A new chapter of my life started this week. I started grad school. Specifically, I started Seminary. On the one hand, this seems insane to me. Never have I wanted to be in “the ministry.” Never have I wanted to be pastor of a church. NEVER…(except one time when I was a little girl, I told my mom I wanted to be a community pastor – non-religiously helping people who don’t go to church… Apparently there was no such thing.)
On the other hand, there is nothing that gives me more joy than connecting people to God and to spiritual community. Not to mention how much I love hearing stories and understanding other people’s perspectives.
But, in true ex-fundamentalist form, I hear the words “call to the ministry” and I’m terrified by the phrase. I’ve been working for the past 6 years to become authentically ME, and to lose that would be catastrophic. Not only that, I’m afraid of what people might think – mostly that they would laugh and say I’m not good enough. Because I’m not.
Maryanne Williamson’s words ring in my head. She writes:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be [called to the ministry]?’ Actually, who are you not to be?You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Connecting people with each other and with a loving God who created them for relationship is what I was made for. It’s all over my writing, it’s all over my relationships – it’s who I am.
A few weeks ago, a local pastor (who shall remain nameless) posted a horrifying phrase on his church sign (again). It reeked of judgment and intolerance. It made me angry. This pastor has continually shown an ugly, judgmental spirit to the people in our community. It angers me, but more than that it hurts me. That he is misrepresenting God to our community. That when some people hear “Christian”, his face is what pops into their head. It disturbs me. He is reinforcing the stereotype that Christians are all hypocritical, intolerant, judgmental, graceless creatures. It makes me sad. And it made me consider whether I truly wanted to join his ranks in pastoral care.
In the midst of wondering whether I’m making a huge mistake, I called the only pastor I have on speed dial – who happens to be a woman: Dawn, at Whosoever Dallas. I unloaded my stuff. I cried about not being good enough, not being perfect. I told her I never WANTED to be “in the ministry.” She said, “Joni, everyone is called to ministry. I don’t care who you are or what your job is, all of us are called to connect to other people and connect other people to God. All of us.”
I know, but – –
I wanted to list my reasons, I wanted to tell her why. (Actually, I DID tell her why I’m not good enough, among the reasons being: I curse enough to make it a viable Lenten sacrifice, I drink wine regularly, I sometime yell at my kids, I’m not legally married and I was not married in a church, I harbor resentment against various people who I deem unjust or intolerant…)
She laughed and said I set the comparison bar too low.
Confused, I asked what she meant.
Well, she said, you’re comparing yourself to what you see as the perfect Christian person. But you should be comparing yourself to Jesus, and trying to meet HIS standards, not theirs.
So this week I started a new chapter. Seminary. And maybe I’m not anywhere close to perfect. And maybe I’m not anyone’s idea of a minister. But I’m starting to see myself a bit differently. I’m connecting people and I’m being true to my calling. I’m being authentic and wholehearted. I’m hearing people’s stories and providing space for healing and sharing. Who am I NOT to be “called”? I am a child of God, after all.