I am enough of a liturgical romantic that I expect each season of the church calender to have it’s way with me. When Advent comes I press into longings for Christ’s coming and His Kingdom. With Christmas and Epiphany I celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation–that God became human and dwelt with us. In Ordinary Time I concentrate on growing daily as a disciple of Christ. When Lent comes I die. I concentrate my efforts on self denial and suffering and look forward to Christ’s Easter resurrection and what it means to practice resurrection.
This liturgical shape has shaped how I apply for pastoral positions. The dramatic turnarounds of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter effect my hopes for God’s radical reversal. As I have walked my journey through unemployment and unsatisfying employment, I have been on the look out for God’s turnaround. A couple of years ago I thought about how great it would be to write a liturgical memoir which started with me in Advent the wilderness of Blaine (not actually wilderness) longing for God’s guidance and provision and ended with Easter and me enshrined as the pastor of an urban church doing God’s work. As the seasons have rolled by I have hoped that God’s reversal was just around the corner (and maybe I could sell my book idea to IVP). Self-aggrandizing dream I know, but like it says in Proverbs, “Without dreams, nobody wears seat belts.” Okay so it says, “Without vision the people cast of restraint.” It was a loose paraphrase.
I did something different this year and died in Ordinary Time. I simply let go of my dream and allowed myself to entertain the possibility that I got this whole ministry calling thing wrong. I told God that I was willing to let my dream die, that if he didn’t want me to be a pastor, or do urban ministry that was okay. I told him to have his way with me and lead me wherever he will. I didn’t have to justify my worth through a ministry post or justify the years and money I’ve invested in theological education. I opened myself to the possibility that perhaps the place where I lived, was exactly where God was calling me.
Then something interesting happened. As Lent began churches were interested. I got emails from an urban church doing the sort of ministry I’ve felt called to and several friends and family members alerted me to other positions and opportunities. I died to the dream and it seemed like in dying to it, God was opening up new doors. Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies. . .I thought and wondered at this. The urban church expressed interest. They proposed a visit. They downloaded and listened to my sermons. We emailed back and forth. And then the process was over. I didn’t get the job. Their search continues. I still await God’s dramatic reversal for my vocational hopes.
But something happened when I died. The whole process did not throw me into a whirlwind of self-doubt and anxiety. I took the process in stride and said God’s will be done. Their acceptance of me was not necessary for me to feel validated and valued. I knew God’s presence and his peace. Of course I still had hopes for the job (and my subsequent publishing debut), but I wasn’t defined by it. Six months ago I would have felt depressed by another rejection and feel like I needed a pastor job to prove to the world (and myself) that I am indeed called by God to build his church and minister to a hurting world.
I discovered that in dying my sense of call has not diminished. I still feel like I am uniquely shaped for pastoral ministry and have gifts to offer the Church. But gone is the frenetic self-validating urge to prove myself. I have another rejection but feel more encouraged by it than discouraged. The wilderness is doing its work in me. And whatever happens the Lord is my light and salvation. That is enough.