Goings On

May 24, 2014

It’s been nearly a month since I last posted. Why does time get away from us so easily? I had intended to be more consistent as I had tried to be, but clearly I failed. 

Actually, there are good reasons. Our lives have been inundated with challenges these last few weeks. My son’s illness (see here) continues to baffle us. It can take a long time to heal from the damage of an infection like the one he had. But (and I haven’t shared this very much) he is also dealing with some delays that are quite troubling. Without divulging too much information, it appears he may be struggling with some sensory processing issues. And maybe this is the cause of his speech delay. Regardless, we are getting on that right away and hoping that with some intervention, he can overcome these things. 

The most interesting experience in all this has been the way God has guided us. Considering that only a matter of years ago, it seemed to us that God had left us in the darkness of loss and sorrow, now he appears to be quite active in my son’s young life, even without him knowing it. As I have prayed, God has on three occasions, made clear what the outcome of this illness will be. He has spoken quite definitively, and though for a few days after these messages I tend to go back and forth wondering if it was indeed God who has spoken, every time, we have come back to knowing the voice of the Shepherd. But the process is taking so very long. And that feels heavy.  

We are also considering a move. Sensing that God may be leading us to sell our home and see what’s next. I know that the most practical-minded people in my life would worry about such a decision. But it’s what we sense. Back in the Fall, God began to encourage us to learn the difference between trust and clarity (see here). I am notoriously one who prefers clarity. I’m totally willing to do whatever God makes clear, but that does not seem to be God’s goal for us these days. Instead he is taking us deeper into trust. I realize that many people don’t quite understand this. I was recently with a church group and asked for prayer- not for clarity but for trust- and immediately the group switched that and insisted that clarity was what I needed. Good intentioned as that was, it is not what God is asking of me. Despite how much I yearn to know where to go and why and how, I am learning the gentle pressure of the Spirit to simply walk where the path seems to go and to trust that the Path-Maker will shape its direction. And it is not easy. Even after months of trying to discipline myself in this, it is not easy. In fact in some ways, it gets harder. And the process is much, much longer. 

And then there’s the whole journey of my own vocation and call. When I left ministry, I left it for good reasons. I was depleted. I was tired. I was burned out. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be part of something that involved a God who had appeared to have hurt us in incredible ways. I had also been in a ministry that was a wounding experience- some of my own making, some at the hands of others. I didn’t want my calling anymore. We had paid such high costs because of it, I had nothing more to give, nothing more for anyone to take. I tried so hard to shake the call. God even let me off the hook of that call for a bit, and then he came alongside me and walked with me and eventually- as though he pulled it from his pocket- held my calling out to me and said, “Here… you dropped this awhile back, and I picked it up and want you to take it again.” The truth is: I didn’t “drop” it. I ran from it. Because it was too painful. And yet, here it was again. And it made sense to take it back. It made sense to hear God want me to have it and keep it. It made sense. But even that road has been hard.

My ordaining faith tradition is not very good as saving places for people (see here).  It is not very good at including pastors who needed a break- for whatever reason, even good and healthy reasons. I suppose my tradition is not unlike most other denominations. And maybe that’s the problem. While we who hold credentials are supposed to be cared for and supported by our regional conference, it doesn’t appear to happen very much. Of course, those regional conferences are busy. They have much to do and something has to fall of the plate. And let me make clear, this is not a criticism, per say, but an observation, an awareness that has caused me to change some the ways I hope to function toward colleagues who are “out of call” now and in the future. I actually understand the busy nature of ministry and am knowledgable that a conference authority can only do so much. Unfortunately, it seems in the busy work that conferences and regions legitimately have, one of the things that falls of the plate is care for the very people who probably need it most- since so many of us who have taken time off have done so in order to grow and heal and Sabbath-keep, and yet we find our understanding of self and call so connected in fragile and painful ways. Stepping out of ministry is a confusing experience. Especially for those who do it for good reasons and not because they “broke rules.” If there is ever a time the community that calls and affirms that pastor is needed, it’s then. This has led to many thoughts I have for how we see the community that has been “set apart” for the work of ministry and how that looks and perhaps what might be needing to grow in us as each of our faith traditions moves forward into a new way of being in ministry. 

