Last week I “celebrated” my third year of ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church, USA. Last Thursday, July 17th, to be exact. This anniversary day was kind of weird for me, honestly. I remembered back to that Sunday morning in 2011 with thankfulness, confusion, and a bit of wonder.
Thankfulness, as I thought of all the hope I felt that morning. In the sermon I had been encouraged to be an under rower for Christ and a fool for Jesus. The Senior Pastor brought me up to the chancel during the sermon and had me look at the congregation. There were maybe 600 or 700 people in worship that morning. He had told me to look at them and be clear that I was being called to love them. He said there would be easy times and difficult times, but he encouraged me to love them always. As I gazed out on the faces I had already loved as a Pastoral Associate for 5 years, I couldn’t imagine finding it difficult to love them as their Pastor of Congregational Life. I couldn’t imagine at that moment they would find it difficult to love me. I loved them! They had called me, encouraged me, and supported me through all my years of seminary and preparation for this moment. I was sure in that moment that THIS church would be my permanent call. That we would be together “happily ever after”.
I was also given a charge that morning from one of my seminary professors. He cautioned me to be aware and to guard against my propensity for self-doubt. He saw that as being my biggest challenge in life and in ministry. In the moment when I heard him say those words I really had no understanding of what he meant. That would only come later. For in this moment of ordination, there was only glory and joy in my vision. It was one of those moments that is beyond description, but one in which I’ve never felt more love or affirmation.
I’ve shared with you that I also had other feelings on this anniversary date as I reflected over the days, weeks, months…the brief 3 years since that beautiful sunny summer morning of ordination. I also experienced confusion. As I sat in my home, drinking coffee and looking toward a day with no church responsibilities or worry…as I considered the current truth that after 3 quick years of ordained ministry I am no longer actively engaged in pastoring a church nor do I have any prospects of doing such, I felt the question gnawing at my gut. Well, what the hell was that all about? All those years, 14 between “sensing” my call and ordination. Six years of completing a three year seminary masters degree. All those years of Tom and my family supporting me when it meant having life turned completely upside down. All those long years for that little spurt of a career? Seems a bit like an expensive firework that you buy, then sit back and wait for, anticipate it’s brilliance and beauty, only to discover it’s a sputtering dud. Poof, and it’s gone! Ah….there’s the self-doubt. Such a familiar and comfortable feeling that it’s hard to see it coming. It always creeps up when things turn out differently than I thought they would.
But there is more. Thankfully so! In the midst of the thankfulness and confusion (tied up in self-doubt), which may usually be “either/or” feelings but for me in this moment stood strangely comfortable together as an “and”, there was, and continues to be, wonder. I mean Wonder in the truest most beautiful sense. That sense of wonder where you know that there’s more going on here than it appears. The sense of wonder that opens things up and let’s light and air in to the situation. I experienced wonder at the realization I actually did go through the education and preparation process and saw it through to fruition. I marvel at how God’s strength and mercy were so evident in the journey. I wonder at a Love that calls us to participate in furthering this message of Love and can do it with or without the confines of an institutional building. With or without a title. I wonder at the strength of God’s call on my life that can withstand the politics of religion, the short length of a career, the stubbornness of self-doubt. I wonder at the Love who carves out moments in time to show me some things about growth, grace, and grit. I wonder about a Love that has carved out for me this special moment in time when I am free to hold my grandchildren, and free to completely abandon myself to the joys of their world. And I wonder at a Love that holds the future so securely in Sovereignty that it’s useless to try to figure it out. And I wonder at a Love that brings such joy and purpose in the present that the only thing to do is to enjoy it and revel in its beauty….in spite of self-doubt.
I realize I haven’t here shared the details or mechanics of my fleeting professional career. Maybe you’ve gotten clues from other posts. Maybe I’ll share more about it another day. If it seems helpful. But for now, that’s not the point. Right now what’s important is learning to live this moment as an “and”, not an “either/or”. Learning to embrace ambivalence in the uncertainty, giving permission to hold seemingly conflicted feelings together in balance. I don’t know where you are in your life. But I guess that we all have times when we experience the uncertainty of our journey. I pray that in the midst of any confusion or self- doubt you might feel in any area of your life, that you’ll be encouraged to loosen your grip, and make room for the wonder. And be thankful in the process.
Something to chew on…