I am, once again, officially looking for a church job, perhaps even one that is full-time. This is not easy to admit out loud. I now have a fifteen-month-old child and still two classes left after this quarter. It makes sense to everyone around me to just muscle through and finish seminary before starting something new.
But I know myself, and from my experience these past eight years, I know I generally do not thrive with only seminary coursework on my daily to-do list. I’ve tended to do better with a ministry outlet; I’ve enjoyed school most when also ministering. And I believe I’ve ministered better while also a student, aware of my own formation in process. I have almost always juggled these two — in high school, in college, on staff with InterVarsity. I believe God made me this way.
Not always pretty
“You have a baby now, and a husband, Tina. Those are ministries in and of themselves –—your new ministries. That plus one class a semester... isn’t that enough?” That is the message I get from the well-meaning thoughts and questions of others. I do agree, in large part. And I would add that there are other elements I probably need to include in my weekly rhythm of life that I could always do more of: exercise, read up on current events, rest more, observe longer Sabbaths. But I know I include those better when I have a life that is a bit fuller.
This ache in me to serve in Christian ministry once again — it’s not what I thought I’d be feeling, with my gorgeous baby girl in the mix, but she is growing up and so am I. Jesus-follower, person, wife, mother, grad student, and minister? I never would have thought it’d be this way. But somehow, it is. That’s my reality. Here I stand. I have a favorite quote from a seminary class: “It may not always be pretty, but it is reality, and that is the intersection between Biblical ideal and ministry practice.” (Anthony and Anthony, A Theology for Family Ministry, Chap 1, Kindle location 101)
Walking in the fog
This reminds me of the picture of faith painted in words by Garland and Garland in their book, Flawed Families of the Bible: “When God guides people, God does not hand them a clearly marked road map instructing them to turn here, to take this exit, to follow this street. God says, ‘Follow this cloud.’ What is it like to follow a cloud? A cloud on the ground is fog.” (26-27)
I loved this word picture. It captured for me what it has felt like to be making tough decisions of all sorts in this first year of life as a new mother. It has truly been a dense fog. I have waffled back and forth in the greatest of indecision, which has been annoying and distressing for me since I naturally have been a pretty clear, confident decision-maker. Certain things that I would not have thought twice about, I have had to think about fourteen times, from every possible angle. In this year, I’ve realized, I have gotten used to thinking about how every particular action impacts and affects my daughter, my husband, our carefully balanced ecosystem of shared life. How will my health, her health, my energy, her nap schedule be impacted by this or that option? Before, I was a “maximizer” and an “optimizer.” Now, fifteen months into her life, my new goals are survival and trusting that God is helping us work towards what I jokingly call “thrival” through the fog of our everyday.
What has this looked like? Somehow, little by little, I’ve figured out how to take baby steps forward, on whatever firm ground the Lord reveals beneath my foot. The Garlands describe it this way: “...we walk by faith; we do not sit by faith. We take one step after another, after another, doing our best to steer toward the fog that is not only the future, but God's future.” (42) I was profoundly ministered to the moment I read this.
I literally cannot see too far ahead of me. I am always wishing I could know how my life — my life with my husband and child and potential other children — will unfold. I am a planner. I want things to be neat and tidy and organized. So I ask other women how they spaced out their children’s births (or tried to!). I ask other pastors what it’s like to work in their church context. I try to ask my husband if he wants to make a job change, would he be happy living in this city or that city...
Every time I revisit this situation with a new conversation partner, it’s as if the landscape changes. As I walk along this journey of discernment, asking questions, listening to God and acting as he prompts me, it seems a great example of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Schrodinger’s cat. Look at the particle, and it’s in a different place. Observation affects the outcome.
So now, I can honestly say, I have utterly given up, in the best possible sense. I’ve surrendered and decided I must simply be as “in the moment” as I possibly can be. I am not God. (Thank God.) And I do not have to be. Because He is. And He will be, tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.
And so I wait
I do not shape my life or direct my steps. I do not even know if I will have a tomorrow, honestly. Are any of us guaranteed anything in this life? In this there is such tremendous freedom.
My recurring mental preoccupation and deep desire is to find meaningful occupation again. But will the Lord give me a role at a church I’m excited to work at — a healthy, stable, strong church with a large staff team? I really hope so. But if I get lost on the road there, show up late, have an awkward first introduction to whoever is in charge of hiring...so be it! I call on you, Lord, to be the sovereign God of grace you have always told me that you are.
And so I wait. And try to be patient. And walk in the fog. Enjoying the mist. Valuing the apparent darkness and confusion. Knowing God is good.