Since joining the Orthodox Church, I have wrestled with my sense of calling. For most of my adult life, I believed I was called to professional ministry. It was something that motivated me daily. I studied for it, trained for it, and poured everything I had into it. And even when I left professional ministry and co-founded a small home church, I continued to pursue the calling at a non-professional level. This calling formed the core of my identity.
However, joining the Orthodox Church threw everything into a state of internal turmoil. For several reasons, I immediately knew that I was not called to be a priest. My “talents” were in pastoral care and studying & teaching Scripture, not liturgics. I knew my life as a pastor prior to entering the Orthodox Church was led and ordained by God as I attempted to follow Jesus to the best of my ability. However, I could not synchronize from where I had come with what now lay before me.
For a couple of years I struggled deeply with my perceived calling. Was it real or was it fake? Did I waste my and my family’s life on pursuing something that was basically self-delusion or a need to provide my life with unique meaning? If it was real, I could not make sense of it as an Orthodox Christian.
For my own emotional health, I needed to end the inner wrestling I was experiencing. So I convinced myself that I had been mistaken and was never called into ministry. I convinced myself that all the good I did was basically God’s abundant grace at work in an immature and broken person who had deluded himself.
Through ongoing conversations with Debbie and friends, this stance eventually shifted to something a bit more balanced. I believed I was temporarily called for a period of my life and the calling was now revoked. And I was content to simply let it lie there. I chose not to seek avenues of ministry in my new parish because my theology and practices remain “too Protestant,” of which I’m not ashamed nor apologetic. But I respect my priest and Church traditions too much to cause any conflict. So, while I’m virtually useless in my parish, I’ve subtly directed my “pastoral” endeavors into my family.
However, life circumstances during the past month have shined a light back upon my life and calling. In addition, I’ve been reading The Crown and the Fire by N.T. Wright through Lent and Pascha, which serendipitously contains a chapter on “calling.” A couple of quotes are very germane:
“God’s call is not designed to make us supermen and superwomen, because that’s not what the world needs; it needs men and women who are humble enough, and often that means humbled enough, to work from within, from below, not to impose a solution on the world from a great height but to live within the world as it is, allowing the ambiguities and the perplexities of their own sense or absence of vocation to be nevertheless the place where they listen for the voice of God, and struggle to obey as best they can.”
“The call of God is not to become the heroine or hero in God’s new Superman story. It is to share and bear the pain of the world, that the world may be healed.”
The entire chapter has helped me to make better sense of my perceived calling. My calling has always been to help and to pastor people. For most of my adult life, this occurred through my career in professional ministry. But the calling still continues and I can no longer ignore it. As N.T. Wright states, the world needs men and women who are humble enough to work from within and from below, living in the world as it is and to share and bear the pain of the world that that world may be healed.
So what does this mean for me? A couple of things come to mind. First, I’ll continue to pastor my family. I still believe the Orthodox Church is the best place for my family to grow spiritually. My role is to help them understand and apply Scripture, Tradition and practices as Jesus’ apprentices within the world. Second, I will become more active in seeking ways of sharing and bearing the pain of the world from within and from below. I’ve already begun looking at opportunities to serve others and hope God will open the appropriate doors.
This may not seem like much, but it’s a step forward.