Today as I was sorting through photos stored on my camera, I came across this one. I think it captures visually the way I feel about my life right now. A few immediate things concrete and in focus, but the rest is blurred. Looking beyond the focused leaves makes me feel queasy in much the same vein that looking beyond the next month or two does.
As I near the end of the road for seminary, folks keep asking me (and, let’s be honest, I keep asking myself), “What’s next?” What a scary thought. The answer is I don’t know. Not knowing makes me uneasy. I want crystal clear directions. But, I don’t have them. I keep finding more questions and less concrete answers. It makes me feel unproductive. I’m 33. Why don’t I know yet what I want to be when I grow up? Why can’t I just settle on something? This all makes me feel a tad neurotic and insecure. And also incompetent. Perhaps I get a little too wound up in comparing my life with others.
I know seminary is where I’m supposed to be, but I have no idea how God is going to use this education when I’m done. The places I’m being led towards don’t involve big paychecks, but rather volunteering and small-time gigs. These aren’t the things of comfort and security.
Thus far seminary doesn’t feel like career preparation in the way school has felt in the past. Instead, seminary feels like part of a journey towards God. I started seminary feeling bitter and frustrated with God. The infertility journey drove a wedge into my relationship with God, and there was a disconnect between what I thought I should believe and my experience. I remember praying in my first semester and asking to experience God as good and to help me learn to hope again. Tucked away in a dark and quiet corner of campus, I felt time pause, and felt like I locked a destination into a GPS. A moment where I concretely felt my life change course in a significant way.
In the past two and half years, God has answered that prayer. Not in a simple way. Not in giving me what I wanted (i.e. a biological child). Rather, God has changed my perspective. I experienced some deeper realities about the God I worship. God’s goodness isn’t dependent on God making me happy by giving me what I want. I serve a God who enters into human suffering, who has taken on a body and though innocent, was crucified. And I realized therein lies the beauty of the Gospel: the hope of resurrection. Not that we avoid all pain and discomfort with a magic safety button. But that even in the face of loss and brokenness, God can bring new life forth from ashes. Maybe it’s not the life I would imagine for myself. Sometimes it’s better than I’d imagine. Sometimes not. Either way, I am not abandoned in what feels like defeat. Somewhere as I slowly moved along in these thoughts, I began to know God as good in more than an intellectual way.
This fall I had another moment where I felt time pause as I was praying. I can’t help but wonder where this journey will take me. As I was driving earlier this week, I started thinking of the way God has given various people names in the Bible (like Abraham and Paul and others), and typically those names are packed with meaning. And I asked God to give me a name. Weird thing. I feel silly writing about it. Yes I have a name from my parents, but there’s something powerful to me in being given a name (even nicknames are powerful things).
Here’s the deal. I’m often wracked with self-doubt, insecurity and self-criticism. The naysayers that live in my brain are quite obnoxious. It is crippling. I also realize that there is no amount of praise from others that will fix this in me; criticism can make it worse, but praise doesn’t make it better. At best, praise dulls the wound; at worst, praise becomes an addiction. I need to find within me a place to rest in the knowledge that I have value and am worth loving. Now that I can trust that God is good (even if I don’t always understand God’s goodness), I think I’m in a better place to trust what God might have to say about me. And I’m beginning to want to listen to God’s voice about me. To that end, I’m listening for what name the Spirit will give.
To tie back in with the beginning, I’m hoping the name also helps clarify a few more pieces of the puzzle beyond seminary. But since the journey of experiencing the goodness of God didn’t happen in just a day, who knows how long the quest for a name will take. I’m having to learn to focus on what I can see first, and to have patience with what I can’t. I don’t like it. But, I don’t have any other options right now either. I’m just learning to live with being queasy and uneasy.