The year was 2001. The exact date is a bit of a blur but it was on a Sunday evening. I had completed my 4th year of theological studies. The final year had been a mix of study and internship in my home church.
Over the last year they had seen and observed me in a pastoral capacity as I contributed to the teaching and preaching as well as leading the youth group. Now the time had come for the church to decide if they were willing to keep me on staff to continue my training and preparation for pastoral ministry. The church board was proposing a 5 year term along with a salary, reviewable every year. I would need to stand before the church members and answer a variety of questions from whomever wished to ask me one.
There was no preparation for this. The questions would be random and could touch on anything from my personal life down to my theological beliefs and my view of the church and ministry. I wasn’t nervous, I don’t think. I knew what to say and what not to say. I knew how to be acceptable. The person people had come to know, love and expect. I was home after all. Many of these people had seen me grow up. Some of them had changed my diapers. They knew my family. I was no stranger to them.
I wasn’t being fake. It was me. The me I had embraced growing up in the church. I did not know another. Well, I did but I worked hard to keep him in check. Sometimes he tried to scream and take over, but he had been mastered and put in his proper place. It was a me that aspired to different things and I knew all too well the guilty feeling I experienced anytime I gave him a little space, anytime I let him breathe. Shutting him up wasn’t difficult most of the time as I had learned to do it relatively well. I had surrendered my life to God and that is all that mattered. My life was his to guide and control. This was a divine calling that needed to be yielded to. This is who I was. This is what I knew.
During my teenage years I had come across a quote that I literally wrote on the wall of my room. I can’t remember exactly where I read it but I think it was inside the album cover of Mastedon’s Lofcaudio album. It read, “To give not all is to give nothing.” This was me continuing to do just that as best and as faithfully as I could!
There I was answering questions. I remember only one question from that day. One. I can relive it as though it had happened yesterday. In fact, I have relived the moment when that question was asked time and time again during the nearly 20 years since. I remember it vividly because in the split second that followed the question something happened inside. It was only years later that I was able to identify what happened and only in recent years that I understood the depth of what went down. In the blink of an eye, before I could even draw a full breath, I blurted out the most heartfelt and sincere answer I could have given. It was not the calculated answer I was supposed to give. It came from deep within my soul. From a place I tried to keep locked up because the other me I mentioned above was there. It was him. He broke through like his life depended on it. He mustered all that remained of him and took over just long enough to answer. Five words and he went right back to his dungeon. Five words that still resound in me as they would if I had said them moments ago.
“I did not choose this!”
The question was why I had chosen the path of pastoral ministry.
“I did not choose this!”
What followed was a brief second (seemed longer) during which I had to shake it off, take back control and spin this as nicely as I could. I went on to explain that of course this was a calling from God and I was simply being obedient. Yes, I was choosing to obey and yes I wanted to do this. Doing otherwise would be going against God’s will for my life and that was not an option. I was not being forced or coerced into it. I explained that given the challenges associated with pastoral ministry I doubt that there are many who ‘chose’ it. I got the Amens and we moved on to the next question.
Of course there was much more going on for me. Those 5 words shook me because of where they came from. It was much easier for me to spin them into the ‘divine calling’ and ‘God’s will’ point of view than it was to go deeper and listen.
I continued to be haunted by those words during the 15 years that followed and slowly I began to listen. I tried to give him a voice again. Tried to express that I wanted out of ministry and desired to go to University for a proper education and a career. Then, every time, I would feel shame for desiring such things, I would get back in line and reason myself out of it until next time. That shame finally went away but only about 2 years ago. What I am left with is regret.
I’m not saying it was all bad. Not at all. There was much that I enjoyed. I was able to tap into many of my strengths and passions when it came to leading and helping people think, process and navigate life. I learned and grew and experienced things I would not have experienced otherwise. Yet, the underlying feeling is regret about how I went about it, regret for not allowing myself to pursue my desires, regret about the way I gave so much power to the notion of divine calling, regret about all the unnecessary shame.
Trey Pearson has a song I discovered a couple of years ago. One of those ‘songs that makes me feel’. It always takes me back to that question, my answer and the years that followed. The song speaks to my regret. As I listened to it this week I was reminded that it’s ok to grieve. I can cry, I can be sad and I can be angry but the regret needs to transform itself into fuel as I move forward. It’s easy for regret to become a weight keeping me tied to those events rather than allowing the events to propel me forward.
As the song says so well, “There are things we cannot change but there is beauty wrapped up in the pain and all these roads we can’t take back, there are flowers growing through the cracks.”
What about you? What part of your past are you having difficulty accepting for what it was? Do you sometimes feel like “you did not choose this” or simply that this was not supposed to happen? Maybe it’s just a difficult thing of life you had to go through or are going through. Regardless, you are struggling and are finding it hard to embrace what was and what is. Trey’s song has a very valuable reminder that it’s ok to grieve for those things. As you do so you will find you can better move forward.
2020 has been a year of loss for all of us. Some have lost more than others. There has been loss of relational connection, loss of jobs, loss of finances, loss of life and loss of health along with an increase of fear and anxiety. We did not ask for this. We’re all tired of 2020 and while we know COVID-19 is not yet behind us there is still a sense of closure as we roll into 2021 and a hope that this new year will heal the harm of 2020.
We cannot change 2020 but if we stop and look, we can also find beauty wrapped up in the mess. How we all had to be resilient and adaptable. How we’ve been able to discover, or rediscover, those living under our same roof. We can’t rewind and fix it, but we can spot the flowers that have grown through the cracks.
We did not choose this. We did not want this. However, me must live with it. As we continue to process and grieve, let’s raise our glass to the hope of 2021.