The West Wing is one of my favorite TV shows ever; I love the writing, love the pacing, love the casting, love the challenge, love the applicability of it. In the sixth season (it ran for seven), the president has to appoint a new chief of staff. When he asks his chosen person, he says, “I need you to do something for me…jump off a cliff.”
Big news in the Land of Pilgrims, Reader—I have made my decision on where to go to seminary.
It’s funny; a lot of folks have been asking me if I’m super excited now or so relieved or really geeked about going, but I have to admit that after I sent in my acceptance I felt…nothing. Not a bad, soulless kind of nothing, but just the utterly exhausted can-I-please-go-home-and-watch-Disney-films-now kind of nothing, the nothing that comes from having emptied myself. Do you know what this feels like? This decision was a bare-knuckle fight to the very end because it was so incredibly important to me and because I so very much don’t want to repeat the mistake of my first master’s program, namely attending a school for all the wrong reasons. I needed to get this one right.
And I have no idea if I did. It was a fabulous exercise in watching my words, Reader, to have so many people tell me how to pick a school. They cared about me and this decision, I know they did, and I honor their concern for me. But it was so hard to hear again and again “flip a coin and if you’re disappointed, you know;” “throw darts at the choices;” “really sit down with which one has a more solid program;” “go where your gut tells you;” and, of course, “go where God is leading you.”
It felt like God had checked Himself out for this part as effectively as Rizzo and Gonzo right before the Ghost of Christmas Future.
It wasn’t that I felt like God had abandoned me to make this decision, but it most certainly felt like He was letting me get there. There was no billboard announcing the merits of a certain school, no magically tingly feeling when I read through the materials of one or another. I had narrowed my starting list of more than 60 schools to five, then three, then two. Still no open portal to where God wanted me to be.
So I talked to everyone else—or, at least, it felt like everyone else. I talked to admissions counselors, to alumni, to current students, to friends who had known that school once, to my poor friends who had no stake at all, to friends I haven’t really talked to in years but who are doing some kind of ministry discernment of their own, to God, to myself, to my plants. I wanted to be sure, you see; I wanted to be right. God wasn’t telling me which school to choose, so I wanted to make the best possible choice I could on my own knowledge.
But time doesn’t care about whether or not you’ve gathered enough facts; I had to make a choice at last if only to free up the other school’s resources for some other student. And I will say this about the process of applying to seminary as opposed to “regular” graduate school: they care that this is hard. I had several folks from several of the schools check in with me to reassure me that I could take my time, that they were there if I had questions, that they prayed for my discernment no matter the outcome. (Legit, these folks were praying for my process; trust me on this one, after eleven years in higher education that kind of concern for an applying student is not something you expect.) But I had to choose—I had to jump off the cliff.
One of the blogs I follow had a really apt illustration of that sense of heading off to grad school and how totally out of your depth you suddenly are. I am heading off to yet more school, to incur yet more debt with definite uncertainty of work to support that both now and in the future of my denomination (as people love to remind me, the Church is changing), to a state where I’ve never lived with a populace different from what I know. And the hell of it is that I knew all of this when choosing. I turned down a school that offered me a full ride and another that would put me right in my comfort zone of people and places I knew, and I had to do that because I need to jump off a cliff.
It’s not about being suicidal, Reader, or even different for different’s sake as a friend accused me of recently. It’s about knowing that this has to be completely different from anything I’ve done before or it won’t work. Going to seminary is an incredible investment in a ministerial career, but going somewhere that you absolutely must trust God to help in the transition and accomplishment is a commitment.
Now I’m not advocating that everyone up stakes and replant themselves in order to prove their trust in God. But I am saying that I have made this huge, life-changing choice, and I’m not going to be super geeked about that. I am highly aware of what I turned down for this and there are parts of it that I will regret forever because I can’t do everything. And somewhere I have to be okay with that; somewhere I have to say that this cliff is tall and the water is deep, but God is faithful and that is enough.
Have I not given you your orders? Take heart and be strong; have no fear and do not be troubled; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go[.] (Joshua 1:9, BBE)