Monday, January 01, 2007

It's harder than you think

I've really been thinking about Dave's assignment. I think part of what's got me so down or confused or whatever is that I'm no longer certain of my gifts. A lot of life has gone this way for me, though. I went to college convinced I'd be an actor, and then never got cast in a play my entire time. I came to Hollywood to try again and never actually tried. Then I went into development and discovered I was good at it...and unhappy. So I went to seminary. Which I have loved and still love. The only thing I know for sure that I am good at is school. So that PhD is looking more and more appealing, even though everyone tells me its useless without a few years' ministry experience (well...useless if I want to teach at a seminary. I guess if I became a writer or a scholar of religion in a non-practical field it wouldn't matter so much).

When I applied for the chapel position at Fuller, I thought I was matching my gifts exactly to an opportunity God was presenting. But the people in charge disagreed. And that about killed me. It certainly hasn't healed. That was when I realized that what I thought were my gifts may not be...or may not be wanted.

So this year, I did discernment, which was about helping me go deeper into this question. But I couldn't get at what the committee wanted and it was all too much to handle. I did the internship and found I really didn't like the things others thought I'd be great at. That I should have been great at. But I don't like them. Story of my life. Am I doomed to being perpetually dissatisfied? Am I just a malcontent - would anything make me happy?

Well, yes. Doing well in school makes me happy, as does spending time with my husband and friends, and writing, and reading. Helping people makes me happy. Taking walks and deep breaths. Watching movies. And watching the Trojans kick ass. :)

But yeah, this has been a tough time for me the last few months, because the things I thought were my gifts seem to not be. And the person I thought I was - or others thought I was - is not me. I actually think God is opening up new places in me and will be revealing new gifts. I think there are challenges ahead, taking me into areas that previously frightened me but now seem intriguing - things like spirituality and pastoral care and just finding that deep quiet in the world. Shouldn't be afraid of the quiet.

I know I love writing, yet I couldn't even work up a short essay for a book that I was asked to contribute to! I know I love school, yet the coming quarter doesn't excite me. I know I love preaching and planning worship, yet I'm nervous about my internship. I think I'm afraid that I'll turn out not to be good enough or not enjoy it. Then what am I left with? A nice degree and probably going back to some other career.

So I can't really answer the question of what my gifts are, or how I should or want to use them. I don't know right now. I think they are in transition, some are fading - things I held dear but were tied up in my ego, in my self-worth - and some are peeking out for the first time, like this deep need in me to find rest and quiet and solace, to spend as much time on my relationships as I can, this strong desire I find building in me to create a place of calm and love for myself and others. I think it's what I want to give the world because it's what I need the most.

Is it a waste? All these brains, so many careers I could choose (and have done), so much potential? What if I retreat into the desert and run a quiet I failing? Whom? Myself? God? More likely, those around me. But not those who know me best. I love those strong, solid women in my life whom I wish to emulate, who look into me and see the contemplative inside the rushing whirlwind that is me. Is there a mystic inside of me longing for communion with the Divine? Longing to fast and pray?

Did I mention St. Francis? I love my icon. It's made of chocolate and carmel. You see, John's student, as her project for his philosophy of art class, painted an icon of St. Francis out of Twix bars. She used the chocolate and carmel for the painting and the wrappers for the "gold leaf" behind him. It's absolutely beautiful. I'm so glad we bought it.

The student made it out of candy, thinking that it was fluffy stuff, representative of our materialistic throwaway culture, finding it ironic to contrast that with the values of Francis. But John sees a deeper level - he sees the redemption of the culture, of the fluff and the saccharine sweetness, used not to fatten up a person who doesn't need the calories but instead to create a piece of lasting art that pays homage to a person who entirely gave up material goods (goods?). Like when Johnny Cash sings a Duran Duran song and suddenly it's got a whole new meaning.

And I think God wants to take my fluffy sweet shiny self and turn it into something that is much deeper and quieter but speaks no less, is no less effective. Yes, perhaps I will turn into my painting. That may be a nice visual metaphor for me to follow over the next months.

You know what? School starts tomorrow. Back to reading (already behind!) and Greek and I get to lead the class I'm TA'ing all week since the prof's away. I'm actually really excited about it. Ahhh...there, Dave. Every time I teach a class (usually we're talking some cheesy in-class presetation) at least one and usually several people (quiet background people who don't usually speak up) come to me and tell me I must do that for a living because I am so good at it. I make difficult things easier to understand and I have a ton of energy. Even when I don't really know what I'm saying somehow it works out - I can pull it off and people always tell me they learn. Which makes me feel incredibly good. So that must be the thing, mustn't it?

Anyway, the pizza is ready and we have to finish off the movies before our time is no longer our own. Blessings to you all as you start 2007. I don't know you but I love you. You keep me honest. Thank you.


Juniper said...

Dear feminarian -- you're going deeper with God now, not going away. No fear; God is still there, and bringing you deeper in. Your feeling as though you were good with God when things were going well has led to this new place, where things don't feel well, yet God is with you, whether you feel it or not. God's presence has nothing to do with how you feel, or whether you're praying the office everyday, or doing the work you think you should do.

Regarding your gifts, someone very wise told me something very important once: God isn't efficient. God has no particular interest in hooking us up where we think we can best be used, where we think our gifts will be most effective in the world. God sees us, and the world, and ministry, very differently -- as distant as heaven is from earth, so distant is God's view of us from ourselves. God may well be calling you into a ministry where you think you have no gifts at all, because that is where God needs you to be, for her own reasons. And there will be freedom and growth and joy for you there.

And what would be failure about running a quiet house in the desert? God knows we need more of them!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for humoring me on that - you're awesome.

Yep, definitely a complex situation. Be looking forward to seeing where the new year leads.

Thanks again for being a good sport and of course you're always welcome to do likewise over at my little corner of the blogging universe.