My blog posts are not often intensely personal. That’s as it should be, I believe, because cyberspace is no place to broadcast your deepest struggles. People get hurt that way. But I want to share something very current that I’m struggling with because someone out there might identify with it. Plus, at some level, it helps to put it into words.
I have a calling of some kind, but I don’t know what to call it — how to label it. I can describe one aspect of it his way: Something drives me to ask hard questions, think deeply, and do my best to get to the bottom of things in order to understand them. Along the way I also feel compelled to verbalize what I am discovering. Back before I learned to pathologically distrust myself, I would have told you that I have a knack for taking what I find and expressing it to other people. I also discovered early on that I can pretty comfortably address a large group of people, even numbering in the thousands. It came very natural to me and I was told that I was pretty good at it.
So I should be a preacher, right? Well, not so fast. As I look around, I find that what we call being a preacher doesn’t work for me at all. The popular version of the pastoral office flies right in the face of many of my most deeply held convictions about the priesthood of all believers, and about the need for the whole Body of Christ learning to function rather than a handful of specially certified people.
For another thing, I never got officially ordained. My childhood pastor, Frank Pollard, didn’t believe in ordaining people for ministry. He considered it the Holy Spirit’s job to do that, and it was the job of the local church to recognize it. Since he had been a seminary president and a mainstay on the Baptist Radio Hour, I figured I was on safe doctrinal ground listening to him about that. I’m comfortable not having a piece of paper to prove my calling (although I do have a seminary degree–does that count?).
All that aside, a calling remains. I have things wired into me that could be of great benefit to the Body of Christ. But I see no place in most churches where my gifting fits. Most places, it turns out, don’t respond very well to people “thinking deeply” about stuff. On the contrary, if you question enough things, you just disturb the status quo. Folks don’t appreciate that, it seems. It doesn’t matter how gently you do it, how nicely you put it, or how articulately you express what’s on your heart. Most seem to prefer what Brian McLaren once called “the massage of familiar words.”
Well-meaning people often advise that you should pick your passion and pursue it. They say you should find work that you would do for free and find a way to get paid for it. That’s a fine idea, really. I’d love to actually get paid for what I’m good at. But there’s hardly a place for what I’m good at in most churches, let alone an actual paycheck. I reconciled myself to that reality a long time ago, but I still have to make a living. So I teach high school. I don’t teach what I love because my real expertise is in Bible, and you can’t teach that in most public school settings. I have to support a family of six, and I can’t get by with a private school teacher’s salary. So I’ve had to learn to teach Math, History, English, and Science–four subjects about which I know just enough to “fake it.” As a school teacher, I’m mediocre because my passion lies in teaching stuff that nobody pays you for, or at least not enough to pay the bills.
In the end I feel ill-fitted for the kind of work I do. It probably doesn’t help that I’m also teaching a population of students whose cultural world doesn’t value school for anything other than providing social connections. In fact, many of the kids I teach only come to school in order to stay connected to their drug supply chain.
I could live with professional mediocrity a whole lot better if that were it. But it really eats at you after a while if your passion is the church, yet your church environment doesn’t value your gifting, either. Before long you, too, learn to devalue your gifting. That leaves you pretty deflated. It’s no wonder I’ve become so bad at accepting praise from other people (see my last post). I’ve fallen into the habit of thinking that people could only approve of me or my actions if they are either misinformed or delusional. That sounds more like an insecure teenager than a grown child of the King of Kings.
True happiness comes from being a blessing to other people, benefiting others by serving them according to your unique gifting. My problem these days is that I’m having a hard time finding, as Michael W. Smith once sang, “my place in this world.” I’m starving from a lack of opportunity to function in the Body of Christ according to the shape of my particular calling. There once was a time that I felt I was heading toward a fulfillment of my calling, but circumstances changed. It’s a long story, one that will have to wait for probably a long time. All you really need to know is that either God closed some doors on me really slowly, or else I just didn’t notice they were already closed until recently. Ultimately, I know that his hand is behind it, and now it falls to me to trust him in what he is doing. I hope I can hold on to that one responsibility.
All this introspection is meant to serve a useful purpose. As long as I can remind myself that God has his own reasons for putting me in all these circumstances which are so incongruous with how he wired me, then I can find comfort. I can try to take a deep breath and trust that God hasn’t shelved me permanently. Maybe I’ll be like a wine that gets better only after it’s had time to collect dust in a dark cellar somewhere for a long time. I only hope he sees fit to pop the cork and let me breathe once in a while :-)