List every job you have held since you were 18.
I sit, staring at that sentence and the seven little boxes given to list all of the jobs I have had since I was 18. There is another sentence about also listing jobs I did that were volunteer/unpaid, but if I did that then I would be up all night. I might even be up all night anyway.
I’m going to need another piece of paper, please.
I’ve been thinking a lot about vocation lately, probably a good thing since I am in discernment with my diocese. When I think about all of the jobs I have had since I was 18 (way more than seven) and look for a thread of similarity, something that binds them all together, I come up short. I’ve driven a forklift, answered more phones than I want to think about, completed mountains of paperwork, sat up all night at the desk of a dormitory. I’ve scheduled appointments for animals and people and babies. I’ve cooed over kittens and puppies and newborn babies, rejoiced over happy news of what gender or healthy deliveries. I’ve cried with people over loss and heartache, held a dying animal in my arms, hugged women who have experienced tragedy. I’ve been around the world to serve women who are so abused and mistreated that they are scared to stand up for themselves. I’ve kept breweries running in Georgia (and almost shut one down a time or two), I’ve come in on a Saturday to move boxes around a giant warehouse to make space for more people to work. I have helped people with skin problems, pampered and cared for them, put make up on hundreds of faces and told them they were beautiful without it but oh-my-gosh you need this mascara in your life.
The only common thread I can come up with is meeting hundreds of people who are very, very different from myself and loving them so much.
But how do I put that on a job application? How do I convey that I’m not just a job hopper? They are looking for stability in the job history, presumably, but my job history is anything but. Some jobs were not for me, but I’m better for the experience of having them.
And so I wrack my brain to list them all, the dates I was there and when I left. I hope and pray that I get the chance to explain it, to say what I learned and experienced and how that will help me be a good priest someday. (God-willing!)
“What am I doing with my life?”
I ask this question in jest whenever I see someone accomplish what I could only hope to (like making this amazing video). But really, it is the ever present question, the one that rattles around in my chest and head every time I stop long enough to breathe and look around. That’s part of the unsettled nature of this moment in life, I guess. Or maybe it is just part of life in general.
I have this image in my head that discernment is a task I could accomplish in an afternoon if I really just committed the time and engaged in some sort of linear process. I would begin by looking at my life, my skills, my passions, then I would ask myself a series of questions and suddenly my vocation would emerge, clear as day.
But really discernment, in my experience, has been a lot more like this video.
The me I want to be, the me God is calling me to be is like an invisible being that I’m constantly chasing through the woods. I wait for a shadow or a change in the way the dust is blowing and then I have an instant to throw color where I think he is in hopes of catching a glimpse of how he moves, what he looks like, where he’s going. It’s beautiful and painstaking and frustrating as hell.
But every time I encounter him I come one step closer to being him.
Being in grad school I have the luxury of spending all my time chasing this image of who I want to be. But just like in my former working world, it is so easy to lose focus. It is so easy to get caught up in someone else’s idea of what the process should be, to just create another to do list, when all I really want and need is to pursue the image of my own wonderfully created soul.
And when I pursue that, when I can emphasize my being over my doing and seek ardently for it in all its unknowableness, I know I’ll begin both being and doing what God has called me to do and be.
Check out this article on how much it sucks to be a pastor. Well, not really, but it does beg the question of why anyone would feel called to this kind of work. Some of the stats it shares are:
- Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
- 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a closefriend.
- Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year.
- 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
- 45.5 % of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
- 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
The truth is it’s a hard time to be a faith leader no matter who you are, no matter how kind and genuine and personable and intelligent and fun/ny you are. We just don’t really take faith seriously as a culture and we often don’t understand (or respect) those who make it their work.
And it gets far worse for those operating within existing institutions with unrealistic and unrelenting expectations coming from both within and without.
I have to wonder what it would look like if we as a body of believers or non-believers revered those who make it their life’s work to build up and support communities of people seeking after something bigger than themselves. It wouldn’t have to mean lessening accountability but it would mean deepening the relationships of trust between us. It would mean loosening our grip on what we expect of our leaders and instead encouraging and protecting them as they do the necessarily creative and entrepreneurial work to which they are called.
In order for that to happen though, we’d probably also need to loosen our grip on our ideas about where God might be and let these individuals help us to shut up long enough to let the I AM, the source of all being, make itself known to us in unexpected places.
If we could do all that, maybe our joy at encountering God might carry over to those who have helped to bring us to that place and maybe it wouldn’t suck so much to be a pastor.