On Wednesday, I celebrate another milestone, the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination into Christian ministry.
I keep checking the math on that because I cannot believe it is true. On June 14, 1987, I knelt on the sanctuary steps while the hands of many were placed on my shoulders and head. I remember being surprised by their heaviness and even thinking as I knelt, “I had no idea ordination would feel so heavy.”
I also remember, standing up feeling very much like something spiritual had happened in that exact moment and I was forever changed. That surprised me too.
After that, I never again worried about or argued with the people who tried to tell me women should not be pastors or that it wasn’t scriptural. I still encountered those people, but I was different. God had called. I had answered. The church affirmed it. I never looked back. Thank God.
I began the week wondering what I’ve really learned in three decades. I wondered what I would say now to a newly ordained person or to any Christian or to someone just trying to make it through the challenges of life and faith.
Here’s what I know today:
- Knowledge is overrated. You would think after 30 years I would know more. I don’t. I always knew I didn’t know much. That’s actually why I got my doctorate. After my Bachelors and Masters degrees, I was so aware of what I didn’t know that I just kept going. The funny thing is even the doctorate didn’t help too much. I have learned to embrace mystery and wonder and to shamelessly admit I don’t know things. My favorite is when people assume you know where everything is in the Bible just because you are a pastor. I finally learned to say confidently, “I don’t know, google it.”
- Life is such a mixed bag of everything. Life is so sweet, tender, hard and gut wrenching at the exact same time. I don’t have words to adequately describe it. I wish I would have embraced this truth sooner and saved time being stunned and completely blown away by the bittersweet nature of things.
- Pastors are not that great at pastoral care. My doctoral degree is in Pastoral Care so I can say that. We aren’t. People are. People who love each other in the real life context of the community of faith are excellent at pastoral care. We clergy should stop believing this is our job and hand it over to the people. I also suggest we just start calling it what it is, People Care not Pastoral Care.
- Humility is the best skill any of us can work on. We would be well served to stop trying to know all things and be all things and just be humble, human, broken and more relaxed.
- Speak up. This is definitely the hardest one because it comes at a great cost, like getting demoted, moved, labeled, not liked. Oh yes, and crucified. Looking back, I wish I had spoken up more about injustice, racism, sexism and how Christians treat people who they perceive as wrong, different or other. I think now I shortchanged some of the congregations I served by being careful and not sharing everything I really felt.
- Pace yourself. Honor yourself. I believed for the longest time that if I loved Jesus, I needed to push through. I did not honor my body, my time off or the Sabbath. I believed I was invincible right up to the point when I clearly wasn’t. This was the opposite of humility.
- Trust God. Trust God with absolutely everything. There is no other good way to do ministry or life.
Jesus Calling, Evening Edition, had a line this week that jumped out at me. I tear up now even thinking about it. The author, Sarah Young, imagines Jesus saying to us, “One of My most challenging tasks is renovating your mind, and My Spirit is always at work on this project….” Immediately, I turned it into a brave prayer, “Renovate me, God.” When I pray it, I want to cry because it seems so bold and scary.
Thirty years of ministry has absolutely renovated me. It has never once been what I expected. I am changed. I am a new creation.
God took a very shy young woman and made me a pastor, of all things. I am renovated. And the good news is, the project is not yet over. Thank God.