Many years of my life were spent in fulfilling other peoples’ expectations of me or dealing with their disappointment in me that I did not fulfill their expectations.
Many years of my life have been spent in carrying out others’ ideas of what they thought ministry should be for me, namely ministry in which I fit into a slot of an institution.
Many years of my life were lived in fulfilling a kind of spiritual ethos created for me. It is not true that religious conservatives are the only ones involved in thought management. Liberals and progressives often set unspoken but nonetheless clear parameters around what to think about specific issues and “beliefs.” In both cases an original thought can be defined as “going over to the other side.”
Many years of my life I gave time and energy to the vision and ministry of others where I often did not fit in and did not best use my own gifts and talents.
Every once a while, or perhaps more likely, several times throughout our lives—clergy, laity, spiritual-but-not religious, Christian, Muslim, Jew, secular etc—need to ask ourselves “Do I really feel at home in my own skin with what I am doing, with where I am going? Is the direction my life is taking me the direction in which my heart is leading me or am I being led down a path that is not for me?
It’s never too late to turn around, to take an exit off the freeway, and take another direction. But it is not easy for any one in any life situation.
One of the reasons it is not easy for some of us in the Church is the power the institution has had over us. For weeks before I left an institutional life and vocation over five years ago now I was filled with fear. What would my Bishop and Superintendent say? How would they react? What would they do?
After all, I had turned my life over to this institution for thirty-five years of my life. They alone had told me whether I was a success, whether I belonged on the “elite” level of clergy or not, who I was, where I belonged, where I could live and how long. I didn’t know anything else by now.
Truth be told what they would think or say or do doesn’t matter because the moment I announce my departure they no longer hadany power over me.
I realize that for many institutional religious life best suits their personalities, their goals and their vision of themselves. To rise in the life of the institution to places of leadership and status, to attend committee meetings, to work on special projects or fundraising—these are honorable as long as they do not turn into a power game.
But for me this was not the case. Often it takes something to wake us up to re-evaluating and reconciling our own sense of ministry and purpose with where we are going and what we are doing. In my case it was the Church’s knocking me off my career track when I became ill. I was taken from what I did best and placed in an invisible place of ministry for which I was not trained and in which I was not interested.
I learned that my Church’s main goal was to survive as an institution. Very frankly there can be and often is some collateral damage when this is the attitude and action of the institution and the people that are within it.
But looking back over the past five years and more I realize that, as painful as it has been, it has been best for me. It took me a while before I could change my ways. I still looked at what other people were doing and seeing how I could fit in. That is institutional thinking.
I have begun now to sense that vocation that was given to me when I was eleven years of age, in its early purity.
The question that the Spirit poses for me is, “What is that one thing to which God is calling me?”
Here is what I know for sure:
I know that God’s call is for me to be a pastor and priest. It is my call to serve the people, many or few, who are attracted to my ministry and who hear and see the Gospel communicated by me.
I know that God’s call is for me to write.
Both of these I know for these reasons: They most nearly fit my gifts and they both bring a kind of oneness to my person, an integration of my life. How these are lived out is the question.
We must take great risks, it seems, in order to find out who we really are. Playing it safe may bring you a certain form of success if you are in an institution that doesn’t like any boats rocked. But is all of this your calling? Do you feel at home within your own skin?
If you do I commend you. But for some of us, many more of us than I once thought, are not really at home in the lives we are leading. We are living someone else’s life, doing someone else’s vocation.
And if we are to be true to ourselves, to our values, and our vocation, we will need to live our own lives once again, if indeed we ever have.
Find that one thing that you do in which you live beyond time and which causes you to “forget” yourself. Focus on it. Do not get diverted from it or allow yourself to be seduced away from it.
This is that to which you are called. This is the vocation of your life. This is your calling.
Claim it and do not be afraid.