“You’re going to be a preacher someday.”
“You have a gift.”
“God’s going to use you.”
Pleasantries or prophetic visions of well-meaning, old women in a backwoods Baptist church? Regardless, they fell on deaf ears.
“How could you know?”
“You only met me an hour ago.”
“What was your name again?”
A brief list of the thoughts that tumbled through my brain. In a world where I didn’t have any notion towards respect, I would have said them out loud. Yet all I could muster was a half-smile and a “thank you.”
Wasn’t that the dream, though? To grow up, be a pastor, change the world, be like Dad? To be a self-fulfilling prophecy? A chip off the old block?
Sure it was. I started preaching and teaching at the age of 13. I taught myself how to sing, play the guitar, and lead worship at the age of 16. I was involved in every aspect of “youth ministry”. I helped plan the events, I helped run the events, I taught at the events. I interned, volunteered, and was put in charge. I even went to Bible College. I spent five years preparing, planning, and anticipating this future that I felt like I couldn’t escape. It was a resume that screamed “this is my future”.
“If you could imagine yourself doing anything else in the world and still be satisfied, go do that thing.” My dad would always tell me. It wasn’t an intent to drive me away from pursuing a lifetime of full-time, vocational ministry, but rather a warning bell of the dangers ahead.
“I can’t. I don’t want to do anything else.” I’d always say.
I meant it. I didn’t want to do anything else and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. So I pursued it as though it would be the only aim of my one chance at life, the ultimate end goal.
“You should never be a pastor.”
“You have no business being in ministry.”
“You’re not worthy or qualified of leading anyone. You can’t even take care of your own spiritual life.”
If one were to hear such accusatory language directed towards them, it would be understandable for anger and questioning to follow.
“What right do you have to speak such damnation over the call of God on my own life?”
An appropriate response in such a time as this. However, in the moment that I heard those words, I posed no resistance. I knew deep down inside that they were true. I had no business, no place, and no hope.
Why such confidence? Why no resistance? Why were no verbal (or literal) punches thrown?
The fact is that these words didn’t come from any person. They came echoing from a place deep inside my spirit. Like a collapsing dam, the full rush of the torrential downpour gushed over me. I couldn’t gain my breathe. I couldn’t fight the current. These words came from a spirit…my spirit…and I knew they were right.
Looking back on March of 2018, I realized that I blamed God for those words. I thought that the Holy Spirit was telling me that pastoral ministry was no longer the route that I should take. That I now needed to pursue something else. However, I can see that God was never a part of that conversation. Nonetheless, I used it as ammunition to run.
Now that I’ve had three years to pile on the excuses it’s become increasingly difficult to dig myself out of the wreckage. I’ve been trying to pick through the debris of my own failures one regret at a time. What usually follows is another wave of regret and shame that only buries me deeper into my own mess.
I hear people, and the Holy Spirit inside of me, remind me of the truth that it isn’t about my qualifications, my abilities, or my “worthiness” of being used. I know all of this to be true.
I hear people, and the Holy Spirit inside of me, remind me of the truth that God’s love and mercy upon my life is not dependent upon my ability to measure up. It’s the exact opposite. I know this to be true.
What most don’t understand is that amidst the truth levied against my mind and emotions is a simple, yet profound question that keeps me awake at night…
“Yeah, but what if?”
It’s a question that has been asked ever since the beginning of time. It’s the question that Satan asked Eve before she fell into his trap. “What if God isn’t who He says He is? What if your way IS better?”
In my world, the “what if’s” sound more like:
“What if you’ve gone too far?”
“You just ‘repented’ of this yesterday. You’re pathetic. What if He’s given up on you?”
“What if you’re doomed to be stuck like this forever? What if you’re one of the ones He’s given over to a debased mind? What if?”
I press myself against the proverbial wall every day to have answers to these questions. I pressure myself every waking moment to “get it together” so I can be an effective member of the body of Christ. I crush myself underneath lofty expectations no mortal man could possibly meet simply so other people in the church wouldn’t look at me as needy, unstable, or immature…so that I wouldn’t view myself as such.
There’s no cute way to end this trail of thinking right now. I wish there was. I wish I could tie this up with a bow of God’s grace so you could walk away from my site with any emotion other than pity. However, I can’t. I don’t have the answers I’m looking for. Sometimes I don’t even remember what the questions are.
Maybe one day I’ll look back on all of the well meaning compliments of my public speaking ability and realize that God planned to use me in full-time ministry all along. Maybe this post is a small step forward in the journey of redemption that I know God is walking with me on.
Maybe the ember that is flickering in my heart towards the things of God and the call of God will erupt into a flame. I yearn for it to do so. I pray for it to do so. I’m begging that it does. Please, Jesus, see to it that it does…
But for right now, all I can feel is the weight of my collective failures, my ineptitude to conjure up any holy ability to obey even the simplest of commands, and the overwhelming urge to sleep.
Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that tomorrow will be much of the same. Jesus, please.