I am not really sure how many regular readers I have and of those regular readers how many of you know my situation but I suspect that most of you do. Just in case you happen across this space and you don't know, I am close to Ordination as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church(USA). I am in the great in between, I have finished seminary and I am seeking my first call. For months I said please God I just need a break between the end of one and the start of the other. My prayer has been answered, of course there's a catch, this is not exactly the break I had in mind. My version of a break was L going to school full day and me having 4-6 weeks to experience sabbath rest along with time to get all our stuff organized and ready to move. You know the sort of deep cleaning you just have to do once in a while. Donate things, get the crusty corners clean so when move out inspection comes you get the whole deposit back... that was my vision. OK it may have included walking, writing, reading, and tea too. It is after all Fall, which is my favorite time of the year, the warm flavors and scents, the chill in the air, the grasping at those last warm days before we settle in for winter. What this break has looked more like is the world's longest trust walk with God. We have weathered a bunch of challenges since last December and we continue to weather them, one day and one challenge at a time. And every last one of my mugs is packed.
I sit in this place trying to find contentment, trying to know I am exactly where I am supposed to be, even if it is uncomfortable, even if there never seems to be enough. More often though I occupy a different space as I try to home school with little funds and a temporary commitment. Our means are less than abundant, so most days unless it's nice enough to go to the park, L and are stuck in our tiny apartment, which in and of it self makes me feel like the world is closing in. Amid all those challenges there has been a bunch of joys as well, joys that may have left me just a bit ill prepared for this break. I graduated, twice, I completed the most challenging summer of my life with L away for 7 weeks and facing all the baggage I carry with me into a hospital setting for my Clinical Pastoral Education. I began my call search and it was all good, until it wasn't.
I wake up everyday and I know what lies ahead, hours of me working really hard at fighting the abyss. I don't know if I have ever battled depression or what that feels like. I can just tell you that most days I have to work really hard to find my motivation to do anything, let alone the work of home school. I described it last week as teetering on the edge of a never ending pit full of darkness and I am fighting hard to not get sucked in. The thing is I have only told Paul this, I haven't told my friends, my mentor, my family, no one. Why you ask? Well I guess there are a bunch of reasons that are probably mostly silly. A big one is people are busy, life is rolling on in the world, while mine feels like it is standing still in this waiting, this trusting. Another, I am just finding my pastoral identity and I haven't found a way to talk about this and balance my changing identity. I can tell you that so far the abyss has failed to suck me in. I can tell you that God is showing up just enough, to keep me going. Like this week I checked the mail box and found what we needed, there was no other explanation for me other than God was at work through people who had no idea how they were being used to answer my current prayer, "God Please". On the worst days that is all I can muster, over and over. I don't even know what I am asking for but I trust God knows my heart.
Fast forward to today. We decided that we need to be going to church right now but we don't want to commit to a church, we need a place to be in church with out all that come with being in our own denomination. While my preference is to church hop and just try a bunch out until we move, our kiddo needs stability. Said kiddo has a super awesome friend whose parents happen to take him to church every week. Our families have become friends so it just makes sense, we should go to their church for awhile so the kiddo has some social time and some Sunday school time. Last week after our friends very graciously listened to my concerns, we decided that for this season we will attend church with them. This particular church is a far cry from Presbyterianism, actually it might be almost the opposite. We knew this and we are OK with this, we visited over the summer to hear our friend speak. We want the little exposed to a lot of ways of being the church, my own theology is very ecumenical and inclusive. We won't have many more times in life where we can expose her to church that isn't Presbyterian.
So off we went this morning, she was super stoked to go to Sunday school with her buddy. We walked in and settled in. I saw that the communion elements were out and I remembered how awkward it can be to be a visitor in the church. I noted this for future reference. In between songs I whispered to my friend, I see the elements out, open table? children? wine or juice? She graciously answered all my questions. We partook of the elements in a new way with our sisters and brothers of another tradition. The funny thing is you spend 3 plus year thinking about and writing what you believe and why and then you are confronted with a liturgical process that is unfamiliar and you have a choice embrace it or fight against it in your head. I thought I can embrace this and we did, not with out a little inner dialogue. After all that whole one body many parts thing applies to all our churches not just the gifts in our particular church.
When it came time for the teaching I was two steps behind because I had run the little to her class after communion. I am just getting caught up and really starting to follow the speaker (it's a speaker not a preacher in this tradition). My thought process was something like this, yes I have experienced that in prayer too, and then I need to pray more maybe I can find the words. Which wasn't that surprising I had just said to some other friends I need to pick up the bible more. So I am sitting there going yeah, yeah man, I get it. I dig this, I can relate. Then a few what ifs? Side Bar: It is really hard for me to turn off the critique writing I have had to do and just go with it. I am just starting to connect the dots when it just stops! The message had been very much about allowing the Spirit to move and following the Spirit. So in reality if I allow a moment of critique what happens next is the most perfect "sermon illustration" ever. The speaker says they are feeling something the words I can't remember but it was something along the lines of empty or drained. They stop speaking and invite people to come forward, it was not an alter call. There was a name for it but it escapes me. "Come forward if you have felt God but need to feel God again or if you have never felt God and want to feel God, I want to pray with you."(awful paraphrase by yours truly)
I am generally pretty comfortable in all churches these days but we just got off the Becca's comfort exit. Church after all isn't about always being comfortable but woah I am suddenly looking around thinking "what do I do?" Brace yourself for some blunt honesty... I was there, I was feeling it, I knew with out a doubt that I am long over due and I need to be an active part in my experience of God. Sometimes the idea of having someone pray for me is completely overwhelming, as it proved to be today. My next internal dialogue was between Becca the person and Becca the pastor. Music had started and my friend sat on he steps and waited. At first no one was moving and for me there is nothing worse than the moment when you are going with it and no one wants to go there with you. So Becca is saying yes yes yes I get this but I can sit here and pray. Pastor Becca is saying oh this moment is rough maybe you could go up to ease this tension. (I think Paul and I were the only tense ones in the room.) Then I thought, I'll go up and accept prayer because I know I need it but then I am going to insist I offer prayer for my friend as well. Then people started coming forward and I didn't move, I stayed in my seat, my comfort zone. Did you catch that right there, I was only willing to allow care for me if I could offer care in return, don't think that gem slipped by me.
Here's the thing, I was totally uncomfortable BUT God/the Spirit was there I have no doubt about that. Paul and I left and talked about all that happened, we owned that it was uncomfortable but that it was good. Presbyterians will sometimes say they are the thinking faith, which when you think about it can be really offensive. I said if we are the thinking faith, this is the feeling faith. Then we talked about our own discomfort with all the feeling we did in those moments. In the spirit of feeling, I left feeling like I am not alone on this journey and that is exactly what I needed today and for that I am grateful.