September 29, 2014

When I grow up...

When I was a child, I imagined (quite naively), that there would be a point at which I would be officially "all grown up."  It was the point where people would no longer ask me what I wanted to be when I "grew up," but instead simply asked who I was, and what I did.

Silly me.

It took years of trial and error to realize that this imagining was not quite true.  I watched my dad continue to use the phrase "when I grow up" to talk about what he wanted to do with his life, and realized that, perhaps there is a bit of Peter Pan in each of us.  In our own eyes, we are never fully grown up.

What do you want to be when you grow up?  

That answer changed for me at several important moments in my life.  When I was seven, I would have told you I wanted to be a violinist.  At thirteen, I might have said I was going to be a writer.  In college, reality setting in, I would have said I wanted to write, but would be a librarian to pay the bills.

At twenty-one, as I sat in my mom's car with tears welling up in my eyes, I told her that I wanted to go to seminary.  I told her that I wanted to go into ministry.

It was a sharp change from the future I'd imagined for myself since high school.  For one, it meant a further four more years of school.  For another, it did not (I thought) involve the arts.

I attended divinity school and became convinced even further that ministry was what I would do "when I grew up."  I even imagined that, upon graduation, I would achieve that place of being "all grown up."  I forgot that real-life sometimes (often) gets in the way of our hopes and dreams…or at least sets them aside and reminds you that reality is important, too.

After graduating, I didn't get a job.  In fact, I couldn't even find a job outside of ministry.  I went from taking 12 hours of graduate classes and working as a part-time children's minister, to sitting at home in my pajamas at one in the afternoon, watching Law and Order: SVU.  I hadn't arrived at the magical "all grown up" place.  I was far from it.

That was where I was about a month ago.  I've filled my time a little better since then (sewing, knitting, watching Project Runway…), but still find myself wondering and worrying.  What am I doing with my life?  Was I wrong to go into ministry?  Was I wrong to spend so much time (and money) on a Master's degree that is currently getting little use?

It is a difficult place to be in, and I won't pretend that I am the only person who has ever been there.  I had spent time, money, energy, prayer…so much on an education that would enable me to become a minister.  But I sat at home doing very little - I was not ordained, not employed, and not sure of where my life was going.

In this in-between time, I've been thinking about why I decided to go into ministry in the first place.  Maybe, I thought, I'd simply moved on to the next thing.  From ministry to…who knows what.  But I didn't think I was that fickle of a person.  So I considered the reasons.

  • I went into ministry because someone had been kind enough to love me when I needed love most, and because I wanted to share that love with others in need.  
  • I went into ministry because I craved knowledge and learning.  I wanted to learn, and to teach something meaningful that would impact myself and others in our daily lives.  
  • I went into ministry because I loved God, because I believed deeply in the power of Christ's love, and because I wanted to learn how others' lives were touched by that love.  
These are reasons I still hold close to my heart.  No matter what I end up doing "when I grow up," I want to do these things.  To share love with others in need.  To learn and teach meaningful and impactful things.  To hear the stories of others who had been touched by God's love.  

Over the past month, I've been learning how to be a chaplain at a children's hospital.  It isn't a role I was completely excited to take on, though I was willing to try it out for a period.  But as I've learned about what it means to be a chaplain, and the importance of that role in the life of a hospital, I've realized that all of my reasons for going into ministry - pastoral ministry - could be said of someone wishing to go into chaplaincy.  

There are so many paths before me right now that I am often overwhelmed.  But looking at the list above, I know that if I stay true to those life goals then I will be fulfilled, satisfied, and joyful, no matter which path I choose.  

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