As a child when I discovered that there were learning institutions, specific to theology and homiletics, I was fascinated. I didn't want to be a nurse or a teacher. I wanted to be a pastor or priest. I wanted to serve God's church. What kid does that? I remember hearing the word "theologian" and thinking, I want to be one of those. I couldn't even pronounce the word and my grandfather had to define it for me.
In fact, and I have written about this elsewhere so I find no need to badger this idea other than to say that the fact that I was raised in churches where none of this was feasible, a woman serving in the church as pastor, led to a breakdown between God and me. I could not put together the deep yearning and the sex that God had given me which culture told me made me ineligible to be in ministry. I felt abandoned and lost and left God to try things on my own. Since my way doesn't work so well (none of ours really does), and God pursues relentlessly, here I am. Now, instead of running from this, I am trying to figure out how all this goes together.
In the meantime, I became a nurse for financial security. I didn’t want to have to struggle. I wanted stuff to be comfortable. It hasn’t always, but I can still get a job making more than most of my better educated friends. Isn’t that enough? I want it to be. The world tells me it should be. But then there is this gnawing, this internal yearning to be in the church still, to care for the church, to be in professional ministry.
Professional ministry actually is a funny term. I know friends with higher degrees, master’s degrees, doctorates, but they are often paid less than me. Doesn’t seem so professional, does it? I want to discount this part of me. I want to say God doesn’t need me for ministry. God has plenty of schmucks that will forgo living comfortably on this earth for a heavenly reward. They value obedience, even over their physical lives sometimes, but over material comforts definitely.
I can almost find a reasonable way to get out of all this. I have the ability to make money which is a resource that I can use to sponsor the good work those ministers are doing. Isn’t that enough, God? Why hasn’t this nagging stopped since that seems perfectly reasonable to me? Recently, while working on a lesson about obedience, I found myself challenged, yet again:
if God did give me this yearning for his service and his people, am I disobedient if I ignore it?
What does serving look like, though? Is the role of pastor different than the title? Does one only serve the church from within the church? Is the church the one who needs serving, or is it the rest of the world?
I believe that I am a pastor by nature or gifting, however you would like to explain it. I tend to lead and gather and point and guide, in all areas of my life. When I decided that becoming a professional pastor was not a possibility, it took a while to figure out what that means for my life but I landed here: I didn’t need to BECOME a pastor because I AM a pastor.
That was quite a hurdle at one time, really some difficult spiritual wrestling at my core, to come to that understanding within me. But it fits. Ask the women I lead. Ask the staff at work. Look at my life and you see evidence of it. The sacrifice of money or time or self is worth it to me because there is nothing better than partnering with God, turning oneself over for his plans. And that is how I want to live my life.
I waited, hoping that was enough, and yet that familiar discomfort, some sense that I needed to do more kept nagging me. I was hoping that it would just go away. Really, did God not know how much of a struggle it was to arrive where I did??? But I submitted (did I really just type that word???), and let God know that if he had a place he wanted me to be, that I was willing to step into it. He just needed to make the opening known.
And then 2 sweet girls that I love dearly asked me to be a youth leader.
Never, ever, was youth ministry on the radar. In fact, they still scare me a little with their pointed questions and seemingly inexhaustible energy. I really wanted to say no, but my pact with God came to mind so...I did what any person who is crazy and who believes God is real would do. I said yes.
Through this experience, I have been teaching the youth group. I wanted to preach as a child. Now I am learning how to speak, and it is both terrifying and fun. I love speaking truth for others so that their lives might change, and I hate speaking because I feel so inadequate. And I have so much to learn but am grateful for patient teachers and gracious teens.
And for a God who shows up anyway, for a God who leads me by Jeremiah 1. It is amazing to me, how God is still willing to use me, still able to use me after all the time I spent walking away from him. Sometimes I feel like I am trying to catch up for all my wasted years, and other times I feel like God is slamming me with stuff to learn and process and give to others. But, a time out might be nice. Give me some time to catch my breath as I absorb all this. Give me some time to acclimate to these new ideas of my life.
So I was really hoping that he would chill. I mean, I am beginning to feel like Stretch Armstrong with all the stretching that has happened to me in these few short years. I know that my husband feels a similar stretching from God, except for him, God has given him a wife who volunteers so much and isn't as serious about her paying jobs. God challenges him financially and spiritually. If he encourages me to follow where God leads, the dear husband might feel like he loses-a wife who is active in ministry with a missional heart and works for less money than she is probably worth, or he may wonder if he is being disobedient by not encouraging his wife to follow God’s leading. Our lives are not what we expected anymore.
I used to know exactly what my life would look like. I knew the pang of emptiness. I knew loneliness. I knew boredom. I knew uselessness and hopelessness. Somehow, when I choose God's way over my way, my whole life exploded. The change was/is crazy still. Sometimes it is like riding a rollercoaster, hanging on. Other times my hands are in the air and I am laughing joyfully at God's plans. I just don’t know where we are going to land. I admit, I like the adventure.
So, what is next, God? I almost hate to ask, like a person who wants to watch a scary movie and then covers their eyes, watching it through the cracks of their fingers.