E’er She Calls

prayer-card-good-shepherd-prayer-for-vocationsI entered seminary five years ago under the impression that I had been called to ministry.

The call was real enough. I have been so told, and that calling has been tested and affirmed in community as well as my episodes in own journey. But I imagined when I “answered the call” that the process of so doing would somehow set me on a path whereupon all the divots and bumps of the human journey would be smoothed out, such that I could soar through my education, catch my diploma midair, and gently spiral into a cushy landing as an associate pastor under commission in the United Methodist Church.

Needless to say, such isn’t the case five years later.

Interestingly, what prompted my decision to enroll at ATS was my chance encounter with Romans 8.1, which came at the end of a long struggle against my perceived call to ministry. Near the end of my undergrad career I was faced with it, as I had considered for some time what it was precisely that God wanted me to do with my life. I heard the verse–“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”–and I wrote in my journal, “I can’t not tell people this.” I took this as a cue to enter into seminary towards a life as a professional proclaimer of non-condemnation, as I imagined the ministry to be.

It’s a real gas that such a verse would be the key in my vocation’s ignition, which had been silently simmering below a seven-year melange of high school finding-of-thyself, classical music training at evangelical college, and internalized homophobia. The priceless pearl of truth that I thought I had to share with the world–that there was now no condemnation–ended up, at the end of seminary, being the very thing that I needed to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.

But then, how would I be able to proclaim it if I didn’t live it? And having lived it, indeed, how can I not proclaim it?

I had the benefit of an excellent field placement mentor during seminary who often pushed me on this issue of calling–why do I feel called? Thanks to her prodding, I’ve turned this over in my mind for a long time. I certainly have my commission on ministry and bishop’s interview answers–that this is a calling I have been led to through prayer, participation in the sacraments, growth in community, &c.–but I also sense deep, abiding pull that I can’t quite put into words. It’s as if the vortex of God’s dance of self-giving love has sucked me into it in this particular channel for living out my death and resurrection. I feel like I can’t not do it.

Is that a complete answer? Probably not. There’s only as much as I know to this point; what will be revealed in the future remains clouded in God’s unboundedness.

But my sense-of-call isn’t because I think I wouldn’t be happy if I weren’t a pastor, or that being a priest will suddenly shuffle everything in my life into a manageable order, or that being a priest will finally get others to respect me, or even that being a priest will finally get God to love me. Those were all things I thought at one point or another during seminary. And a lot of people in discernment and formation think these things, if we’re being honest. Because God calls humans, baggage and all, to baptismal ministry, and from there on to ordained ministry. I can’t not do it because this is the path, one, that God has called me to whereupon I’ll work out my salvation, and two, because I’ve chosen to answer that call. We’re always free to say no to the call.

But I’ve chosen to say yes to it, to set out on the journey of testing and fanning it into flame in a community, knowing that I will hurt, and I will suffer, and I will celebrate, and I will hold others. Because Christ has hurt, suffered, celebrated with, and held me. But all along the way I will tell people that they are freed from condemnation, because God has freed me from condemnation in ways that I could only experience by walking out the journey of formation and discernment. It’s my hope that I will be a faithful witness to that unconquerable God-is-for-us love each time I share love and welcome and food with them.

In that, my vocation ceases to be about me at all–because it’s only ever truly been about the Caller and Her beloved people.

Terraces and Trajectories (or, the hazards of Facebook)

Earlier this afternoon I was absent-mindedly flipping through Facebook, as I am wont to do on lazy spring Sunday afternoons, and I saw a set of photos someone had posted of the beautiful planter garden that they had put together on their Washington DC terrace apartment with their impossibly handsome fiance. I flopped over on my borrowed bed and buried my face my borrowed duvet cover and let out a Tina Belcher-esque moan: he’s successful; I’m not.
Facebook has become something of a source of frustration for me in the last couple of weeks because it reminds me of the manifold ways in which my life has taken a different direction than many of those in my peer group. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this is something that an increasing number of twenty-somethings are experiencing. I’m not sure where I expected to be as I approached my twenty-sixth birthday, but four months to the day away from it I’m fairly positive that living with my parents and scraping by with my overnight non-profit job and sleeping on a borrowed mattress was not it.
It used to be that I had dreams–plans, ambitions even. It’s not that I don’t have those dreams anymore, because I certainly do, and I still have a vocation and a path that I’m walking. But they’re vastly different from the dreams of the wide- and wild-eyed teenager who left home at seventeen years old to become a composer. For the first time–this is a big deal–I don’t feel like I’m running from anything (that’s an entire post on its own).

But having this trajectory is not an antidote to those feelings of, “could I have done better in a STEM field? Could I have done better if I had stayed and finished out my PhD? Could I have done better if I had made different decisions about my life?”
The answer to those questions, I think, isn’t a yes or a no. I could have done differently if I had gone to this school or taken that degree or done that internship–but ultimately living in the realm of possibilities and regrets is not going to help me find the satiety that I need in this present moment. Part and parcel of my current vocation is to be both mindful and thankful of the place I am in right now. Those things I find myself envious of are often things that I know would be toxic to my own vocation and identity. And so the cognitive distortion of he’s successful, I’m not, remains just that: a cognitive distortion, not grounded in reality at all.
And so my answer to those questions of, “could I be the one with a handsome fiance and a kickass apartment in Washington DC and a six-figure salary if I had just done things differently?” is “yes, at the cost of who I am in this moment.” I am not that person. And I accept the fact that I am envious of them. It’s okay.
Because I’m not that person, and I have a life unto which I’ve been called to live. And it’s a good life, successful even, because I have a roof over my head and food on my table, which is more than an uncomfortably large number of people have. Moreover I have a job, and a career trajectory, and the support of a loving network of family and friends across the country and the world who are holding me up and walking with me into my calling. The person that I am in this moment is precisely the person whom God needs me to be. And to live into the calling of God is success in its own right, not on the terms of Facebook.
(Even though I’d be able to throw some awesome dance parties on a terrace like that.)