Residing within you lies a sweet spot, and when you hit it, you know it, and when you get too far away from it, you understand it.
There is not rationale for it.
The things that you will create when you have stopped trying to provide a rationale are things wholly separate from the discussions of relevancy and idol worship.
The rational explanation for things that have always eluded your attention is unwanted because it isn’t mystical enough. The truth is, you were born into a peculiar dynamic, behaved peculiarly to gain attention, continued to behave in an odd fashion to attract attention, and then started to attribute your peculiar behavior to mystical things instead of obvious, rational things.
There is a peaceful place awaiting you, though it may not be interesting, and most will describe it as boring.
Once upon a time, I worked at this place where they brought in all of these consultant weirdos to tell everyone what to do, and this guy was trying to figure out what my primary ambition and strengths were. I would go on to meet a lot of people like that. “Creative problem solving,” I said. He was annoyed and frustrated. I hadn’t been able to tap into the nerve center of the social systems churning throughout the organization that were tied to the ones that reverberated across the landscape of the collective minds of people who were my age or had been my age or would soon be my age.
More bluntly, I was too socially retarded to understand that a person my age was supposed to be spouting out a true career trajectory–manager by 25, director by 30, VP by 35, C-Level by 40. Dudes like that consultant dude couldn’t grasp that someone could be happy doing what seemed like menial work to him as long as they were helping others solve their problems in a meaningful way. He would go on to snidely tell me the exact same thing I was trying to tell him, he said something to the effect of, “your job isn’t just to type words into Photoshop, but to listen to the needs of your internal clients and help them accomplish their objectives.” I walked out on him as he called out to me that I wasn’t being very professional with the readiness to be fired on the spot when I returned to the building. That sad organization was full of so much toxicity that you could write an encyclopedia set on all of its problems. Maybe one day it will just die a final death–it has been dying a sad, slow death for decades.
But, it really was the time in which I should have been getting more in tune to what a person who was in their early thirties was supposed to be saying when they met with management–”I want to have a career where I am progressively rewarded positions of greater pay and responsibility, no matter whether I am really fit or even inclined to be a manager and a leader.” The American system of work, which includes the non-profit and government world, simply doesn’t “get” the notion that someone could become happy doing what they are doing, as long as they feel like it is somehow relevant and genuinely appreciated by others in the organization.
Even the most bleeding heart liberals turn into Ayn Rand when they go off to work. Everyone is supposed to be out for themselves, and the idea that you would let someone else get ahead of you (even if they were more qualified to) is deplorable. Now, of course, we do let people get ahead of us all the time. We can’t all be company presidents. But to consciously come to the conclusion that you enjoy what you are doing and you don’t need to grow in your career simply in terms of managing more people–that is heresy. And, I can’t stress enough how a person like me can’t be happy just doing what he’s doing if he comes to the conclusion that others are merely patronizing him–oh, there’s that sad fool who is so socially awkward that he’ll never rise up to do anything but he’s nice, so we’ll let him keep making things pretty for us over there in Marketing. When I catch any of that sort of attitude–where people have come to the conclusion that it is simply easier just to let me sit and make things pretty while the really important folks do important things–I am usually ready to move on.
As of late, though, I have been thinking long and hard about how I ended up where I have, and to what degree I really was “called” by the Lord to be here. I do believe that some things were the product of me being guided in a certain direction–the reason I failed so miserably during those years at that organization to find anyone at all to do more than go on a date or two with me. The reason I never stayed on at the Baptist and Catholic churches I started attending and felt strongly about going to the church I met my wife at. The fact that I met her there and we went on to have the awesome son that we did. Of any girl/woman that I have ever known in my life (even the ones who were not single or the right age or whatever)–none of them have come remotely close to seeming like they could have been the right wife for me.
But, I have started to seriously think of late that God guided me to that particular church not for the overarching purpose of seeing me on a trajectory toward becoming a minister in that denomination, or a minister at all–and I am not so sure that God even necessarily wanted me to stay in that denomination. The part where I felt guided to go to that particular church was primarily for the person I would meet and marry and the child(ren?) we would have. So, that ends that trajectory. Now, it is time to move one and experience what God’s overarching plan is, and how I fit into it.
Which means–God himself doesn’t necessarily want me to make a career out of the church–I am injecting too many of the “have a true career” lessons that I’ve been so slow to learn into God’s plan to the point where I am no longer really listening to God at all, but trying to impose a human/American system on top of what could otherwise be the fulfillment of a happy, joyful plan.
Another way of looking at it is this–it could be a rather painful and unwelcoming thing when you first learn and realize that God’s plan for you is part of a much bigger plan, a historical one, a familial one, a global community one, that sees you only in a supporting role instead of a starring role (at least as far as human measurements of what is starring and isn’t goes). At first, you feel like you are merely a cog in a machine.
Which some would say is rather ironic, given the fact that you’ve spent ages trying to determine what your purpose is, declaring–”I will be happy to do anything at all, as long as I know for certain that it is exactly what God wants for me.”
