An Exploration That Led Me Back to Me
“But do you believe in you?”
The question landed like a punch in my mid-section, my throat constricting around the rising emotion. “I am trying,” I croaked in response as I attempted to force down tears.
The question was posed by one member of the commission charged with interviewing prospective Priests like myself, those who believed God was calling them into the holy vows of ordained ministry.
I told him how I ended up in that very interview carried on the belief of others, because I chose to listen to what they said they saw in me. I never would have entered the discernment process last year if other people had not spurred me on, saying they saw gifts in me that I couldn’t yet see in myself.
It was the year in which the word “explore” was embodied in every area of my life and I was discovering new lands at every turn. The Priesthood was not a destination I ever imagined for myself, but I committed to following the arrows God placed before me, like the compass that pointed ever true North.
Now at the threshold between years, I look back on the year of exploration, content. I didn’t reach a destination, but I found something more precious: myself.
The Decision to Claim My Space
I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to fit myself into the mold others made for me. I floated between roles in the church and non-profits, and between countries and cultures seamlessly. The adaptability that has been a gift in my ministry across denominations and on three continents has been a curse, too. My chameleon skin, able to take on the color of my surroundings, has changed so many times I didn’t remember the hue of my own flesh anymore.
As I peeled away the layers of others’ expectations, my own fears, a lack of boundaries, and the need for control—I found someone I had forgotten.
She loves God fiercely. She is a gifted communicator. She lights up when she’s among people who have a similar disdain for small talk and want to go deep in spiritual conversation. She loves to help and serve, but she is also a leader. She is a learner at heart but enjoys sharing what she’s learned with others. That makes her a teacher. She’s a bridge builder, able to reach across divides. Her smile is contagious. She has the gift of faith, and can see God working in places others overlook.
It is work every day to believe in myself, to trust that this is who God made me to be, and admit the good things God is working out in me. But after two decades of shrinking back and making myself smaller, I am planting a stake in the ground right here.
The Choice to Live My Own Life
Parker Palmer said before we can tell our lives what we want to do with them, we must listen to our lives telling us who we are. “I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity,” he said, “not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.”
My word for 2023 came quickly and firmly into my mind in late December. It feels like a risky word and I admit it scares me more than a little.
The Commission on Ministry told me that I wasn’t yet ready to enter the next step toward ordained ministry and that I needed to be more firmly grounded in the Episcopal church as a newer member there in the past three years. I took their “not yet” as a challenge. At that moment I knew what I hadn’t been able to admit to myself all year. This road to a more robust ministry is the one I’m supposed to be on, and I am not going anywhere.
The image that immediately came to my mind was of the firmly planted Magnolias I love to visit at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. These giants grow wider and taller every year, sprouting new growths even as old branches die off. Their quiet strength is steady while everything around them changes. I cannot imagine how vast their root network must run under the surface to support such grandeur.
Establishing Myself in 2023
I want to establish roots like that, digging deeper and deeper into the heart of God. I am choosing stability in this place God has led me to. It’s here I want to plant myself and prove myself.
Last year I said I claimed who I was: preacher, theologian, scholar. But I still tiptoed around the edges of these claims. I turned in another research paper to which my professor responded with a similar critique: “I hear clearly what your sources think, but what do you think? Your own theological voice is lost.” As I gather research for my dissertation my advisor makes a similar observation: “Stop apologizing for your thoughts, your experiences. Claim them boldly.”
When something is established, it is rooted, secure, unshakeable, enduring. That’s what I want in 2023, a journey toward trusting myself, believing in myself, and standing firm in who God has made.
listening with you: leave a comment below
One word: Did you choose a word for 2023? what does the word mean to you? how do you plan to stay connected to it and allow it to guide you this year?
Establish: where are you on the journey to being rooted and established in who you are and who god made you to be? Are you still uncertain who you are? living life as a chameleon? trying to blend in or make yourself smaller? ready to explore your own inner life this year? or planting a stake in the ground and ready to put down roots? what will you do this year to commit to getting closer to who you really are and living your own life?
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