It was my first semester of seminary, I had moved my family almost 800 miles away from our closest friends and family, our daughter was just barely two, life was complex. It was toward the end of the semester, I was in my Intro to Worship class which had quickly become a favorite because it made sense to my non traditional brain. The professor pushed edgy to the edge. He was passionate and lively and unconventional. I had just recently figured out that he was a large part of why we ended up here. We didn't realize it at the time that he was a professor. When we visited with our one year old she started making noise in chapel and we got tense, he wrapped his arms around all three of us and said, "Her sounds are welcome here." Never have I heard warmer words of welcome in my life, my child was welcome to be a child.
I respected this professor, so one afternoon late in the semester when he had us draw our prayers on colorful paper, I didn't think much of it. Being confronted with pouring my heart out before God was more emotional than I anticipated. You see my life was messy, the move, the stress of seminary, the financial strain of one less than needed income, even our marriage was a mess. Oh did I pray! Then the professor collected our prayers, threw them into the middle of the room, turned out the lights and had us crawl around on the floor looking for our prayers. He started out talking and then yelling.
The whole thing became very emotional for me. I was glad it was dark as I felt the familiar sting in my throat and welling in my eyes, I don't like showing that kind of emotion in a room full of people I barely know. Eventually the lights came back on, we sat on the floor, grabbed a near by prayer and read it out to the group. Mine was never read but it didn't matter to me because I may have bawled. The whole point of this exercise, at least as I remember it, was that ministry is like this sometimes; crawling around in the dark, grasping at prayers you can't see, bumping into people, feeling awkward, and vulnerable. It was confusing but ok because there was a level of trust established in our relationships at that point.
This week in my fourth official week as a pastor I keep coming back to this moment in my education. There are two things I can take away from this lesson: the first being I reacted emotionally to it which was odd for me and may be why I remember it. The second, my professor was absolutely right. I spend my days feeling confused and like I am crawling around in the dark looking for what I don't know I need. Trying to ask the right questions and get to know people some of whom have no desire to be known.
The only difference is my personal life, while having just gone through another huge transition, is in a much better place. At the end of that semester I had to write a project which ended up leading me to ask really difficult questions about all that was going on in my life. I didn't have to courage to write the questions into my paper, I wasn't ready to be that vulnerable. At this point I can write about the question, would our marriage survive the year let alone three years? It was tense. I couldn't name it I wasn't ready. In case that is a cliff hanger for you, the marriage survived. I made peace with my call, my self doubt, and my guilt.
These days I ask questions about living into my call, about what ministry with these people who I walk with looks like, and if the church (the wider church) can survive. The beauty of crawling around in the dark, confused, maybe lonely, is that somewhere eventually we find the light. Even if there is only a little light eventually we find it and usually it's with the community of fellow believers we are crawling around with. We are not alone in the dark.
Today I am grateful for such a powerful lesson that has carried me into this ministry.