Who are you not being or what are you not doing because you fear how you will appear in the eyes of others?
What reputation are you trying to uphold?
I've spent tons of energy on my good, Christian girl image for as long as I can remember.
And being in ministry my whole adult life has not provided relief. At times, this has intensified the inner critic that reminds me that I have a reputation as a Christian leader and spiritual guide to uphold.
Quite frankly, I've given way too much thought as to how things like changing my theological stances to not-every-Sunday-church-attendance affect my reputation (case in point, I just gave way too much thought in writing this sentence!).
I have often chosen rule-following over following my heart. And the many times I have boldly followed the still, small voice within, my inner critic who abides there as well, has often stolen, killed, and destroyed the freedom found in the following. Fearing outer criticism causes such unnecessary inner turmoil!
Some say we begin to care what other people think in middle school.
My daughter started middle school this year. She told my husband and I that she wanted us both to be at the bus stop with her. I thought after the first day or two she would probably like us to remain at a safe distance. I was wrong.
She wants us there everyday and even wants a hug before she climbs into the bus! Part of me loves this. And I have to admit, even though she feels not a hint of embarrassment, a part of me feels a twinge of it for her as I see the other middle schoolers looking out the window of a full bus. Maybe I'm feeling over-protective (if she won't protect her image, I will!) or maybe it's the middle school girl in me still caring what others think. Why risk it?
One morning last week I sat at the kitchen table after an all-night headache with little sleep. I told her, "Your dad will have to go with you to the bus stop, I don't think you'll want me along." She said, "Why not?" I said, "Look at me, I'm still in my pajamas!" She replied, "You had a hard night, of course you are, but I don't care, it's not like I have a reputation I need to defend!"
I looked at her bewildered. Have I ever not thought I had a reputation I needed to defend?!
Then I held up my hand and said, "You need a high-five because you'll be good to go if you can keep that sentiment through middle school." She laughed. Oh the freedom to authentically be who you are and do what your heart desires no matter what others think!
We both walked her to the bus stop (although I did change out of my pajamas).
After she climbed on the bus, I looked at my husband and said, "Who is that child?" Then I told him how her response immediately ambushed my weary heart, speaking into my own life of places where I've been overly concerned about how I appear in the eyes of others.
If a middle school girl can wholeheartedly choose what is inside over what others think of her on the outside, then perhaps I can, too. Oh the freedom! God knows it's time.
By the way, the next morning she pointed to us and said, "I may not have a reputation to defend, but let's not do this again!" We had unknowingly put on matching t-shirts to walk her to the bus stop! I appreciated her authenticity. Both of us cringed as the bus drove past.
Becoming yourself is.
I knew a brilliant young woman who needed to leave professional ministry to become herself.
Her life was on track to eventually earn the title of "Reverend" in a mainstream denomination along with its retirement benefits. The problem was that this denomination was neither a fit nor was the position of senior pastor. After a long season together in spiritual direction, it became clear that while she had given it a valiant effort,
she was living a story that was someone else's, not hers.
When I was in college, there were para-church ministries who planted the idea in students' minds that if you really loved Jesus you would let go of your secular job pursuits and come on staff with them after college.
As an adult, I watch how some believe leaving a "secular" job to go into professional ministry proves how much one loves and is devoted to God and/or the Church. And it's lauded by many, especially when a big pay-cut is involved.
So many gifted scientists, lawyers, business men & women, machinists, musicians, and others have left their "secular" callings because they thought loving Jesus and the Church meant to do so. And it is true, sometimes Jesus does call us to leave one job for another, as he did his ragtag group of fishermen and tax collectors turned disciples. Although notice if he or Paul called the folks who financially supported them to leave their jobs!
The problem lies in labeling jobs "sacred" or "secular," elevating one over the other, and allowing that to become our primary lens for discernment. Guess what happens? People end up in full-time ministry jobs that are an ill-fit (for them and for those around them).
Ever had a pastor who you could tell had a different calling? I once worked for a senior pastor who was a very gifted naturalist. I learned so much about reptiles and plants from him and watched how his face lit up when he talked about creation that every time I listened to him preach or sat in staff meeting, I wished he'd followed his God-given giftings instead!
Remember 16th century Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther? Well after the word "vocation" had been institutionalized to mean full-time church work, he broke it out of the box again by reminding people that since all are called to the "priesthood of believers," all jobs are ministry! Loving Jesus doesn't mean you must leave your job and become a professional missionary or monk. You can be both right where you are!
Read what Luther wrote in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church:
"...the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks...all are measured before God by faith alone."
...the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks...all are measured before God by faith alone. -Martin Luther, 16th century
Ever witness someone operating out of their giftings? It's as natural and stunning as a sunrise. One year my daughter hated math and the next year she loved it. The difference? She had a teacher gifted in math! Said Saint Basil of Caesarea, "God the Creator has arranged things so that we need each other." Isn't that the truth?! We need creative and compassionate electricians, inventors, counselors, accountants, nurses, yoga instructors, athletes, social workers, childcare providers...their presence changes the world, no matter how big or small.
So how can you begin to identify your vocation? Author Frederick Buechner writes, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." Am I ever glad that math teacher didn't go into full-time ministry! Instead she's living out the presence of Christ in the classroom, where so many, like my daughter, need her.
By the way, that young woman I mentioned at the beginning is now in a vocation she loves which has nothing to do with professional ministry. It's a better fit for her (and for this world)!
Glory be to God.
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.