I have been conspicuously absent from the blogosphere for over three months now, and there’s a good reason for that. The reason is that God (in the shape of a good friend) made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. My friend, Juli, who is a district superintendent in charge of some 40 clergy and congregations in central Washington, asked me to serve as interim pastor for a local church whose pastor had just gone on disability leave. Never mind that I wasn’t ordained clergy, she wanted me there because the congregation needed a healing presence, and the fact that she wouldn’t have to pay another pastor to relocate for three months didn’t hurt either! Call me crazy, but it didn’t take me long to say “Yes!”
Why would this be an offer I couldn’t refuse, you might ask. Well, if I’m remembering right, the first time I flirted with the idea of going into ministry was the summer before my senior year of high school. I was 16. It was at that point just a passing fancy, not serious enough to truly endanger my fully entrenched plan to become an English teacher and write the Great American Novel in my free time. Over the years, through routine jobs, stay-at-home mothering, a graduate degree and a 14 year career in mental health, thoughts of ordained ministry would enter my mind from time to time, quickly followed by the realization that it just wasn’t possible. My husband’s high-powered career wouldn’t allow for the itinerancy that is required of clergy in the United Methodist Church. Nonetheless, these occasional tugs on my soul continued to occur. Most of the time I tried to persuade myself that I would probably hate being a pastor, because I hate committee meetings so much!
Such was the state of affairs when I had the opportunity to attend my friend Juli’s ordination service a few years ago. I was excited and happy for her. I was enjoying the liturgy, the solemn vows, the laying on of hands as I watched the other candidates receive their stoles. And then it was Juli’s turn. I started to cry, and then I felt like this deep well of grief just opened up and swallowed me. In a huge crowd of people gathered for this holy (and happy) occasion, I was trying to hold back uncontrollable sobs. The service continued while I struggled to pull myself together. Then, during communion, the bishop invited anyone who felt a call to ministry to come forward and talk with one of the pastors who were strategically placed around the room. Just as I was wondering if I would suddenly find myself propelled forward, I heard God’s voice, clear as day, saying, “This is not for you.” That is when I understood how much I had really wanted to enter the ministry. Over time, I was able to process these feelings with friends, with my spiritual director and with God. I came to understand my own calling more fully and let go of that longing, but every once in a while, I would still feel that little tug, that nagging “What if…?”
Fast forward to April of this year and my sudden (though temporary) immersion in ministry. You may be wondering if it was wise to give someone with my history the keys to the kingdom. I mean, it had the potential to completely turn my life upside down, didn’t it? And here’s what I learned. It was fun. I enjoyed every minute of it, even the committee meetings. I was good at it. And I had absolutely no desire to keep doing it once my three months was up!
What a gift! A chance to temporarily do the thing I had always wanted to do and then to discover that it’s not what I wanted after all. Instead, it clarified for me that I am exactly where I need to be, doing the things that God wants me to do, in the places God has sent me from Day One. I think there’s a lesson there for all of us. We spend a lot of time yearning for something else. Chasing the Dream. And when we don’t achieve it, we waste a lot of time bemoaning the loss of that dream. We never consider the fact that we might not have really liked the dream all that much once we got there! Or discovered that even if we enjoyed it, it wasn’t a very good fit for our temperament or our skill set. For years, my husband has bemoaned the fact that his grandfather died while he (my husband) was too young to take over the family ranch. And just last weekend, as we were visiting the wheat country and talking about farm life, he said, “I couldn’t have been a farmer. The worry about weather and crops would have driven me crazy.”
So how do we get from Point A to Point B, from the longing to the acceptance, without a whole lot of anguish and regret in between? I think it’s about being continually in a deep process of discernment, listening to God’s guidance as you move through life, and living the life you have with prayerful intentionality and a sense of the sacredness of all human endeavor. It’s about living more in the present than in the past or future, spending more time embracing what God has given you to do right now and less time pondering what might have been. Not everyone gets to sail around the world or write the Great American Novel or become a professional athlete. You might never get your 15 minutes of fame, but you have the chance every single day to make a difference to someone that God puts in your path. The question is, can you be awake enough to notice and to view that person and that path as holy ground? My prayer is that you do.