I have only ever had three career desires in my life.
When I was small, I wanted to be an ice skater. I suppose this was my version of the desire to be a princess, since I don’t remember ever actually wanting to be a princess. I did, however, fall in love with ice skating thanks to the winter Olympics, and I remember sliding around the kitchen floor in my socks and thinking that maybe, one day, I would be able to skate like them.
I grew older and realized my family didn’t have the money and I sure as Sam didn’t have the dedication for ice skating, or the desire to leap off of cold ice and trust that I would land smoothly back on the knife blades strapped to my feet. (Children have the fortunate angle of not knowing things like physics; it allows for dreams that are much bigger than ours because they don’t get bogged down in details like probability.) So I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian. Someone even bought me an FAO Schwarz Veterinarian Kit for Christmas, complete with stuffed dog, oversized plastic syringe, stethoscope, patient intake forms (no, really), and blood pressure cuffs. It was one of the fanciest toys I had ever received, and I’m pretty sure I declared that every stuffed animal I owned had heartworms and severe colds and broken bones of all sorts that year.
Then I grew older and realized not only that I wasn’t that great at things like science, which is kind of a prerequisite for medicine, but also that pets come with owners—sometimes, owners who have nothing but their pets and are horrifyingly emotional about them, or owners who have pets and don’t give a damn and are horrifyingly unemotional about them. I didn’t want to deal with that side of humanity, so I looked at what I was good at and decided I wanted to be a teacher.
This isn’t terribly surprising, as the teaching profession runs some three or so generations deep in my family. I grew up with teachers, both the ones to whom I was related and the ones I adopted as school became ever more a safe haven for me. My teachers were, in a sense, my friends, and the difference they made in my life was and is incalculable. I also realized I had a knack for it. So off I went to grad school to be a teacher—a professor, to be exact, of medieval literature. I was living the dream.
And it was a nightmare.
If you’ve been with me for a bit, Reader, you remember my complaining even as I had the job I had wanted for some 10-15 years, realizing that I did indeed love to teach but I loathed being a teacher. It was a job that took everything and gave very little back for me, and I started seeing that I was spending more and more and more of my time at church.
I never wanted to be a pastor. In many ways I still don’t, but it’s become painfully obvious that that’s so much a part of what I’m doing anyway. It’s on my mind this morning because I’m sitting in my office (yes, I’m writing this in between work projects, shame on me) and paying attention to what I’m doing. Sure, I’m registering students and switching classrooms and designing flyers for our department’s journal and a hundred other things, but I’m also listening. I’m listening when my subordinate who has been asked to make a really tough decision about where her career is going comes in and tells me first of anyone what her plan is and why. I’m listening when one of the faculty members comes by to show me what he’s going to do in class because he wants it to be okay that it’s a little under par since he’s been sick all week (though he’d never phrase it like that). I’m listening when my boss’s daughter comes by and drops in my office just to say hi, because she’s a hilarious kid and having a rough time with college.
(And she bought me a cookie the other day, which just blows my mind in its simple generosity and grace.)
I’m listening when a coworker comes in in a tizzy wound up about some tech failure because her frustration is not totally about the tech, it’s about the work environment in which no one seems to respect that she needs the tech to work so she can do her job. I’m listening when a student tells me that he’s falling behind in class because of family matters that have totally caught him off-guard and forced him to reevaluate what he thought he knew about himself. I’m listening when a colleague talks about a sibling who is dying on the other side of the country.
I had dinner with Interpreter Monday night, and I told him some of these stories and how they are the life-giving parts of this job. “You’re being pastoral,” he said smugly, which is anathema to me.
I never wanted to be a pastor. Sheep are foolish and slow, and the shepherd’s life is filled with danger and boredom in unequal measures. But there is much afoot, Reader, in realizing just how much “never wanted” does not preclude “will not do.”
More next week…..
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in green pastures.
He leads me to calm water.
He gives me new strength.
He leads me on paths that are right
for the good of his name. (Psalm 23:1-3, NCV)