on history and calling and messy faith

There’s so much I don’t remember about my spiritual journey, because it started the day I was born.  I was born into the arms of a gentle, soft-spoken woman and a loud, opinionated man.  That loud, opinionated man has been, for the entirety of my thirty years, a deacon at a small country church in southern Missouri, in the very arteries of the Bible belt.

So growing up, church was what I knew.  I knew the rules, I knew the expectations, I knew the people, I knew right, I knew wrong, I knew to expect truly phenomenal taco salad to appear at every single Free Will Baptist potluck gathering.

That was what I knew then.  What I know now is far messier.  And that doesn’t even touch what I now know that I don’t know.

Now, I feel in a lot of ways like I’m wandering.  Like I’m disconnected and connected at the same time, in a way that’s a little painful and a lot disorienting.

A good friend, a wise man who is a fellow lover of good questions, asked me today how teaching was going, how I was feeling about it.  And I told him the honest to God truth…I don’t really know.  I’m wrestling with my calling a lot these days, and to be honest, that’s not even a word I’m completely comfortable using for myself, to this day.  Because I’m a woman, and the word “calling” brings to mind the young men gathered around the altar at church camp, having been “called to preach,” which is still a concept I’m somewhat skeptical of.  Standing with bright red tear-streaked faces, turning to face an expectant gathering of people after forty-five minutes of prayer and frenzied conversation with one or two of the older men of our denomination.  Shaking hands grabbing a microphone, trembling voices announcing to the masses that they’d just accepted the call to preach.  That’s what a calling is to me.  It’s certainly not a word for me.

But I said that word today, when Andy asked how teaching was going.  Because teaching is many things to me.  Dependent on the day, teaching is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever had the privilege of doing, the worst mistake I’ve ever made, the thing that God’s using to shape and refine me, the thing that God is using to punish me for submitting to the American ideal of living life in a way that elicits descriptors like “safe” and “stable.”  I wish I was kidding when I say that there are days when I feel all four of those convictions plus at least six more, all within the span of approximately eight minutes.

But the one thing I can say with confidence that teaching is not? My calling.

And we talked for awhile, Andy and my Joshua and I, about that idea of calling.  He asked if I’d ever sat down and really written out my spiritual journey, my story, my history.  And again, I told him the honest to God truth.  I’ve tried.  I really have.  But sometimes, when I begin to dig into my spiritual journey, to try to flesh it out and commit to paper how I got from the beginning to here, I hit all these walls.  Fear of what will follow if I put it out there, speak all of my doubts and questions out loud.  Guilt over the fact that portions of what I believe are a pretty far cry from the way my parents raised me; the feeling that I’m slapping them and their beliefs in the face when that’s not one iota of my intention.  My innate inability to paint anyone’s way of life in anything but the most gracious light, colliding with the fact that my experience with the church, if told honestly, might not make for the most flattering story for everyone involved.  Fear that my raising has always been right; that real faith involves faith without questioning and that I am simply broken.  There it is, really.  That’s the big part.  Fear that I am broken.

So I did my best today to put it in words for the first time, the why of me having never written down my spiritual journey, and our dear friend answered with an idea that was bold and blunt and just like him.

What if I’m not going to be able to work through the issue of my calling until I’ve worked through this issue of my history?

What if, instead of my calling being separate from my history, my calling can only be found in the sorting out of it? What if I have to ask all the questions and expose all the doubts and get to the heart of all the wonderings? What if I have to discover God on my own terms, when for thirty years I’ve been relying on what I’ve been told? What if God is deconstructing all my preconceived notions, all my baggage with the church, because my story, my ministry, my calling requires that?

What if it’s supposed to be messy and hard and a little scary? What if that’s faith?

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