In the in-between

Fall is here. I’m so excited. For three reasons:

  • Temperatures cooler than eighty degrees have FINALLY ARRIVED on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. THANK THE LITTLE BABY JESUS.
  • Everything from breakfast pastries to beer are pumpkin-flavored, and my tastebuds are doing their happy dance.
  • New beginnings everywhere!

Everywhere, I tell you! It’s the beginning of the program year for churches. The school I walk past every day has emerged from dormancy. I’ve watched with delight as friends have been ordained or celebrated ordination anniversaries (September seems to be the favorite month). A dear friend had her baby. All the planning and dreaming and scheming that happened during the summer has finally transformed into action, and it’s exciting to watch it happening for other people.

Meanwhile, I’m also struggling with the reality that it’s not yet happening for me.

This is my ninth month in the call process, the process through which the ELCA works to pair candidates with churches. I’ve been fortunate enough to have walked with three congregations in discernment so far, but none of those processes ended in a call.

I’m currently at the beginning of a fourth process, and I’m really looking forward to meeting the call committee and seeing where it goes. Not only is it an amazing experience to get to glimpse a congregation from this angle, but this particular congregation also seems to be doing great work in its community, and there are signs that we could be very well-matched.

But at the same time, my anticipation is tempered by increasing bewilderment. I’ve walked out of interviews with a firm grip on how everything went and an educated guess about what would happen next, and sometimes I was right, BUT THEN SOMETIMES something totally different happened and it turns out that I have no idea how any of this works. Because these aren’t job interviews. THIS IS DISCERNMENT, AND IT IS WEIRD AND UNPREDICTABLE, BECAUSE THE HOLY SPIRIT IS INVOLVED.

But because this FEELS like job interviewing, and because there are career-related concerns mixed up in all this, this has been, hands-down, the hardest and most doubt-inducing part of the candidacy process for me. Being a pastor is the thing I’ve been working toward for the past five years, and right now, there’s nothing, nothing I can do to advance that goal aside from sit and wait, and wade through the “noes,” and pray that there’s a “yes” somewhere ahead, and have faith that I haven’t entirely misread the Spirit’s nudgings and that really my calling in life is to be a professional ballroom dancer slash artisanal goat cheese maker.

Though actually that would be kind of cool.

My head knows that the reason I don’t have a call is because the Holy Spirit doesn’t yet have me where she wants me. But my heart is finding it increasingly harder not to ask, what am I doing wrong?

"I'm still here for you, dude."
“I’m still here for you, dude.”

I recently finished an interim ministry position, and instead of immediately pursuing a new one, I decided to live at my parents’ house for a while. This is pretty par for the course for transitional months between my jobs/school, but this time is a little different. My parents are moving to a new house in late October, and can actually use my help with packing and helping to take care of my grandmother, who also lives with them.

Walking with my mom one night, we talked about how it would tie a neat little bow on these last nine months if this fourth process does end in a call. After all, this congregation and I would never have crossed paths if my call process hadn’t taken this unusually circuitous route. And if I’d gotten a call in the spring or the summer, I wouldn’t be around to help my family now.

“But I don’t like that,” I told my mom. “I really don’t like that narrative of ‘everything happens for a reason.’” Both of us have seen it unhelpfully applied to situations where God was probably going, “Are you kidding? Don’t you know that I love you people?!”

“No,” my mom agreed. “But God can work through everything.”

I think she’s right. I’m pretty sure that God hasn’t wished on me and those congregations the gratuitous pain of rejecting and rejection because it’s just so wholesome and character-building. But I am sure that God can work with material like that to build hope and wisdom.

But here’s the kick-in-the-pants that’s only just occurred to me in the act of writing this blog post: I’ve excused God from the responsibility of causing failure. But I haven’t extended that grace to myself.

I don’t blame God for putting me in call processes with congregations that, God knew, weren’t a match. But I have blamed myself for their ending: what did I do wrong? In a freakish twist of human logic, I have been choosing to believe both that God is working through this process, and that I can screw that up.

Don’t get me wrong: I (and congregations) can and do make mistakes in discerning God’s will, and asking what one can do differently is a question that, when constructively applied, is just the sort of thing through which God does work. But my application hasn’t been constructive. I know because it makes me want to do this.

DSCN1690I meant for this post to be a long-overdue update and commentary on the call process, but what it’s actually turned out to be is an act of confession.

I feel like there’s grace in there somewhere.

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8 Replies to “In the in-between”

  1. As a very random fan – I came across you researching the mosaic at the Church of the Multiplication – I will assure you that you have gifts that God will put to work. My husband has been on two search committees in the Episcopal Church, very similar to your denomination. It is very tiring and doubt-filled on that side too. The first search ended in what everyone agreed was a fantastic candidate and the priest ended up as a disaster. He tore the congregation apart, spent down the money in the reserve and the damage is still not totally undone. The second search (and there were 25 years in between when he wouldn’t have trusted himself on a search committee ) has led to a woman who is proving to be so spot on perfect it almost makes me cry. So there’s a lot of angst happening on the other side too!
    Also I will tell you that some members of those committees you’ve met with wanted very much to hire you. Law of probability there, kiddo. And it even may have been God’s intention for you to go there. But there may have been some, most or even one curmudgeon on the committee who couldn’t devine God’s plan and argued that you were too young and inexperienced to take a chance on. (Re the inexperienced piece — always remember that that was not a factor when Jesus was choosing disciples!).
    About God’s plan vs. screwing up – oh yes and all the time. I’ve come to see God’s plan as a shimmering overlay. At this moment, sitting here at my computer over a cup of coffee, God’s plan for my life might be for me to do any number of things – prepare for my appointment with my therapist later this morning, take a shower and completely wake up, make a phone call to reschedule another appointment. The path I have chosen at this minute is to respond to your posting. I feel that that is right and not just my I’m-not-bossy-I-just-know-what-you-should-be-doing side. Whether it is or not, God’s plan now shifts and reconfigures. There is God’s plan for my next moment and there is what I will do. The object of the game is to line up with God as often as possible.
    The opportunity to spend additional time with your grandmother is a precious gift as is the ability to help your parents move. Often moving means change, stripping away memories, paring possessions – there’s a lot of emotion as well as the carting of boxes. If your mom’s knee are anything like mine, she will much appreciate the boxes part. So practice mindfulness and stay in the moment for a bit. Maybe read some Buddhist lit. One I’ve read lately about the oneness of the spirit is called Prayer in the Cave of the Heart: The Universal Call to Contemplation by Brother Cyprian Consiglio.
    I will keep you and your path forward in my prayers.

  2. Take heart. I was touched by this blog, and whereas I (being on the other side of this coin) was wondering…(not having doubts exactly), I’m pretty sure now that this is a perfect match. Remember that congregations can go through several call processes that end without a pastor (and we have). So…I will see you either at Oktoberfest or on All Saints. Be of good cheer…and bring your ideas for Advent and Christmas!

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