I really hate surprises.
This has always been part of my personality, which has led to much frustration when my family surprises me with gifts or announcements or something and my first reaction is that I don’t like them, I’ve never liked them, not even the “good” surprises. I want to know what’s coming next and be prepared for it; I want to know the details of an upcoming thing so I don’t come up with something different and get disappointed. It’s a terribly selfish thing, but I don’t like surprises.
It is terribly unfortunate, then, to have gone out to dinner this past week with a friend of mine and gotten two rather major surprises, neither pleasant even by normal people’s standards. Both, directly and indirectly, had to do with realizing that I don’t have a bleeding clue what I’m getting into by saying yes, I want to go to seminary and be a minister. Several people have tried to warn me and I kept saying that’s okay, I feel this Call, God will not bring me to something and then leave.
Unless this particular service Provider is One Who drops Calls.
Don’t worry; this isn’t me calling the whole thing off and skipping ministry, not least because I’m not sure I even could turn that battleship around right now if I tried. But it is the nasty shock of actually hearing all of the people who have been saying that ministry is not what I think it is, that seminary will not adequately train me for it, that there is no God in ministry and only the pettiness of people. Many have said these sorts of things to me, but I’ve not been hearing them. But in this moment of doubt, I see their points—why am I going to seminary if nothing I’m going to do in ministry is taught there? Why am I reading the Call of God as one to an inherently people-driven vocation when I am quite frank about not actually liking people all that much? Have I, despite myself and my best efforts at being aware and observant, been viewing this career through rose-tinted glasses?
I don’t know. I don’t know and that freaks me out because it’s a bit late in the game to have these kinds of doubts, but I also know that not doubting is somehow worse. If there’s one thing this blog can serve to do, Reader, it’s allow you to see that those in the professional ministry—or training to be so—aren’t perfect. There is no straight line to God, no red phone with perfect coverage and never any static. We don’t have an inside track…and maybe my future self needs to hear that as much as you might. To doubt is awful, but to share that doubt in a public forum locked into the eternity of the Internet is horrifying because I want to reassure you and myself that that I am fine, that this is fine, that there is no problem with going forward into this incredibly daunting career that will demand more than I can ever give. I want to say that ministry is everything I want to do.
And in some senses, I can; don’t worry, I remember how I got this far and I definitely remember the whispers and shouts of God calling my name. There are weekly moments of ministry that show me the God spark, the living Spirit continually drawing us to Herself. And I do still believe that God would not bring me this far only to scamper off without me.
But some weeks there is static in this Call. Some weeks important words get lost; some weeks it feels as though God hung up without telling me. Some weeks I look at this new career and see only that it will take everything I have and more that I’ve never even known I should offer. These are hard moments because no one wants to be uncertain about these sorts of things. We want to know that we are doing what we are meant to do; we want to say we have heard our call clearly and are going in the right direction.
Yet there are tunnels that interrupt service. There are random flocks of geese and broken towers because humans are weird and hard and a perfect God working with imperfect people is bound to get messy. I can’t tell you that some wondrous thing happened to restore my faith in myself and in everything about ministry, but I can tell you that one of my high schoolers had a hell of a week and just needed a hug that I could provide yesterday. I can tell you that that one of the awful pieces of information I got prompted me to reconnect with a friend and understand that his life fell apart but he’s still pressing on in trust in God. I can tell you that there will totally be all of the frustrating and utterly human pieces of ministry, but they will not be all of it. Sometimes I will hear the Call loud and clear, and for now that is enough.
I’ve never much liked the phone, either.
Not at all! The word is very close to you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it. (Deuteronomy 30:14, CEB)