When I first realized that I seemed created to work in the church on a vocational path I did not trust that I liked, erh, loved people enough to really be any sort of meaningful pastor. But with my comfort in front of a large group could I not just hide my apathy for the congregants and their struggles behind the pulpit of a fantastic preaching career? Hmmmm... Then I tried preaching a few times in college and realized that it was a bit more challenging that I originally anticipated and consequently decided that I hated writing sermons. (It's an arduous task that still leaves me anguished.)
It never caused an sort of existential crisis, I still knew I would work in the church, but as I matured and realized all that ministry entailed, I also sobered a tad and confessed that I had no idea what sort of ministry I imagined. For the two years that I lived in CT and took classes at Yale, I grew into a fairly avid follower of the emerging church scene. Perusing blogs, purchasing books by B. McLaren, D. Paggit, P. Ward, T. Jones, C. Seay, R. Bolger, E. Gibbs, and others, and dreaming about contemporary venues in which to house sacred spaces that celebrate the arts and capture the intellectual, liturgy-bound folks as well became time consuming and inspiring projects. Still, I was unsure how my impatience for people's issues fit into all of that.
Then came my first pastoral theology class, my first quarter as an official seminarian. I was skeptical of the Presbyterian professor. (Who really believes all of that reformed shit anyway? And this was before I officially joined an Anabaptist community. ha.) Never will I forget sitting there, notebook open, and it wasn't a Mac, but a real spiral bound Five Start beauty, pen at attention, and the excitement that comes with the certainty that you are just where God wants you for a given moment. As we navigated our way through the curriculum I felt a greater and stronger pull from some Other transcendental force, urging me out from behind my metaphorical pulpit, aka my hiding space, and into the messy, detailed lives of parishioners. How else does one know what to preach if they are not adequately immersed into the daily happenings of their flock?
But the unit that really cinched up the knot of pastoral care for me was funerals. The opportunity to meet people in moments of crisis, especially the ones that are unexpected like when the community teenager is killed in the car wreck, when words only feel trite and inadequate, and when pain is too palpable and severe, when the shock reverberates still, and when questions of faith and spiritually are pushed to extreme limits means an opportunity to bring the presence of the divine into places of isolation, loneliness, despair, and fragmented marginalization--the places God loves most to be with people. The opportunity to bring comfort, hope, or love or not, but instead simply and silently to sit and represent the permission to still dream despite the heartache inspired me. What a humbling and surprising gift. The expectation and anticipation of one day getting to offer that gift to parishioners often led me to tears in class. Yes, I cried in class. Quite a bit depending on the class actually (or in what stage of my pregnancy I currently existed). Next came the art of crafting a good eulogy. How best do you celebrate a life, honor the deceased, and offer hope to those who are grieving? What a commission. One that makes me jealous when I see other people doing it well and angry when such times for care are abused or neglected. Maybe I do love people enough to be their pastor--not just their preacher.
Fast forward three years, Jude is new, and Livia is not yet two. After taking a one quarter hiatus from school to acclimate to my knew set of circumstances and life pace, I soon realized that I missed the world of academia too much to stay away for long. So, a few months into mothering two, wife-ing one and figuring out when there was time or room for reading and paper writing, I started to wonder what it was I was actually doing. Is this degree really necessary? Is the M.Div necessary? Can I not just love my friends and family enough on interpersonal levels through situational relationships? Do I really need to pastor? The pace was hard. Let's be honest, I was exhausted.
Then came two dear friends with the invitation to perform one of two homilies at their wedding. The memories of my pastoral care class inundated my honored mind. OF COURSE I will help officiate at your wedding! OF COURSE this will fill me up beyond overflowing. (Who says the wedding is about the bride and groom?) This outdoor ceremony in latent May arrived at a personally critical juncture. To marry or not? As the pre-ceremony butterflies fluttered around in my post-natal, fatigued gut, and as I later stood before the bride and groom offering to them words of encouragement, mutual enjoyment, and hope for a married life well lived under the cornerstone of Christ, I could not help but think by the time the reception rolled around, that again, Yes! This is why I am here. To bless people in the name of a loving God on one of the most meaningful and significant days of their lives. Truly, this too, is a gift beyond measure.
So then, herein lies my new confession (I think this is a tangent regarding my original purpose in this post) as I experience more closely the theological dilemma and blinding pain of lost love (not in my own marriage, however): is the presentation of Mr. Tyler and Mrs. Lauren Mayfield (hypothetically speaking) a ridiculous announcement doomed to failure? Marriage between the greatest of two lovers is not a guarantee, no matter how much we claim that divorce is not an option. We freakin' live in a world of prenuptial agreements!!! And yet, death is certain. Death is not to be avoided. The allure of marital bliss ebbs and flows, while the certainty of death remains constant.
I'm not sure if I believe in marriage anymore. This concerns me. I used to be so excited to continue in the tradition of marrying dear friends and parishioners alike. But it feels disloyal to do so at this point when I am no longer sure of the legitimacy of the covenant.
Perhaps what I am trying to say is this:
That the opportunity to perform my friends' wedding reminded me of why I wanted to pastor and minister in the first place--to serve people in times of need, be they positive or negative. Again, what a gift to stand at the alter with them as a way of blessing and sharing such holy and intimate moments.
However, life's moments of celebration and joy used to thrill me beyond measure and leave me with an excitement to be felt for days. And when I realized that it was so exciting to be the minister in such instances because I really do love people enough to share such intimate moments with them, I never dreamed that it could get any better.
But now, in general, joyous moments make me feel cautious, trepidatious, and even a bit foolish for hoping in their continued joy. I'm thinking of births, dedications, baptisms, homecomings, weddings, etc. This bums me out and does make me wonder if I write tonight from my own depression rather than joy.
Whereas, the darker moments of life, those crises that are inevitable but unexpected, the experiences that shake us to our core and force us to question our very existence are where I long to minister. Is that dark and morbid?
Right now it feels incredibly real and honest. It is what is secure and what I know.
I find it easier to bless a prematurely birthed baby resting in the NICU and her tender-hearted parents who struggle to process the ordeal and minutia of medical details in the road ahead of them, than I do the vibrant, healthy, breast-feeding newbie who knows no struggle until later times. (Not that I'm not rejoicing over a healthy birth, don't misread me.) Because the fact of the matter is, we are all going to mess up our kids. We are all going to need a good therapist. And those of us in the trials of life are usually more perceptive to and ready to acknowledge this truth than those of us who move through life migrating from one celebration to the next.
Is this my cynicism or my authentic and growing love for the realities of life and the people who are forced to experience them?
Despite my questions, I can claim that I long to pastor in such ways that enable people to confess the traumas of life while still giving themselves permission to hope for joy and something more fulfilling. And this is only because I long for them to know that they are loved by a Creator and Caring God who promises time and again to never leave for forsake...when we feel happy, but even more so in extreme seasons of depression and oppression. Even more now I realize just how much I love God's people. We all hurt. We all need pastors. We all need to be reminded that God loves us. Amen? Amen.