Our shadow side


I went out to lunch with a seminary student recently, and she was talking about being really sure of one’s call. She said that a person needed to be absolutely positive that she or he should be a minister before going into the pastorate. That a pastor needed to be completely convinced that (s)he is in the best vocation, as if that conviction was the key to effective ministry.

I began to say something cynical. Something like, “That’s strange, because I’ve been doing this pastoring gig for about ten years now, and I question my call every single day.” But I held my tongue. I didn’t want to squelch her adamant conviction with my cool sarcasm.

Now I wish I would have said something.

In our ordination process, we’re often put into situations where we need to convince people of our conviction to go into ministry. We’re asked to describe our spiritual journeys many times. We’re to explain “our call,” the ways in which we know that we’re to become ministers.

I could do that in seminary, with honesty and ease. I assumed that anyone who didn’t “make it” as a pastor was…well…a little weak in resolve.

After serving for a few years, a report on the high dropout rate for clergywomen came out in our denomination. After reading the thirty-nine heavy pages, ingesting the damning statistics, I came to the startling realization that women were not making great progress in our church. And the reasons they’re leaving is not usually because they can’t handle their jobs or they lack tenacity.

I realized that women have fewer opportunities. Still.

Sometimes it’s for personal reasons: They aren’t as mobile, or they tend to be older (thus reducing the time it takes to gain the adequate years of experience needed for more job opportunities). Other times it’s because–even though it’s 2007–churches still can’t get over their squeamishness at seeing a woman in charge. 

And so, for the first time in many years, I became open to the option of doing something else.

I know I’ll always be a pastor, no matter what my official job title is. I’ll always love preaching and caring for people more than anything else in the whole world. I’ll always want to communicate God’s love to my neighbors in the way that they need to hear it the most. But, I don’t know that the sign on my office door will always say “Pastor.” Happily, today it does.

The truth is, we can’t always stake a claim on one vocation and expect that to be the end of it. And one’s conviction that (s)he should be a pastor, certainly doesn’t make that person a better pastor. I know many ministers who look assured in the pulpit on Sunday morning, but they spent the week tossing and turning, wondering if they were really suited for the role.

And here’s another thing about the call process: We’re not always called by warm fuzzy feelings or positive affirmations, as our stories in front of the ordination committees might suggest. Sometimes our vocations can arise from our shadow sides, the things that we try to hide and ignore, even from ourselves.

I’ve begun to pay attention to my irrational jealousies or the way I dislike a certain person, even when that person’s never done anything to harm me. I stop myself and meditate on the situation a bit. When I get furious about things that everyone else seems to blow off, I try to figure out what’s behind the negative emotions. Because often, just under that mask of feelings that I wish would just go away, is a longing within myself. Sometimes it’s a calling to something new.

8 thoughts on “Our shadow side

  1. Preach it, Sister! We talk about the “movement of the Holy Spirit” but that often looks like: feeling warm and fuzzy. When in truth, the HS traffics in shadows.

  2. “The HS traffics in shadows.” Brilliant. Can I quote you on that? I’m putting together my Psalm 139 sermon for this Sunday.

    You know the verses:
    If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
    even the darkness will not be dark to you…

  3. Thank you for posting that report–I lost track of my copy.

    I totally agree with you; though I did have someone say to me, “If there’s anything else you could see yourself being happy doing other than being a pastor–go do that.”

    Which is kinda the flip side of your seminary student.

    That doesn’t quite nail it either–there are plenty of other things I can see myself being happy doing–but I get the sentiment. It is demanding work with (comparatively) little pay and no weekends off 😉 You’ve gotta do it for the sheer love of it. And I do.

  4. Sure, you can quote me, just email me the sermon when you’re done and I’ll borrow it right back! Also — I totally agree with RM — having heard “if there’s something else you can do” and believed it when in seminary. I still believe it. One problem is that “ministry” is such a big umbrella — and I think I have spent a decade figuring out which part of the umbrella I can live under — where my gifts fit. Which gifts just get rained on, to be metaphorical. And,sigh, I DO wish the not-enough-money thing would go away. As the kids hit college it just intensifies. I do believe that “all will be well” even money, in the years ahead. Maybe I am just tired of a tight squeeze at this particular junction of my life. (also having a husband in a similarly low-pay high-service profession)

  5. You really nailed this one … on everything. I do know some women who are making headway, becoming senior pastors, etc, but the ones who don’t… it’s not because they aren’t qualified. (necessarily)

  6. I tend to believe that those who are “certain” of their call should be scrutinized with much more care than those who are struggling. Smug certainty isn’t a measure of true call, IMO. Perhaps it’s because I struggled for a very long time, though — so I could be wrong.

  7. Ann,

    It’s strange, isn’t it? People come at this from so many different directions. I’ve met a lot of pastors who never question it. But I feel like I’m always wrestling with the angels. I know I always want to be in ministry, but I don’t always know what that will look like.

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