Searching, Searching, Searching...

A post appeared recently in the closed Facebook network for The Young Clergy Women Project that caught my eye. In this post, a fellow YCW asked about the search process with her husband. He’s a pastor. She’s a pastor. They have a baby. And it’s time for them to search. So, she was looking for wisdom -- as so many of us do -- from her clergy sisters. The married clergy sisters with babies, that is.

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That sounds bitter. Maybe it is. Whatever. I’ll talk about it with my therapist. That’s not the point. The point is this: I read this post only to think of another friend who has just completed a search process, a friend that bemoaned the fact that it’s harder to discern God’s call when you’re married. I imagine this is further compounded when you have a baby, but I have neither. I am not married. I have no baby. But I am indeed searching.

I am looking for that place that God calls me next. I am looking for those people that will help me to further realize the dreams I have for the church and the world. I am seeking that place where I am called to serve.

And it’s taking forever.

When I began this search, my colleagues and friends (including the one that has recently settled into her new call) assured me that I would be snatched up quickly. That hasn’t happened. Instead, I have found myself courting a series of bad dates. I met the church that doesn’t want to commit. I dated the church that was horribly wounded by its ex-pastor. I courted with the church that wants a Savior. (They seemed to have missed that we already have one.) I said “no” to the church that wasn’t meant to be mine. I have been disappointed by the church that chose someone else. I have waited and waited until God would finally part the heavens and say, “This is where you are called.”

But the heavens have not parted. I have heard no such voice. And so, I find myself filling the void. I ask my colleagues, “How do you know?” I ask my friends, “When will it finally happen?” I wonder aloud to anyone that anyone that will listen, “Is it me?” I’m doing all of the talking but they’re all good people. They listen. They nod. They assure me that it will be fine. They tell me that it will all work out. They insist that God has a plan. This may all be true. It may be so.

I just think it would be easier to go through this transition with that life partner I’ve always imagined might be by my side. It’d be awesome if there was one person -- that one person with whom I’ve committed to sharing the ups and downs of life -- that could answer all of these questions, assure me of all that grace and comfort me in love. But I have no such life partner. So I feel whiny. And I don’t want to feel whiny. I want to feel called. I want to feel empowered. I want to be that pastor that all of the churches fight over. (I don’t really want the churches to fight, mind you.) I want to be a leader. But I can’t fully claim those things. I’m too overwhelmed by my insecurities. Instead of hearing the good news that I am created by God and loved just as I am, I am the single girl that will never, ever find a partner. I’m the single girl that would be a better pastor if only she had a partner that would love and support her (and maybe even cook dinner for her while she’s at church meetings late at night). I’m the single girl who never knows quite how to answer the question, “So, you don’t have a family. How will you know how to pastor to families?” I’m the single girl that can’t find the image of God within her own flesh. I’m the single girl that refuses to see the love around her.

I’m doing what I tell every single (or married or babied) church member not to do. I’m not being silent. I’m not waiting for God to speak. I’m doing all of the talking. I’m forgetting the art of discernment is about opening yourself to the movement of the Holy Spirit. I’m not giving her space to do. I’m freaking out and leaving her to scratch her head on the sidelines. So, maybe it’s time that I do that. Maybe it’s time that I just let God do the talking. Maybe that’s how I’ll find my way to the people that I am supposed to serve.

I worked that out for myself but I kinda left you hanging, didn’t I? I haven’t resolved whether or not its easier to search when you’re married (and have a baby). As this article appears in this particular column, I would obviously be far too biased to draw any conclusions. So I can simply say: I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s easier to search for your next call when you’re married with a baby. I don’t know if that idealized nuclear family is what the Church really wants in its leadership. I’m not positive this would be easier if I did have a partner -- after all, my partner would have the nerve to have his own opinions. I do know that it’s always hard to know where God wants us to be and sometimes it’s just hard to listen.

Photograph by Hugh Chevalier used under a Creative Commons License

Comments

I have been here. And I know how lonely is it. But I've been there, too, so you're not alone. And when its right. You'll know. I ended up in Montana- and its right, who knew?

I really appreciate this post and its rawness. I too am in this place. Thank you.

Even if you let God do all the talking, God can't change the culture you live in. You're up against sexism and bias. Don't be too hard on yourself. Although I pray God will lead you to a place that appreciates your gifts! And heck, maybe even adores you. And speaking as a woman who was single for a long time, may you find in yourself the power to imagine that a single life can be as precious, full, and wonderfully happy as a married or mothering one.

Easier/harder is relative. The grass is always greener and all that. From my perspective, the hardest parts about going through it single are the lack of the sense that there is someone else in it with you, and the single income problem. I've watched married friends take time off to discern their next steps, perhaps struggling a bit financially, but leaning on their spouses to bear more of that burden for a while. When I was between calls a few years ago, there was no one else to bear or even share the burden; I did my discerning in the gaps between doing working at a youth shelter, doing pulpit supply so I'd look like I was still doing something mildly ministerial, and bartending to make ends meet.

And then there's the whole, "If I take a call in a small town, do I completely eradicate any chance of ever meeting anyone?" thing. Not necessarily easier or harder than being married, just different. And no fun regardless.

I hear you. I am suddenly single again and desperately seeking a new call for both financial and spiritual reasons. And it isn't coming. and I'm spinning my wheels. and I want to trust, but am so bound by the economics of everything that waiting is nigh impossible. May strength, peace, and discernment be yours.

I don't know if there is an easier, either, but I do know that each seems to come with a distinct set of insecurities for us. And I pray we'll learn to listen and learn from one another a little better than we tend to do now.

I recently came to the end of a one year "sabbatical" (I left my call to follow my husband's work and it took a year for me to find a new call) and even with the support of a spouse I felt that kind of despair. Here's what I did: I took up running. I started a new Sunday School at one church. I joined Weight Watchers. I attended text study weekly. I visited all those friends I never saw when I was working every Sunday. I preached for anyone who would have me. I went to the Art Museum. I went out to lunch or coffee with any pastor who would find the time. I made dinner every night. I networked like crazy. I got pregnant after 6 years of trying. And just when I thought it would never pan out - I got a call.

I'd never advise you to stay silent, but make sure you are also doing other things - things that you need to do, things that you love to do, things that you ought to do. It will help. It is good to remember that we never have to wait to do ministry - there is always ministry to do whether or not we are employed to do it. May your time before call be as fruitful!

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