- I spent last weekend in Chicago at a leadership discernment conference put on by the Forum for Theological Exploration (more on that later)! As a result, I spent much of last week working ahead to defeat the pesky homeworks.
- I'm giving a speech tomorrow for my public speaking class about why women should be allowed to preach, and have spent the past week researching it.
- I'm going to study abroad in Argentina next semester! I learned of my acceptance a week later than what was originally promised, so I spent a considerable amount of time alternatively panicking and plotting a hostile takeover of the international studies center.
Easter is a week from today, which is weird. Classes will be over in two weeks, which is even weirder. I'm going to be living in a different country in almost three months, which is surreal. We saw a cockroach in our room earlier this week, which is unrelated (and terrifying).
Speaking of terror (and segues), last weekend it occurred to me that fear is a pretty significant interruption, so much so that it almost seems too cliche to mention.
But here we are.
I'm afraid of many things. My kids at camp all thought it was hilarious that I was afraid of butterflies, frogs, and horses, all of which exist in significant quantities at a camp in the middle of the woods.
In my defense,
A. I don't like things crawling on me. Like butterflies.
B. Have you ever seen a butterfly up close, on a kid's show that you weren't supposed to be watching but did anyway? I HAVE. Freakin' SpongeBob.
C. A frog jumped on me in the shower my first night at camp. The water was also cold. It was an unfortunate combination.
D. A horse makes scary noises and has huge teeth and scares seven-year old children who begged their parents to ride it, but then didn't actually know how to steer and didn't expect it to just start walking as soon as they sat in the saddle, and spent a good thirty seconds screaming as a result.
At the discernment conference, the central theme of the weekend was to discern God's call for our lives, and attempt to figure out how that then translated into a vocation.
A vocation was defined as the place in which our passions meet the world's need, whether that be as a doctor, a teacher, a pastor, etc.
The trick is trying to figure out what exactly that is.
On Saturday, Rev. Johnson told us that the thing that we're most afraid of is usually what we're called to do, which means I'm essentially doomed to be a horse-butterfly-frog hybrid of evil and amphibiousness.
It'll be great.
In all seriousness, this really got me thinking about what deeper fears I actually had, and what they could possibly mean.
The answer came to me surprisingly quickly (I see you, Holy Spirit), and made so much sense that I don't know why I never thought of it before.
My deepest fear is that I'll never be good enough.
That's why I worry about relationships so much: I'm afraid that I'll never be considered good enough to be in one.
That's why grades mean so much to me: failure, or anything less than perfection just confirms my fear that I'm not actually smart enough to be here.
That's why grace is simultaneously the most wonderful and difficult thing about faith for me: I don't have to be good enough for it.
The source of this fear is what's tricky.
My family is full of successful, hardworking, intelligent, encouraging, wonderful people whom I greatly admire and look up to. I was always encouraged to do my best, learn as much as I could, explore the world, and be curious.
The flip side to this is that a very high bar has been set for you, one that's completely based on your ability to meet certain standards of performance.
There are no such things as accidents, or excuses; you just simply aren't good enough.
I remember being told that I wasn't smart enough to go to a particular school. I remember being called an idiot for accidentally ruining a Christmas surprise.
I remember being warned that my driving privileges would be revoked if I didn't maintain certain grades. I remember basing much of my identity and worth on my ability to earn high grades and score well on tests, because that was what counted.
I'm still wrestling with breaking free from that now.
Read this with the knowledge that I was a pretty intense kid (and still am) who internalized, and no doubt exaggerated the significance of many things.
Read this also knowing that this doesn't mean these experiences are in any way untrue, or their impact invalid.
Finally, read this knowing that my family loves me very much, has told me that they are proud of me on numerous occasions unrelated to school, and are my biggest supporters.
However, they didn't always provide me with the best example of grace.
Recently, I've become aware of two calls God has for my life: I want people to know that they are loved, and I want to make them laugh.
I've never been so sure of anything in my life, but the career center doesn't exactly work in love or laughter.
I'd been thinking that maybe I wanted to be a pastor to fulfill these calls because love is a such a HUGE part of their job, which, if done right (I think) will include a fair amount of laughter.
I love being in church, because that it where God's love is supposed to be especially concentrated. I love welcoming people into that atmosphere, and I love hearing their stories about how they got there.
I want my life to be about serving others and learning constantly. I want to help people. I want to make their lives a little easier. I want to make them smile.
Pastors get to do all of those things; they have the unique and special privilege of being part of people's spiritual lives, which trickle down into every other aspect of who they are.
It's humbling and awe-inspiring to be in a position of sharing God's love with others like that, of providing them with "ear-stuffable Jesus" as Nadia Bolz-Weber would say.
But what if I'm not good enough?
What if I'm actually a really sucky pastor? What if my church becomes embroiled in some church-politics meltdown? What if I do more harm than good? What if people don't think I'm funny?
What if they don't actually feel loved?
The sad part is that I took that fear, and labeled it as "God's will".
God obviously didn't intend for me to be a pastor if I'm having so many doubts about it! And yet, I couldn't shake the tiny suspicion in the back of my mind that this wasn't true.
God is not the same as fear; in fact, God is the complete opposite of fear. Why? Because God is love, and perfect love casts out all fear.
Remember how I said that grace is simultaneously the most wonderful and frustrating part about faith for me?
It's both frustrating and wonderful that I don't have to be good enough for God to love me. I don't have to worry about my place in heaven being taken away because of a mistake, or the simple fact that I'm a flawed human.
Jesus's perfect sacrifice, which we'll remember on this Good Friday, makes up for all of my imperfections.
His wholeness and truth have invalidated my fear. It has no teeth, no weight, no merit.
John 16:33 says, "'I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!'"
One of the girls in my small group told me that as a therapist, she had the same sorts of fears about not being good enough.
What was important to remember when faced with these fears was not only that you weren't good enough, but that you were never going to be.
"God not only uses our weaknesses," she said, "but joyfully does so to further His will."
She cited 2 Corinthians 12:10, "Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong."
Sometimes when I don't know how to pray for others, I pray that they would make choices that will make them happy and glorify God.
I realized last weekend that I haven't been so good about taking my own advice thanks to this whole fear thing.
I also failed to realize that being happy and glorifying God are interrelated.
I would be happy as a pastor, living out my calls of love and laughter through the church. So long as I am seeking to fulfill these divine assignments with all my heart, then God will be glorified.
It's as simple as that.
What I basically got out of last weekend was a God group hug composed of 70+ people from all over the country who were just as confused about their lives as I was, a group hug that told me not to be afraid.
God's calling for our lives is oftentimes much simpler than we think. The ultimate calling is to follow in His love, but how we choose to do so is up to us.
My understanding of God's plan is that it's a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure book. Where you end up has already been decided, but you have a plethora of choices about how to get there. This isn't to say that God doesn't call us in particular directions, but merely that He's flexible.
The idea that we'll be able to screw up so much that God's entire plan will be for naught gives one of us way more credit than we deserve.
I want to be a pastor. I know that I'm not good enough, but I know that that's also perfect working material for God.
I know that his grace is sufficient for my weakness. I know that His love is bigger than I am. I know that He'll be with me every step of the way.
Most importantly, I know that He is bigger than my fear.
I'll leave you with a Leonard Cohen lyric:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.