Dear twenty-three-year-old self,
Congratulations on your Masters degree. Now, you are headed to a “tall steeple church” as the associate minister in North Carolina, where the population is growing. You are so fortunate to have found what you are called to do with your life. Many folks spend half their lives in jobs that never suit them. You listened to the inner voice and the outward confirmation of other people that led you to this place and time. You did the work, listened and the door opened. Nonetheless, you had many advantages in life for this to be so: being born into a white, progressive, middle class, educated family, who encouraged you along the way. You had a decent public school education. Those are things for which to be grateful.
There are many voices that call throughout life. In discernment, you need to follow the way where you most need to go and where you are most needed, as theologian, preacher and writer Frederick Buechner says. He talks about the voice of your own gladness:
“What can we do that makes us gladdest, what can we do that leaves us with the strongest sense of sailing true north and of peace, which is much of what gladness is? Is it making things with our hands out of wood or stone or paint on canvas? Or is it making something we hope like truth out of words? Or is it making people laugh or weep in a way that cleanses their spirit? I believe that if it is a thing that makes us truly glad, then it is a good thing and it is our thing and it is the calling voice that we were made to answer with our lives.
And also, where we are most needed. In a world where there is so much drudgery, so much grief, so much emptiness and fear and pain, our gladness in our work is as much needed as we ourselves need to be glad. If we keep our eyes and ears open, our hearts open, we will find the place surely. The phone will ring and we will jump not so much out of our skin as into our skin. If we keep our lives open, the right place will find us.”
You can trust this to make decisions at turning points in your life. You felt like you needed to help people at the intersection of faith and real life. You became a United Methodist minister, particularly to do pastoral care. It will lead you into the crisis work of hospital ministry and end of life care.
Later on, there will be a desire in you to seek the approval of others and neglect your conscience or listen for that still, small voice. Pay attention to that still, small voice. Pay attention to that still, small voice. Pay attention to that still, small voice. Got it? Your own judgment is not always trustworthy.
Seek the advice of wise people, usually older than you. Understand that you are not wise; cultivate humility. Listen to those around you. Everyone is your teacher and can be an example (positive or negative). Demonstrate curiosity. Reflect upon experience. Spiritual direction and therapy can help you. You will even go back to school while you are working!
As a clergywoman among clergymen in your day, there will be death threats, tokenism, pay inequity and discrimination. Have courage in your faith. There will also be much joy and satisfaction in chaplaincy, spiritual care research and teaching Clinical Pastoral Education. Teaching in medical school and nursing school, speaking before audiences, writing academic papers and publishing will be so exciting. Your friendships with good colleagues along the way will make it all so rewarding.
Most important of all, regarding love and marriage, do not be ashamed of making mistakes. You are human, not perfect, and will be more empathetic as you learn and grow. Be as compassionate to him as you would like him to be to you. After all, the things you find fault with in him are often your own character defects. You will learn the most in this 1:1 relationship and become more generous, less self-centered.
As the Buddhists say, you are fine as you are and you could use a little improvement. You are right where you need to be right now.
Your Older Self