This is part three of a series called “On Why I’m Becoming A Pastor.” You’ll want to start reading here first.
One of Doubt’s strongest assets is her timing. She stays quiet for me until a decision is made, until a direction is set, and then she begins. She is relentless. She’s like a friend at the movies who whispers constantly in your ear, commentating the whole thing. But Doubt is a bad friend, because she is suspicious of others and unfaithful to the real you.
What I’ve discovered about this thing call calling is that if I wait for it to feel just right, I’ll be waiting til the grave. When you have a fire in your soul it’s rather uncomfortable. I always said I wanted to have a passion but when the fire begins to burn and you don’t know what to do with it, you spend most of your time feeling singed on the fingertips.
I was teaching at church as a volunteer, running a growing ministry. I was being organically mentored–other pastors, some ministry friends that I found over time–and I was engaged with many different projects–whatever I could get my hands on. I was in the throes of raising three young children and becoming very acquainted with the darker side of myself–anger, impatience, frustration, and of course, Doubt. I felt threatened by these shadows–ominous indicators that Doubt told me were signs I was on the wrong path.
There’s a verse in Psalm 139 that says, “you hem me in, behind and before.” I felt hemmed in alright, but in a very trapped, animal kind of way.
But sometimes being embraced and being trapped feel the same way. People say the change comes when it’s too painful to stay the same. The grip was tightening around me. I knew I couldn’t keep running forward on the counseling path and on the ministry path. I was doing everything poorly, scattered. When I graduated from seminary, I needed 4,000 hours of counseling to become licensed. I had more than 3,900 of those hours when I knew it was time.
I took a break–“a leave of absence” I called it. I stopped counseling for six months. I wrote a bible study for Thrive. I had never done that before but I sat at my dining room table, four mornings a week. I pretended I was writing a letter for a friend who didn’t know the Bible. I was a tour guide and a teacher and a therapist. And I loved it. It was the story of Jonah. It was about our Ninevahs. About the ways we run and about God’s relentless pursuit of us. It was autobiographical. Peter Kreeft says, “you think you are reading the Bible, while all the while it is reading you.” I was found out. I was Jonah.
At the end of that summer, I found my way onto the staff of Hope. With 3,900 counseling hours under my belt and a masters degree and a written bible study, I took what Doubt told me was a huge step backward.
At age 33, I took a job as a part-time student ministry intern. I shared an office with my twenty-something counterpart. I played games with middle schoolers. I participated in practical jokes. I went to camp. And I loved it. I loved teaching, finding ways to take deep spiritual truths and make them relatable to a 13 year old. I loved young adult volunteers who I spent time mentoring. I loved the church staff, the strategy, the decisions, the changes, the team.
At the same time, I continued to teach women’s ministry. The bible study got printed and distributed throughout our denomination. I met some women who encouraged me to continue to write. I wrote about leadership and spiritual formation, and I continued working out my calling, one blog post and article at a time. I wrote because it was devotional and directional for my life. Part of that journey was becoming an author but that’s another story for another time. The important part of that chapter is that I had to find a way to express the fire in me, and writing became that place.
I think back to this time and I can hardly believe I stepped away from my counseling license after a ten-year journey. It is so outside of my own operating system to pursue a goal–to literally run 25 miles of a marathon and then just stop. This is where the whole “hemming me in” thing comes in. I felt so trapped in His grip and it was so uncomfortable and so unlike me and so, frankly, otherworldly, that decisions like these were made and I hardly feel like I made them. But I had seen that one road sign on the journey–the one that I vaguely believed, the one that said this will only be for a season and the season came to an end.
I was in ministry. I was employed at a church. I was frustrated and doubtful and somehow joyful and expectant. Things were changing again.