gives us a very clear direction on how we should act. We should thank God for the opportunity and humbly ask Him to give us wisdom to successfully chart our course and walk in the shoes of our predecessors.
Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.