Packing up my office a month ago, I came across this pencil sketch one awesomely talented parishioner drew and gifted me last year.
This is me. Or, this is me as someone else saw me 17 years into a calling and career as a spiritual leader of congregations.
I don’t know how the years can possibly add up to that, but they do. I have two middle schoolers now who were born into being Preacher’s Kids. It’s all they’ve known. Driven to seminary by some combination of newspaper industry contraction, Holy Spirit, and the psychological aftershocks of the September 11 terrorist attacks, I commuted and caffeinated my way through graduate theological school to graduation and ordination in June 2005. The pictures of me that summer seem like a different human now, one who is familiar, but from a lifetime ago.
For seventeen years, I’ve been seeing myself much like this artist did. Which makes it exceedingly strange to be stepping away from the role I’m inhabiting on that paper there.
Beginning last month, I am taking a break from this work for personal and family health. I don’t know for how long.
It’s true that both of my professions can nurse an overly-romantic-at-times tendency to see their work as a supernatural calling. Others change jobs with less drama and more frequency. I’ve envied that.
Others change jobs with less drama and more frequency.
I’ve envied that.
Both journalists and clergy work in the public eye. How others see us and how we see ourselves gets intertwined and challenging to untangle. An example: Clergy are community leaders, for better and far-too-often for worse. We have a lot less community influence than some people realize, but a whole lot of internal and external pressure to make a difference with the powers we do possess.
So, these past few weeks, as our country wept over mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, my job, my role, if any, wasn’t clear. I don’t have to step into a pulpit and try to help make spiritual sense of our responsibilities in this moment as I am trained to do. I don’t have a group of people to lead into sponsoring a gun safety event or a petition drive to get mass-casualty weaponry re-banned. I couldn’t even provide confidential pastoral care to the many, many parents who had to send kids to school in a trauma-triggered state because they were there at Virginia Tech or Ohio State or any other number of gun violence lock-downs now etched into their neural pathways.
That work is not mine to do this time.
So who am I now?
I’m grateful I have some wonderful companions and compasses in this liminal time. As I sat outside a café this week under a bluebird sky, my meditation book directed me to Psalm 121, which seemed a little too obvious and on the nose, even for a mystic like myself. Living here in a valley between two mountain ranges, a place not my homeland, I had to laugh.
I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from God-Who-Is,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I AM will protect you on your journeys –
Whether going or coming – from now
Until forever from now.Psalm 121 Common English Bible (adapted)
Going or coming. Or somewhere in the middle.
If you’ve navigated a mid-life reinvention past or present, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.