I turned in my last final paper of the semester yesterday, which marks that I am officially halfway through my time in seminary. I am halfway to having divinity “mastered,” halfway to knowing how to respond when a congregant asks me how the canon was decided, halfway to figuring out the question of theodicy, halfway to knowing what I am going to do next…you get the picture. I am halfway and I feel most days like I know absolutely nothing. Serving as a pastor for the last 6 months hasn’t exactly helped that feeling of “I still have too much to learn.” Every day working in the church and working on theology in the classroom, there are things I forget, things I wish I did better, things I do not understand, things that are overwhelming, things I’m fairly certain will never make sense, and every so often a small thing or two to hold on to amidst all of my growing edges. If I do know anything, it’s that we have to hold on to those little things to keep going in the meaningful work that fits into the categories described in the first 85% of that last sentence.
So I decided as I am putting together Christmas Eve bulletins, wrapping the last of my Christmas gifts, ordering books for my January class that starts way too soon, and simultaneously reflecting on this semester and all it has brought for me, I have a choice. I can choose to focus on all of the things I do not know, all of the ways I fall short, and all of the copious mistakes I have made and will continue to make. OR I can choose to focus on the things I do know. In the spirit of self care and healthy mindsets, here is a list of what I do know:
- We need God. There is absolutely no reason I am where I am, with the love that I have, with the privilege I have, with the hope that I have if the Spirit of God is not active and present in this world. Studying God in the classroom mixed with serving God in the church can make it surprisingly hard to remember what a gift all of this work is. There is hope in our world, love in our hearts, and imagination in our souls that is waiting to be shared. All because a gracious, loving, creative God who came before us and declared us good first.
- We need community. We need each other. There are so many times my brain runs amuck and tries to convince me I cannot do it, I am not good enough, I shouldn’t be trusted to do this work. Good people have surrounded me every single time and pulled me through, encouraged me, walked beside me, worked with me, loved me through it. For that, I am eternally grateful. And eternally mindful I cannot and will not do it without good people by my side.
- We need to wrestle. My classes this semester challenged me to not be afraid of asking questions. In fact, that was the sole mission of almost all of them. We all know that’s a dangerous invitation for a huge question-asker like me. But we also have to recognize how important it is to push past what makes us comfortable and what we’ve simply always known so we can figure out what it is we truly believe. It is daunting and sometimes exhausting, but I do believe we come out stronger on the other side, more confident in ourselves and, more importantly, more confident in the God who claims us and loves us and calls us. And you can ask some pretty crazy questions in the process, which is always a joy!
- And I know that we need to pause. We need to rest. We need to worship. We need to slow down and truly see what we’re doing and who we get to do it with. If we are too busy or too distracted or too tired to do those things well, we are missing the point. (See the first 3 bullet points for reference)
As we continue to wait expectantly this Advent as we approach the Christmas season, I pray you also can slow down, reflect, and appreciate all the ways God is working in your life. I know I would not have made it through this semester without that. I pray you can challenge yourself in the choice and choose to celebrate what you do know as it carries you through all that you will work through in the time ahead.
Wishing you joy, hope, love, and inspiration,