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 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.
I feel like there’s grace in there somewhere.