You want so badly to be useful, relevant and necessary to the Kingdom, but if that means actually being so without constantly getting recognition and fanfare and having an awesome career of some kind that is awesome by human standards, then you end up saying something like “umm, God are you sure that this is exactly what you wanted for me? Shouldn’t I be leading a renowned downtown church somewhere that is feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and getting constant writeups in all of my denomination’s publications?” And, if God replies, “No, I called you to that particular church in this particular denomination in order to meet your wife and have your son (or perhaps grandson, or great-grandson), who will be great by human standards, while you continue to work in random office jobs to support your family so that my plan may be realized in some greater fashion that only sees you in a supporting role.”
Then, your ego ends up being bruised, and you keep trying to get further discernment and clarity from God ad nauseum, because you can’t accept that you aren’t destined to have an actual career tied to the original thing that very clearly seemed to be God’s will (ie, meeting your wife at that church). And, God seems to stop talking to you, or throws up his hands in disgust, and says “fine, go try to be a pastor if you like, see how that works out for you.” And then, you come to seminary, and you meet people who really do have pastoral qualities–they have been preaching for a decade or they have been leaders in their church in some fashion, or they are very young but they were born into your denomination and they clearly and crisply represent what it looks like to have a true career arc from cradle to youth volunteer, to religious studies undergrad, to mission oversees, to seminary, to pastor of a large downtown church that is doing all kinds of amazing things. In short, you get to rub shoulders with people who have been clearly called by God, while you find yourself slipping and struggling to keep up and remain a part of the community, and before too long you are back to your old tricks–being false to yourself and others just to prove that you, too, belong here. This, of course, makes you more and more frustrated and unhappy, because you are building a bigger and bigger fake self again in the midst of secretly feeling exceptionally guilty for just how disappointed your family will be if you make them get up yet again and move someplace else and start all over again.
And so, it goes. But, the crystal clear takeaway here is that you have imposed a human structure onto your own narrative, thereby creating yet another false narrative, when your own narrative runs so much more smoothly when you just follow the deepest intentions of the heart and not worry about whether or not people much younger than you are getting ahead in the world at this-or-that career when you are not.
This is one angle to all of it. And then, of course, there is the “mommy” angle. I do feel like my mother was present in guiding me through the stormy years right after her death (where the storms were often really just bleak, unmoving pea soup fogs) and helping me not to end up married to some basket case. I feel like my mother has been with me through the birth of my son, and that in the process, a lot of my asking about “what does God want me to do?” has been inextricably entangled with what mommy would have wanted me to do. So, of course, my mother would have been delighted with my choice of spouse and the baby boy who has resulted from the partnership. I think my marriage has her blessing all over it.
However, I am beginning to think more and more that my being here at seminary is simply just an effort by my own will and ego to continue to try to please mommy and please God in ways that fit what would generate the most positive reaction from mommy and God, without really asking that if perhaps where my mom is now, she isn’t possessing some great vantage point of view that sees just how less rigid someone has to be about practicing their religion and just how different God’s plan looks from that place than it does when you are here on earth trying to figure everything out.
I am not unwilling to keep open the possibility that God really does want me to be here, and does want me to become a pastor, and that I am just going through a rough patch right now where there is no light at the end of the tunnel, but the little flashes of light that I so desperately need on the way to getting to that big light of assurance are not coming often enough, and more often than not, they appear to be pointing in the opposite direction.
The way family and pastors reacted to my decision to come down here, the way that my pastors and the presbytery have been mostly unhelpful and largely inclined to indicate that there are too many pastors already, and especially too many white male ones. The test results from my pastoral quiz I had to take for the school and the psyche eval for my denomination. The constant presence of people who are truly pastoral around me, and all of my continued losses of temper and tendencies to just reject a person who has become too annoying every time I talk to them.
What I am trying to say is that for every sign that still affirms me being down here, there are probably ten that refute me being here.
I am slowly descending into the seductive vision of what it would be like to be able to spend all of my free time reading whatever I want, watching Netflix and Amazon Prime movies and wandering around hiking trails with the dog. To be living in the suburbs somewhere, going to a nice office job, and getting to eat at all of the finest chain restaurants and take summer vacations to US landmarks and national parks and be able to fly to Europe once every three years, and have plenty of money left over to sock away into retirement and my son’s college fund.
These may all be the seductions and siren songs of Satan, or they could just be the slow, but sure realization of who I am and who I am not.
Of course, if I leave here I can never look back again over my shoulder at some other college program I should pursue. This is it. I’ve met and answered the question about what it would have been like for me to have gone on to a Master’s program, and I would have definitively concluded that it wasn’t for me, and that what was for me is what has pretty much always been there.
Coming to an understanding that there wasn’t some magical path I should have could have been pursuing way back when if only I had known myself better and been more mature–this is disheartening in the sense of what I have talked about above–that I am being given the certain understanding that whatever I was made to do doesn’t align with the normative school/career trajectories of many people. My vocation doesn’t line up with a Master’s program. But, it is also a freeing thing to come to this understanding. It means that I can stop beating up on my twenty-year old self for being such an idiot–perhaps he was a lot wiser than I care to give him credit for. I can stop worrying about what might have been if only, and I can simply enjoy the rest of my life like any other WASP middle-class American has done over the past sixty years.
I don’t think that this is the last word on all of this, but I will greatly and utterly need a support group of some kind to arise and affirm my pastoral calling, like, in the next week, if I really hope to stay here and cease putting out resumes and job applications for the old standard office jobs.