Compounded with this problem in my tradition is the fact that, like many faith communities in our current social climate, jobs are hard to come by. It’s unprecedented really in the Covenant. There is a stagnancy that has happened. We have churches closing and churches being born, but little movement between pastors. The topmost generation of pastors is slow to retire (much of time with very good reasons) and yet the seminary keeps turning out new pastors every year… young people who have little chance of getting a call to a church.  (A dear friend corrected me on this- seminary grads are getting calls. It appears that many of those pastors in between the oldest and youngest generations of pastors is the group struggling to get new calls. Perhaps it is the “too much experience/not enough experience” that so many encounter in lots of professions. I am not sure. Thanks for the correction, friend!) Added to that is the reality that women are still at a disadvantage no matter how gifted (this is slowly, slowly changing for the good), and the journey back to ministry gets very, very long. 

I have chosen to live this in this way: to walk through any open door, even the ones I’m not so sure about, and trust that God will close the path if it’s not where I need to go. This is unusual for me. As I said before, I am much more prone to wanting to see clearly rather than walk this way. But that’s what we are trying to do. 

In December, God opened a door that I was actually eager to walk through. A healthy, vibrant, exciting church called. To be honest, at first I was taken aback. We had determined that we would just take a totally new path to something else for a vocation just a week or so before. We had determined as a family that our path laid outside the pastorate, and then I get this phone call asking me to meet with their search committee. And it changed the game. I met with the committee. This church was so different in so many ways. 

The last months of knowing that I was rising to the top portion of their list was exhilarating. Even though I tried to hold it loosely, keep it at a distance, I confess that I was beginning to dream about what it might be like to work with this church. I had not been this excited about a ministry prospect in a long time. 

Yesterday, I got the news that I had been edged out by a couple other candidates. 

It wasn’t crushing news. I didn’t decide to quit life or anything like that. I was disappointed but not destroyed. I think this church and I could have done great things together, and I think God will lead them well to their next pastor. I am honored to have been able to walk that far with them, and to even be considered by them. I so deeply enjoyed the short conversations I had with them. But the questions came up strongly: Why is it that sometimes we obey God- we walk the direction he opens- just to have him shut us down? What do we do when we listen closely to God just to have the plans not work out? 

I confess I don’t have many answers to that. I think it’s one of the perils of trying to walk in trust and not clarity. I know all the Christian slogans that someone could throw at this situation. I don’t think that they help- in fact I know they won’t. Because this experience of listening to God and following him just to have it all fall apart is a real thing. More people than we may realize encounter this. 

This is yet again a tension that trust is teaching us to live in. 

After the very gracious phone call, filled with words of praise and hope and encouragement while letting me go from their search process, I drove to the gym to work out my frustration (this is a very good spiritual practice, if you are interested in finding a new one). At the light, while waiting to turn right, I heard this: ‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew  7:9-11)

The temptation is to believe that God is capricious. A temptation I texted about with a very dear friend, coach and mentor in between spurts of running on the treadmill. To believe that God toys with us and our affections. The temptation is to believe that God does not have anything good for us and is not good in and of himself. The temptation to paint God as mean-spirited, bullying, toying, and manipulative. But he is not. 

I don’t know why God had us walk through the door to this amazing possibility of ministry with this church. I don’t know why God interrupted our plans to go a new direction with this chance. I don’t know why God would leave us hanging on to it for 6 months while this church slowly and carefully worked through their process.

I don’t know why my son’s healing from his illness is taking so long with so many facets being uncovered every day. I don’t know why we sense a call to sell our home when we aren’t sure what’s next. I don’t know. 

But I am choosing. I am choosing to believe that God has heard our asking for bread and he is not secretly searching for a rock. I believe that God is not going to fill our hands with snakes when we need and request the meal of fish. I am believing in that for my call, for our future, for our possible move, and yes, even for my little boy. 

And so we walk on, trusting this new direction in the dark is indeed formed by Hands that love us. Hands that are good. 

4 Responses to “Goings On”

  1. craig pinley said

    I’ve been reading “An Unhurried Life” this week and it talks about this exact thing (pgs. 69 and following)…have had to wonder, “what does it mean to wait in my context?” But I have begun to trust more and more the prophet Jeremiah that reminds us that God has plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future. I’ll keep that in mind as you come to mind in the coming days/weeks.

    • wrenlk said

      Craig- I am LOVING that book right now! Thanks for reading and engaging. I know that in some way all of us are probably in some place of asking these questions and wondering how we walk in the dark trusting Gentle Hands to lead us.

  2. Beth Ernest said

    Why, indeed? Such heart-felt questions asked by so many good, qualified pastors.So glad you got to interview, though so sad it didn’t work out in the end. Blessings to you.

    • wrenlk said

      Thanks for reading and participating, Beth, both here and in our private conversations. I am actually not experiencing anxiety over this, but simply exploring it. For me, that has become a game-changer in this season of transitions that are not necessarily my choosing. Much peace to you in your own journey.

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